Derry – City of Culture
Londonderry has launched its year as the UK’s first City of Culture with a spectacular fireworks display and the promise of a rollercoaster 12 months ahead.
The city in Northern Ireland’s far north west is traditionally divided between nationalists and unionists – even the name Londonderry is disputed – but both sides came together to fend off stiff competition for the inaugural title from Sheffield, Birmingham and Norwich.
Its proud history of nurturing Nobel Prize winners such as the poet Seamus Heaney sits alongside a current of recent dissident republican activity and the security forces will be on high alert as an Anglo-Irish programme including Britain’s Royal Ballet and the All-Ireland Fleadh, the world’s largest festival of Irish culture, unfolds.
Sharon O’Connor, Derry City Council chief executive, said: “It is just going to be a rollercoaster ride of cultural delights.”
It kicked off at 20:13 on New Year’s Eve with a pyrotechnics event on the River Foyle, which runs through the centre of the city and for many years marked a boundary between nationalists and unionists.
Derry is world famous for the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings when 13 civil rights protesters were killed by British soldiers. It is also where the Troubles started in earnest – with a communal riot known as the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969.
Dissident republicans opposed to the peace process and aiming to kill members of the security forces have made their intent clear, targeting the offices of the City of Culture.
Yet Protestants and Catholics, previously separated by the Foyle, have been connected by a new pedestrian peace bridge. A former British Army barracks is now a concert venue and will feature heavily during 2013.
An opening concert in the coming weeks will be a celebration of the cultural talent that has come out of the city, featuring the Undertones punk rock band, traditional music’s Phil Coulter, and 1970 Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana Rosemary Scallon.
Ms O’Connor added: “That will get us off to a great start. The year is literally action packed. We have a great menu of international names coming to the city. We have the Turner Prize coming out of England for the very first time and we have the Royal Ballet, the London Symphony Orchestra, we have Field Day, produced with the wonderful Sam Shepard.”