It may come as little surprise when I select that week of the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil as my personal highlight of 2013 in Derry. But strangely enough it wasn’t for the music in particular. It was the sense that the city’s hour had come - finally.
The mind goes back for some reason to Guildhall Square on the Sunday afternoon of the Fleadh. The sun was out, crowds were milling around, and everyone seemed in good form. Smiling faces, young people of all ages playing traditional music, a great atmosphere and Derry looking its very best. Underpinning it all was a sense of organisation - it was a big show, but it was under control. Lots of people to meet, and everyone really positive about what was happening.
Contrast that with the dark streets which seemed to be the hallmark of the ‘80s, years when it was more about escape than enjoyment, although then too there were friendships and some good times.
Time off work early in the year meant I was a little late coming to the Culture celebration, but thankfully I still managed to catch quite a bit. Unexpectedly, the visual arts came to the fore. For starters, the exhibition ‘Picturing Derry’ in the new City Factory Gallery was a revelation, even for someone fairly saturated with images from the Troubles years. The work of the French photojournalist Gilles Carron stood out in a great collection. He must have been one interesting individual - a former French paratrooper in Algeria who in a few short years covered conflicts in the Middle East, Vietnam and Mexico, student riots in France, famine in Biafra. Not long after he left Derry, he disappeared on a road in Cambodia controlled by the Kymer Rouge.
It was an honour to play a few tunes at the opening of the Eamonn O’Doherty show in the London Street Gallery off Bishop Street. Poet and musician Ciaran Carson produced a newly-bought tin whistle and his wife Deirdre (one of my mother’s favourite fiddlers) also joined in.
The show itself was a great tribute to a remarkable Derry man who could sculpt (he did the figures at Sainsburys), paint and print with the best of them. It’s fitting that the Minister recently came up with the money for his armoured pram.
Another great show was Basil Blackshaw at 80 at the Gordon Gallery, which had a fine programme in 2013.
The Turner show, still ongoing, is well worth a visit both for the work of the four artists and the job done with £2.5m to create a fine gallery at Ebrington. That gallery has got to be part of the legacy. It can’t be just turned into offices next month.
Lumiere seemed a bit airy-fairy when it was first mentioned. A winter light show. Well, what a show. The crowds flocked in again. St Columb’s Park was wonderful, and Derry that Sunday night was altogether magical.
The city was also a vibrant place on Music City day. Hopefully that will be an annual chance to showcase local talent, of which there’s lots. Singing ‘Danny Boy’ with the masses in Guildhall Square was also one of those moments, especially when an American woman turned around afterwards with congratulations. The man next to me had a fine voice.
There was so much happening at times. Lots of memories - playing at a small reception in the Legenderry cafe for Martin Luther King III; the Return of Colmcille dragon and fireworks; ‘Sixes and Sevens’ in the stunning ‘new’ Guildhall; interviewing the amazing Finnish accordion player Kimmo Pohjonen, during the Guth Gafa film festival; talking to the friendly and committed team on ‘The Big Weave’ in St Augustine’s; the incredible Swiss drummers at the Tattoo. Another experience was puzzling over Sam Shepard’s ‘A Particle of Dread’ at the Playhouse with a great cast led by Stephen Rea - echoes of the Field Day productions in an earlier Derry.
The Derry Journal played its role in 2013. As well as all the regular coverage - and thanks to all the reporters and photographers involved - the paper was print media partner. In what was a first, the Journal and Londonderry Sentinel were partners in the official magazine
You do wonder at the legacy of 2013. Rather as this magnificent City of Culture year started, so does it end - wondering at its impact. How well we carry forward its undoubted achievements? So much is still up for grabs.
By its own lights, 2013 was a big success. It has changed Derry’s story; it has brought the city to outside attention, increasing visitor numbers; it has showcased the arts and increased audiences locally for cultural events; it has generated new levels of civic pride. We need all that as the city faces into the familiar challenges of 2014 and the years to come - dole queues, poverty, child poverty, poor transport links, an under-developed university, and the rest.
Derry was put to the test in 2013 - and passed with flying colours. It’s a city of achievement. However, it can’t do it alone. Our hope for 2014 must be that it is given a fair chance, and the political and financial support, to win even bigger in the times ahead.