Can a cultural first inspire Londonderry’s youth?
It’s famous as the birthplace of the Troubles, a period of history which has left an indelible mark on the city. And as Northern Ireland’s second city situated close to the border with the Republic of Ireland, Londonderry was always a hotspot for sectarian tension.
But now it has a new identity – as the UK’s first ever City of Culture*. This year Derry will host the first Turner Prize ever to be held outside England, a new commission by the London Symphony Orchestra, and the first visit to Northern Ireland of the Royal Ballet for over 20 years.
For the full interview, see below
But the programme of events will also reflect the city’s rich cultural heritage and its thriving contemporary arts scene.
So it’ll host the return of influential theatre company Field Day, as well as contributions from locally-born poet Seamus Heaney and artist Willie Doherty.
But twenty years after the Good Friday agreement, will this be enough to distance the city from its associations with the Troubles? It’s a period of history which for many is still impossible to ignore. The City of Culture offices are based in the former Ebrington Barracks of the British Army, on a square which for decades was an army parade ground and despised by many people living in Derry.
Other offices belonging to the City of Culture company have twice been targeted with bomb attacks by dissident republicans. No-one was injured and hundreds of people were moved to protest against the attacks.
But even today the city’s name – referred to in official City of Culture documents as “Derry~Londonderry” – is still a source of deep division.
So when I visited the city and chatted to local people, I was pleased to discover that the vast majority of them were enthusiastic about its year as UK City of Culture, and hopeful that long-term impact of the initiative will be positive.
Michael Bradley, the bass player for The Undertones, told me that the band would not have been the same if it had been formed in another city – practising in friends’ houses to avoid the violence meant developing their sound in isolation – but a vibrant local musical tradition shaped the more normal teenage preoccupations that dominated their music:
And with 40 per cent of Derry’s population under the age of 25, the programme of events is very much aimed at inspiring a future generation – with the aim of helping the people of Derry finally move on from their past.
Derry’s year as UK City of Culture will begin with a free concert on the 20th January. Events will run throughout the year.
* A European city has been designated Capital of Culture in each year since 1985
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