History of the Belfast Tattoo

Early Days…

The Belfast International Tattoo has its roots firmly based in the history, music and dance traditions of the Ulster Scots people who have spread their wings around the world and have gone on to have such a major influence and direction on those countries and people they have come into contact with around the world.

When we staged our first Belfast Tattoo in 2013 one of our main objectives was to give our local bands and talent a platform to show their ability and talent on the same stage and in the same spotlight as bands and talent we would bring in from around Europe and indeed the world.

We were firm believers that our local bands and talent hit it for six against some of the best bands and talent Europe has to offer and sought to demonstrate this on an international stage.

Ulster has, per head of population, more marching bands than anywhere else in the world. Some of these bands have reputations which extend around the world for their excellence in competition and also produce musicians that have gone on to be world leaders in the chosen field of music.

In the first year of the Belfast International Tattoo, the production focus was on those bands that were at the top of their field, playing the instruments which are central to their tradition as well as highlighting those people who strive to keep the Scottish Highland Dance tradition as part of the culture of the Ulster Scots people.

The Tattoo also reached out to highlight and include the culture and life of those people who have also had an effect on the life and culture of the Ulster Scots people.

It was a happy coincidence that 2013 was the year that the Tourism bodies in Ireland were reaching out around the world to encourage people to return home to their roots to discover what made them the people they have become and the Belfast International Tattoo benefited from this.

By drawing together some of the most dynamic and creative talent from within Ulster, using innovative production, heart stopping sound, imaginative graphics and state of the art lighting, the show captivated a cosmopolitan audience and threw a bright light on the culture of the Ulster Scots using hundreds of pipers, drummers, singers, dancers and showcased a percussion piece specially commissioned for the Tattoo transforming modest ambitions into a global reaching behemoth.

Recent History…

Since those days back in 2013, The Belfast International Tattoo has now firmly established itself as an annual event for Belfast, and each year attracts a considerable number of overseas visitors to the City to attend the shows.

Alongside continuous programme development, the staffing and structure of the Tattoo has also changed and in 2016 it welcomed Brian Wilson MBE, who was appointed Producer for the Belfast International Tattoo.  Brian was drum major of the award-winning Belfast show from its inception in 2013, before being appointed assistant producer in 2016. He was also assistant producer of the successful inaugural Liverpool Tattoo, which took place in September 2018.

“Brian brings real zest and vision to the Tattoo” said Tattoo founder Colin Wasson, who stepped down from the role having held it for the previous 5 years. “He is more than ready for this challenge, so I know its leadership is being passed into good, experienced hands.”

The Tattoo has also celebrated some milestone occasions such as Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016, the same year which saw a recording of the event for subsequent television broadcast on the BBC, securing a prime time Saturday evening slot on BBC2, attracting a viewing audience over 80,000 across the UK and Ireland.

The event has also seen accolades presented to it in 2018 by Tourism NI and Business Eye, First Trust Bank, Small Business Awards in the Hospitality & Tourism Business of the year category.

The prestigious award was presented to Event Producer Colin Wasson and Drum Major of the Belfast Tattoo, three-time world champion Brian Wilson MBE at the BEFTAs, held at the Crowne Plaza, Belfast in 2018. It was the second accolade bestowed upon the successful event having been highly commended in the Most Promising Authentic NI Event category in the 40th Annual Northern Ireland Tourism Awards the week before.

Despite being forced to postpone the show for 2019 due to the Covid19 pandemic, there will be no doubt that the Belfast International Tattoo will merely regroup and come out bigger and better in 2021.

Moving Forward…

The Belfast Tattoo, which is held annually at the SSE Arena over three nights in September, features over 600 performers, attracts over 13,000 visitors, creates over 7,000 bednights each year which generates over £500,000 in direct economic impact for Northern Ireland.

The Board and Production team of the Tattoo work hard to make each show unique and as memorable as the last while showcasing the best talent that Northern Ireland has to offer and in 2021 will be gearing up for a special anniversary show to commemorate the Centenary of Northern Ireland.

We will continue to strive to bring you a show that you can be proud of and one your children can aspire to be a part of.