28 Oct Halloween Paranormal Tour at The Strand
Belfast is home to a lot of striking architecture. Queen’s University, The Opera House, and Linen Hall Library – to name an obvious few. Less obvious remnants of the city’s past can also easily be spotted on a stroll through the city centre. All you need to do is look above the shop signs that line either side of Royal Avenue to see the antiquarian Victorian designs that survive in this city.
Among the city’s iconic buildings is The Strand. The Strand first opened its doors in 1935 as a cinema. Its art-deco style apparently took inspiration from Harland & Wolff – the city’s burgeoning shipyard, and of course, the home of the Titanic. The Strand has a rich history, spanning WWII, surviving the Troubles and closing down/changing hands a number of times. It’s actually the only surviving pre-war cinema in Belfast.
Today, The Strand isn’t just a cinema; it’s a not-for-profit charitable organisation which holds theatre shows, live music events, classic films, workshops, classes and arts festivals. It’s one of my favourite venues in Belfast having attended a number of interesting events over the years including a theatre performance of Withnail and I and an audience with John Cusack. The Strand has been, and continues to be, a very beloved place in Belfast.
It never really crossed my mind though that The Strand could be thought of as haunted, however. I certainly don’t get a bad vibe from the place – quite the opposite actually. However, a rich history means the walls of The Strand have seen a lot in years gone by. A lot of souls have visited and worked in that building and who knows – maybe some liked it so much they decided to stay there after death…
So, when I saw that NIPRA were hosting a paranormal tour I jumped at the opportunity. There’s not much in the way of spooky Halloween activities in Belfast beyond the Crumlin Road Gaol tour, so it was a pretty exciting event for me.
If the eerie-ness of the cinema at night wasn’t enough to send you speeding home then signing the waiver form detailing visitations and paranormal activity definitely edged it. I started to wonder what I might have been getting myself into.
The NIPRA team were all very professional and reassuring. Their experience in paranormal investigations was immediately evident through how seriously they took the event. And how up front they were about the fact that although The Strand is said to be a very active building for spirits – there was no guarantee of paranormal activity.
Armed with EMF and EVP readers, the group split into two teams and proceeded to tour through many back rooms and cinema screens in the building. Oh, and it was all in the dark. Sure, some people had torches and in some rooms there were windows letting through light from the streetlights outside. On the whole though, I was pretty apprehensive from the get-go and the all-encompassing darkness was simply enhancing this.
After being in the second room for a few minutes, our guide announced that a worker in years gone by had actually hung himself in there. Then my EVP reader decided to start blinking. I did think about bolting it out of there. My friend and I were, regrettably, in the very back corner and as we left, our guide told everyone to avoid that corner. Which did not calm the rising fear that a ghost was going to get me.
While that experience was pretty unnerving, the most unnerving rooms to be in were definitely the actual cinema screens themselves. I blame this on the lack of windows. One of the screens in particular, my eyes could just not adjust to the darkness. It was very disorientating. Other members of the team said their thighs felt very cold. I, on the other hand felt extremely warm. I tried to assure myself I wasn’t seeing things moving out of the corner of my eye. Our guide, sitting at the front, didn’t reassure me much when she said she could see shadows moving among us. Oh, okay, cool.
The last room in the tour was The Strand’s largest cinema screen and stage. Apparently a member of staff cleaning up in there alone at night saw a man walking down the aisle towards him. Understandably, he refuses to go in there anymore.
This was the most active room. My EMF reader didn’t blink once but the reader of a couple nearby us went crazy. It blinked its spectrum of colours right up to red each time the NIPRA members asked a question. If we are to believe that it was a spirit trying to communicate, according to the blinking lights of the reader we found out that it was a 16 year old girl who lived in the area before The Strand was a cinema. Who found that the lady holding the EMF reader reminded her of her mother, and here’s the best part – who visited the couple frequently.
Kudos to the couple for holding their nerve. I think I would have been getting out of there the moment the EMF affirmed that question. I contemplated it when someone pointed out that there was what looked like a mist hovering above the couple. This was probably just the way the singular light at the back of the room was illuminating dust in the air however. I hope.
I didn’t feel particularly spooked although the final room was undoubtedly the most active, (that is, if we are to believe it was a spirit). By this point I just felt extremely interested in what was happening a few seats away from me. Of course if it was my EMF reader blinking like crazy I’m sure it would be a different story.
I like to keep an open mind, but I also like to keep a decent measure of scepticism in place too. Regardless of whether you believe, or you are a staunch sceptic, there is no doubt that touring an old cinema, in the dark, while learning a bit about its history is something a bit different to get up to on a Saturday night. The tour lasted an hour and a half for £12 which I thought was very decent. The tour continues right up until Halloween night so if you’re feeling brave check out The Strand website for any remaining tickets.