Joy as Derry named UK City of Culture for 2013


FIVE HUNDRED people who crowded inside the Guild Hall in Derry erupted in a cry of joy at 7.26pm yesterday when it was announced that the city was to be the UK City of Culture in 2013.

Derry, Londonderry, Doire Colmcille – call it what you will – has been enjoying a few well-deserved weeks of redemption and transformation of late, shedding the terrible ghosts of Bloody Sunday, looking to the future rather than to the dark past.

At 7.26pm the British culture secretary Ed Vaizey went on BBC’s The One Showto reveal that Derry had seen off serious competition from Birmingham, Sheffield and Norwich to win the award. Onwards and upwards for the Maiden City.

“Pop!” went the bottles of Moet lined up on the trestle tables outside the main auditorium of the Guildhall. The party had begun and is continuing today, with Mr Vaizey due to visit and further details to be revealed about the plans for 2013.

Had Mr Vaizey declared otherwise, the sense of deflation in Derry would have been awesome to countenance. The city was so confident that bookies stopped taking bets midweek.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness cancelled a local appointment to fly to Liverpool, where the result was declared.

With SDLP mayor Colum Eastwood, the former IRA leader in Derry was standing beside Mr Vaizey when Derry got the word. Within minutes someone had tweeted, “Derry has gone from fighting the Brits to hosting the Brits.”

Mr McGuinness would happily ignore such a dig about the UK tag. He knew that this was a big moment, a major opportunity for Derry, a chance that all the parties – unionists and nationalists – say they will grasp with both hands.

Even regular naysayer Gregory Campbell, a Derry boy but MP for the neighbouring East Derry or Londonderry constituency, was happy – with only the slightest of qualifications. “This is good for the city,” he said, adding, “the challenge now is to realise the potential that this has to improve community relations – and escape some of the divisions that we have seen in recent weeks.”

John Hume, a man who can sing a fair rendition of The Town I Love So Well, was also delighted. Standing beside him was his recently elevated wife Dr Pat Hume, newly conferred with her honorary degree from Magee University in Derry. “This is great news, this is good for everybody,” said the former SDLP leader, who has never been shy about promoting the City by the Foyle.

The successful Derry-Londonderry bidders estimate that the award will be worth hundreds of millions of pounds for Derry and that it will create more than 3,000 jobs for the city. But that’s to come – the emphasis last night was on celebration.

“What a night!” declared Derry’s most famous broadcaster Gerry Anderson who coined the phrase Stroke City – as in Derry/Londonderry.

“And remember,” he added, “this is for everybody in the city.” That message seemed to be getting through as the partying continued into the wee hours.

Reaction elsewhere was quick to come. Taoiseach Brian Cowen praised the “great cross-community effort” that was made to ensure Derry’s successful bid.

“I am delighted to offer my heartiest congratulations to the City of Derry,” Mr Cowen said in a statement. The victory would allow Derry and the northwest to “show the wider world how far it has come and how much it has to offer”.

It was also a platform to celebrate Derry’s history in the context of a modern city that embraces all traditions, he said.

The literary and artistic traditions and the regeneration projects under way in the city would make its region “colourful and dynamic”, Mr Cowen added.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said it was a “great day for Derry and Northern Ireland”.

Togetherness and reconciliation was at the heart of the bid, he said. Derry’s dignified and unified reaction to the report of the Saville Inquiry gave an example of how people in Northern Ireland can move forward together, he added.