Galway celebrates European Capital of Culture success

Delight at announcement of 2020 title tempered with sympathy for victims of Nice attack

Galway's European Capital of Culture 2020 project team has tempered its delight at securing the coveted title with a collective expression of sympathy for the victims of the Nice attack in France.

"We are thrilled . . . but this is all in the context of solidarity and fraternity with those who lost their lives and were injured in the atrocity," Galway 2020 project manager Patricia Philbin said.

Her city council colleague, arts, culture and communications senior executive officer Gary McMahon noted that it was a sad day to be hearing a very happy announcement, but said that the cultural capital title’s focus was on “European values in the best sense, embracing diversity”.

The project team travelled up to Dublin for the announcement, and returned on Friday evening for celebrations.


Earlier, a screen in the city centre relayed the judges' result to a large crowd, many already in the city for the Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF) and Galway Fringe.

GIAF artistic director Paul Fahy said that the result reflected a "total belief and conviction by the city and county in what it could do".

“This is not just about theatre and the arts, but about language, food, the environment, global concerns, and it felt as if Galway examined itself very thoroughly for this bid,” Mr Fahy said, paying tribute to the city manager Brendan McGrath for his leadership.

Galway aims to be “not only in the race, but best placed”, Mr McGrath had pledged when he announced the city’s intention to aim for the bid in June 2014, describing a projected €20 million budget to host it as “daunting”.

Galway’s final bid raised that budget to €45 million, €39 million of which will come from EU, State and regional/local public funds, and some €6.75 million has to be raised from private sources.

NUI Galway economic geographer Dr Patrick Collins, who was part of the first bid phase, said that work had already begun on this in pledging contributions from local businesses.

Dr Collins said there was a “raft of research” on the return on that investment, and the positive social and psychological impact, and he paid tribute to the city council’s effort.

“Galway has very serious heavyweight cultural providers, but there was a recognition that the wider community had to become engaged,” he said.

Lost out

Galway lost out to Cork for the European designation in 2005, with the lack of a sufficiently large performance space to match Cork’s Opera House being one of the key factors.

However, the criteria for 2020 placed more focus on "legacy" projects than on physical infrastructure – though there was a late rush to secure completion funding for the arthouse cinema spearheaded by film-maker Lelia Doolan. The city already holds a Unesco city of film title.

Fáilte Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way team head Fiona Monaghan welcomed the exposure Galway's title would give to tourism, providing a "further boost to the wider region".

Since it was initiated in 1985, two Irish cities have held the European capital of culture title – Dublin in 1991 and Cork in 2005. The title is rotated between EU member states – with Croatia sharing it in 2020 – but it will become an open contest in 2021.

French honorary consul Catherine Gagneux has organised a solidarity walk for the victims of the Nice attack at noon on Salthill's promenade on Saturday.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times