The Home of Ulster rugby is over 90 years old already. But recent reconstruction allowed to prolong the stadium’s lifespan while also retaining its traditional layout.
Only three days ago the stadium celebrated 91 years of existence. The very first game at Ravenhill in Belfast was played on January 12 1924. The eastern grandstand with large shed roof was under construction back then, but not ready yet. Still, the structure managed to last until 2013.
Just like during opening, the stadium still hosts Ulster rugby games primarily, though other events are also held here, including the Rugby World Cup fixtures. The stadium’s infrastructure has been completely redeveloped recently, beginning with the new main stand in the east, replacing old terracing.
With a combination of public funding and revenue from corporate space sales (20 skyboxes + 532 seats) the £5.5 million project was delivered in 2009. While it brought two levels of premium seating, it also preserved traditional terracing in the first rows, also providing cover to fans standing there.
The project wasn’t expected to continue too soon, but authorities of Northern Ireland secured over £100 million to upgrade local stadia and Ravenhill received £14.5m.
This allowed to replace all three remaining stands, Designed by Holmes Miller, known from several other stadiums in England and Scotland, the ground was to keep its traditionally British layout with terracing on all sides of the field. Corners were left unoccupied, while covered seats topped the modest terracing.
Two new stands at either end of the ground were the first to be constructed in 2013. Work began on the Memorial End Stand, which provides seating for approximately 2,400 spectators with terracing for a further 1,350 fans. It also houses a shop, bar/catering facilities and the Nevin Spence Centre – a new heritage and education facility which will celebrate the evolution of the game and its positive role in contributing to a healthy lifestyle.
The Family Stand is the stadium’s new family area and provides covered seating for 2,100 people with terracing for a further 1,300 fans. The stand is also the Ulster rugby team’s new training base, housing a gym, meeting rooms and an indoor training surface.
When both ends of the stadium were completed, work was able to start on the main grandstand at the end of 2013. After the historical structure was demolished, the largest and longest steel programme was undertaken as Ballykine spent four and a half weeks erecting the new Main Stand. This structure has a capacity of 3,450 seated and 3,400 standing spectators. It also accommodates the players’ tunnel, team changing rooms and associated facilities, as well as corporate and public catering areas.
Upon delivery of the last phase, Ulster signed a 10-year contract with the Kingspan Group for the naming rights to Ravenhill, meaning that the stadium will be known as the Kingspan Stadium until 2024.