Derry to be first British culture capital

And the winner is... Londonderry! Or should that be Derry? Apparently it’s both these days. The ‘Derry-Londonderry’ bid was announced last night as the first British Capital of Culture for 2013.

And the winner is… Londonderry! Or should that be Derry? Apparently it’s both these days. The ‘Derry-Londonderry’ bid was announced last night as the first British Capital of Culture for 2013. But bad news for fellow shortlisted cities – Sheffield, Birmingham and Norwich – who were likewise hoping to scoop up our Mini-Me version of European Capital of Culture.

And Ironic, perhaps, for a city where many of its inhabitants see themselves as Irish, not British. UK teatime viewers may also have been a bit surprised to see the beaming visage of Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, on the BBC’s ‘One Show’, as the bid was announced.

Derry city centre was famously described as looking as though it had been “bombed from the air” during his tenure as adjutant of the Provisional IRA in the city during the 1970s. Nevertheless, he said he was “over the moon”, describing the award as a “precious gift for the peacemakers.”

High aspirations for a mere bauble? But there is a harder edge to why 29 UK cities fought for the title. Following Liverpool’s successful year as European Capital of Culture back in 2008 there is now a real appreciation of the economic impact culture can bring.

During Liverpool’s year in the spotlight, an extra 9.7 million visitors came to the city, generating revenues of £754 million for Liverpool and the immediate surrounding area. And the city’s reputation took a shot in the arm too – 77 per cent of visitors felt the city was “safer than I expected”. So long to ‘Scousers-nick-cars’ jokes. Oh, and there was a 10 per cent increase in arts audiences to boot.

So what tipped the scale in Derry’s favour?

Well having a stellar campaign certainly helped. And an interesting international dimension too. Both the first and deputy first ministers, along with the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, were vocal supporters. But extra muscle came courtesy of the economic envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly. As a man who reports directly to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he is clearly someone who gets things done; my guess is that poor old Norwich didn’t stand a chance.

But the road ahead is not without difficulties. Deciding on a unified cultural offering in this deeply divided city will be a diplomatic toil. So, too, more practical measures. Protocol arrangements around any royal visit to the city will certainly tax royal flunkies. Mind you, following Prince Charles’s impromptu meeting with the former director of publicity for Sinn Fein at Glastonbury, anything is now possible.

But the love-in has limits. Lord Saville’s report into Bloody Sunday has yet to play out its endgame. Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service is looking at whether perjury (if not murder) charges should be brought against the soldiers who killed 14 men on the streets of Derry 38 years ago. Civil action may also be brewing. Potent reminders of the tortuous recent past.

Derry is a place that has suffered much – but despite the formidable lobbying clout it managed to bring to bear, it is a city rich in culture and can punch its weight on merit alone. To borrow a line from its famous son – and prominent bid backer – Seamus Heaney:

I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder;
That you would neither cajole nor ignore.

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11 Responses to “Derry to be first British culture capital”

  1. Liz McShane

    Radio Ulster broadcaster & genius, Gerry Anderson, coined the wonderful term ‘Stroke City’ – nothing to do with the state of people’s health but as a solution to get around the sometimes tricky & contentious Derry vs Londonderry problem.

    When people in NI want to be inclusive they would say” Derry/Londonderry (ie Derry stroke Londonderry), hence it became affectionately known in some quarters as Stroke City – a neutral, inspired term that does not cause offence to anyone!

    I can’t imagine Derry even being entered or promoted in this kind of competition 5-10 years as for some people it would have been a political anathema. It just shows how things have moved on since the GFA.

  2. B Latif

    Naming #ethnic/ #religious #wars; #Londonderry or Derry? The first #British #Culture #Capital:

  3. Toque

    RT @leftfootfwd Derry to be first British culture capital: >>> How strange that it's not even in Britain!

  4. Lord Lindley

    RT @toques: RT @leftfootfwd Derry to be first British culture capital: >>> How strange that it's not even in Britain!

  5. JoshC

    Congrats to them. As a Sheffielder this Capital Of Culture thing has been most interesting in seeing how other people see my fair city. The BBC had a Have Your Say on the subject and it soon became clear that an awful lot of people who’ve never been here before were derisive of Sheffield and thought it was still a 1980s industrial wasteland full of thick Northerners in cloth caps. Londoners in particular.

  6. Erin van der Maas

    Derry is not actually in Britain so why would they see themselves as British? It is of course part of the UK and it is the UK capital of Culture – it would be impossible for it to be British Captial of Culture as it is not in Britain [england, wales scotland = Britain]

  7. Shamik Das

    The island of Great Britain is not the same as “Britain”. It’s like suggesting Rory McIlroy isn’t a “British” golfer!

  8. modicum

    Referring to the United Kingdom as “Britain” is a useful shorthand, like referring to the former USSR as “Russia”, or the Netherlands as “Holland”, or the UK as “England”. It’s excusable, but it’s not really correct, and it airbrushes Northern Ireland out of the union.

    It’s quite obvious that “Britain” has its origins as an abbreviation of “Great Britain” not the “UK”. Bear in mind that “Great Britain” is also often used as a shorthand for the UK. Using “Britain” is just a continuation of that dubious practice.

    As for the identity of people in Northern Ireland, they are entitled to consider themselves British or Irish or anything else. I don’t think there’s much point in telling someone what his identity is. Nationality is a fairly vaporous concept anyway.

    In the case of Rory McIlroy I gather he’s from a nationalist background and considers himself Irish. If so then that should be respected.

  9. blogs of the world

    And the winner is… Londonderry! Or should that be Derry? Apparently it's both these days… #culture

  10. Bloody Sunday’s unfinished business | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • Derry to be first British culture capital – Kevin Meagher, July 16th […]

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