March was another fantastic month for our city and an important month for our Irish speaking community as we celebrated Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) from 9th to 16th March.
However, as this year is Bliain na Gaeilge, (National Year of Irish) and as a fluent Irish speaker and Irish language activist I decided as Mayor of our city to host Lá na Gaeilge (Irish Language Day). On Saturday the 16th March from 12.00 pm to 4.00pm we had a celebration of all things Irish in Guildhall Square with an outdoor céilí, traditional music sessions, an Irish language information point, arts and crafts activities for families and performances by children from our local Gaelscoileanna all of which was complemented by the Walled City Market. The atmosphere was fantastic with all those who came into Guildhall Square enjoying the lively activity and using the cúpla focal they had or taking time just listening to the beauty of our language being spoken to blend in with a magical day.
This was a great lead in to our traditional St Patrick’s Day Celebrations the following day with the theme of All Kinds of Everything. This is one of the largest festivals in the city’s event calendar bringing thousands of people to the city centre to view the spectacular colour and vibrancy of the community Carnival parade. As usual the community and voluntary sector stepped up to the mark and put their collective shoulder to the wheel to help create another excellent inclusive St Patrick’s Day Parade that everyone in this city can be proud of.
As Mayor of the city I was delighted and honoured to lead the colourful parade through the city to the delight of thousands of people who came out to witness this spectacular parade and join in on the family fun day. March also saw myself, the Town Clerk Sharon O’Connor and Martin Bradley Chairperson of the Culture Company travel to Washington DC as invited guests of the NI Bureau. This invite gave us the opportunity to meet with some very important and influential politicians in Washington to sell the city and region to attract inward investment and jobs.
Over the four-day period we met with representatives from Congress, Mayors of different locations in Washington and business people and we built the relationships that are necessary to attract investment to our city.
I also had the privilege to attend the GAA’s Annual Conference held in the Venue in Ebrington Square with delegates coming from every part of the country to attend. This was the first time the conference was held in our city and it was a great success.
However the highlight of the month for me had to be my accompanying Foyle Search and Rescue, on Friday night as they attended to their usual weekend duties on the River Foyle. It was a great honour and privilege to be able to accompany this professional, yet voluntary organisation as they went about their duties patrolling the river and the bridges to protect vulnerable people in the city.
I met the team at 9.00pm at their offices as they signed in and it struck me right away that they were first of all very close friends and the comradeship among them shone through right away. These are volunteers who come from all walks of life and are representative of the entire community.
At 9.30pm the volunteers were broke into teams, the river crew who patrol the river from Craigavon Bridge to the Foyle Bridge in their speed boat to the volunteers on foot that walk the bridges and river front and the team in the land cruiser who circle the entire area watching for signs of things untoward. I had the honour of accompanying all teams on Friday night as I moved from one group to another to experience the different situations. However when we took a break around 12.00am and retired to their offices for a cup of tea I discovered that the ladies on that particular night had baked some beautiful cakes and buns.
I take it this happens on most shifts, however after three hours of patrolling with the teams I was ready for some coffee and chocolate cake and was that cake beautiful, it made my night. So thank you to Foyle Search and Rescue for allowing me the privilege and honour to accompany them in their work.
I am aiming to make the month of May Foyle Search and Rescue month so I will be looking for all the citizens of the Derry to join with me in raising much needed funds for the group. I will be advertising the arrangements in the coming weeks so I would appeal to people keep an eye out and join with me in organising some charity events.