Thursday, January 03, 2013

Nightclub plan for Catholic hall that began as shrine to temperance

One of Northern Ireland's most historic halls is to become a nightclub and restaurant after its new owner was granted planning permission for development. 

St Columb's Hall, in Londonderry, which was bought from the Catholic Church last year, began life as a temperance hall in 1886.

The Garvan O'Doherty group has been given the go-ahead to convert the basement into a nightclub, put a restaurant on the second level and carry out refurbishment work on the existing auditorium and cinema. 

The planning application was submitted in November and has now been granted approval.
In its heyday, St Columb's Hall was one of the key entertainment venues in Derry but in recent years it remained largely unused except as a parochial hall for the Long Tower parish.

While the price was never disclosed to the public, the administrator of the Long Tower, Fr Paul Farren, said the accumulated debts of the parish, which are £690,000, would be cleared as a result. 

Fr Farren said: “The hall created a massive debt which left us unable to develop the parish in necessary ways, including doing work in the church, which is our priority. The money will clear the debt and will be invested in the Long Tower parish, but I am not at liberty to give the precise details. I know through dealing with St Columb's Hall, as I have been over these past years, that it is a sensitive issue because so many people will have precious memories of the hall and nothing that we do will disrespect those memories.”

A start date for the work has yet to be fixed, but it’s understood the new owners of the 900-capactity building want it operational for the City of Culture. 

Many top acts played the venue in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Comedian Frank Carson often remarked that his career began at St Columb's Hall.

Among the regular attendants was Mickey Bradley from The Undertones who recalled: “The first band I ever saw was at St Columb's hall, it was Horslips in, I think, 1974 when I was 14. There was no issue of age then because there wasn't any drink served. In the late 1970s and early 1980s big name bands never came to Derry but in 1978 Ian Dury And The Blockheads did, and I saw them there at St Columb's, too. This was just before they had their No.1 with Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, so it was at the height of their fame.”

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