In praise of . . . Derry: city employs ‘culture’ to tackle division – and wins

Years ahead of Belfast, city borrows Snow Patrol anthem to ‘Just Say Yes’

Crowds flocked to Guildhall Square for the launch of the world’s largest celebration of Irish culture in Derry – the first time in its 62-year history the Fleadh Cheoil has been held in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Bernard Ward/PA

Crowds flocked to Guildhall Square for the launch of the world’s largest celebration of Irish culture in Derry – the first time in its 62-year history the Fleadh Cheoil has been held in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Bernard Ward/PA

Sat, Aug 24, 2013, 01:00

Nomenclature can be sensitive. So it takes a brave initiative to tackle the Derry/Londonderry split head-on under the banner of the UK City of Culture.

Success may have seemed improbable, but organisers of the bid for the inaugural City of Culture exuded confidence that arts and “culture” could mark out shared territory. Borrowing Snow Patrol’s anthem, they urged sceptics to “Just Say Yes”.

And they have – for the most part stunningly successfully.

Two weeks ago Belfast suffered serious violence in its main shopping area while Castlederg, Co Tyrone, was gripped with tension over a commemoration parade.

Derry, meanwhile, celebrated the annual parade by the city’s loyalist Apprentice Boys and opened the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann at the newly restored Ebrington Square, the former British army base. That event normally attracts about 500 to 600 people.

This time, 7,500 gathered to hear President Michael D Higgins open the world’s largest traditional music festival.

Derry is the living proof of the lyrics of U2 that people can indeed be “One but not the same”. The city is years ahead of Belfast.

City of Culture 2013 has been legen-Derry to date – to borrow the marketing language – and there are four months still to run.

DAN KEENAN