A friend of mine from Dublin always used to joke that he thought the Liffey was a river until he came to visit Derry. He would insist that the capital’s river was a mere trickle of water in comparison to the scale and magnificence of the Foyle. Humour aside, he had a very good point.
For the next 10 days the rich resource that is the Foyle will finally receive the prominence and the promotion it deserves. The Clipper Homecoming Festival looks set to bring life back to the river and bring the river back into the life of our city.
One of the most enduring memories which I retain from serving as Mayor last year was having the honour of launching this city’s Clipper entry from the banks of the Foyle. For me, the launch gave resonance to a new ambition, an ambition to extend this city’s perspective and personality beyond the shores of this island.
Since that day that small vessel has made its way across the globe, conquering 40,000 miles in all the vast oceans of this world and visiting several prestigious ports. This weekend it will re-enter the mouth of the Foyle. By any standards, it is a remarkable story and achievement.
The end of the journey for this boat and its crew will also, I hope, mark a new beginning in our use and affinity with our river. The next 10 days will see a whole host of events and activities on and along the river. Ships, boats, kayaks, canoes, even yachts will be seen on the Foyle.
Attractions, for young and old, will be placed all along the banks.
The continental market will be up and running in Guildhall Square. A ‘Flavours of the Foyle’ festival will be underway at Queen’s Quay. The North Atlantic Fiddle Festival will ensure that music will reverberate around our streets. Crucially, the complimentary dynamics of economics and entertainment will flow to all our benefit.
The objective, however, must be to expand the obvious potential success of the Clipper festival beyond the limit of the next 10 days. If the river is the star of the show for the next two weekends, there is no reason why this can’t be the case for many more weekends.
The Foyle’s memory of Columba, the siege boom, famine ships, partition, world war submarines and political exodus form a massive portion of the tapestry shaping Derry’s history. It is core to our landscape and our heritage. Its timeless presence and potential is, therefore, needed all the more as we endeavour to build a better future.
Good sustainable planning, retaining the natural beauty of the river whilst growing its economic capacity, is essential to this process. The completion of our cycle paths and the walkway along the quays have, and will, undoubtedly help.
Progress and completion of the Riverside Masterplan, incorporating the developments of Fort George and Ebrington, and the eventual establishment of the Maritime Museum will also go a long way to engineer economic opportunities.
In addition, all of these projects are now gracefully aided by the elegance of the Peace Bridge. It is this agenda which will act to free the dormant capacity of the Foyle. The next 10 days will hopefully give us a glimpse of what is possible if the Foyle is properly used. We are lucky to have a river of such beauty. Enjoy the weekend and enjoy the river.