‘Three Sisters’ bid for southeast to be cultural capital in 2020

Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford join to bid for €170m-funded European capital of culture

Sisters Anna, Lucy and Cathy Dillon at the marina in New Ross at the launch of the southeast’s bid to be Europe’s 2020 Capital of Culture. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Sisters Anna, Lucy and Cathy Dillon at the marina in New Ross at the launch of the southeast’s bid to be Europe’s 2020 Capital of Culture. Photograph: Patrick Browne


An award-winning playwright and the most successful GAA manager of all time are among the backers of the southeast’s bid to be designated Europe’s cultural capital for 2020.

The eclectic coming together of Aosdána member Jim Nolan, Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody and other high achievers from the region is part of the ‘Three Sisters Bid’ to win the cultural status for Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford on a joint basis.

A spin-off estimated at €170 million will fall the way of the successful region which will be chosen by ministers from around the EU in mid-summer.

The three local authorities have adopted a regional cultural strategy to run until 2025, whether their bid is successful or not. The Three Sisters’ final bid book will be presented to EU officials in the coming weeks and will face competition from Galway and Limerick in its attempt for cultural designation, with a city from Croatia also due to be chosen.

Previous Irish winners of the designation were Dublin in 1991 and Cork in 2005.

Attract visitors

Last year the status was held by Mons in Belgium, a city of 90,000 residents which is reported to have attracted two million visitors during its year of culture. Playwright and theatre director Nolan, from Waterford city, said cultural capital designation would be a “validation” of what had already been achieved in the southeast but also a fillip to the next generation.

“I think there’s a considerable track record of creativity coming from the region,” he said, adding that this was not confined to what was conventionally referred to as the arts.

“I grew up on the German Road in St John’s Parish here in Waterford and it was called the German Road because the houses that were built there were occupied by the glass factory workers who came from Europe after the second World War. I remember kids being called in for their tea in six different languages and that awareness of different cultures left a great impression on me,” the Aosdána member said.

‘Table of the arts’

“I remember, later on, going to visit the glass factory and becoming aware of the enormous skills of people like the glass cutters and engravers and so on. What those 3,500 people [Waterford Crystal employees] were doing was not just making Waterford a great place, economically and socially, but the very nature of that activity includes it at the table of the arts.”

This inclusiveness had led to a determination in the Three Sisters bid to make it “as accessible as possible”, he said.

Cody, who has overseen 10 All-Ireland victories, said: “There’s great willingness from all sides to work together to see the benefits of it. The three areas complement each other, if you like, they all have their own character and all have their own different areas where they’re strong.”

Other ambassadors include rugby international Niamh Briggs, from Dungarvan; author Eoin Colfer from Wexford; promoter Vince Power from Tramore; and Mick D’Arcy of Wexford band Corner Boy.