I took the boy down to the Quay on Sunday morning. We wanted to watch the Derry~Londonderry clipper sail into port and to be honest I expected to be there for maybe half an hour before scuttling off home out of the rain.
It felt like one of those things you do because you are trying to be a good parent when you would really rather be doing something else instead - like watching re-runs of Hollyoaks and eating a Sunday morning bacon sandwich.
I didn’t expect to enjoy it that much and I certainly didn’t expect to have the emotional reaction to the event that I did.
In fact I don’t think I expected to have the emotional response to the entire Clipper event that I have done. My heart has swollen with pride on numerous occasions over the week - not least on Sunday when, instead of the quick half hour on the quay, we ended up spending several hours wandering up and down taking in all the attractions.
As the boy and I cheered and waved to the homecoming crew I thought of how the quay must have looked to them - swarmed with people, newly remodelled - looking well even in the bad weather. I looked on it all with new eyes and I’m not afraid to say I had to fight back tears of pride.
We’ve been back since - a few times - with new things to see on each visit and on each visit I have marvelled at how well our city looks and how well we are portraying ourselves to the world.
And while the boats and the various displays are all impressive - what has struck me most is the sense of community and the warmth of spirit which has descended on our city.
The welcome home the crew of the Derry~Londonderry got was out of this world - despite the rain pelting down. And as we walked along the quay afterwards, bumping into countless people we knew who all stopped to smile and comment on how brilliant the event was I felt as if something special really was happening right on our doorsteps.
Sure it was raining. It feels like it hasn’t stopped raining for the past month - and at times you could barely see in front of you for the sheets of the stuff pelting down - but that hasn’t stopped the people of the city coming out, bracing the elements and getting stuck in.
There hasn’t been a trace of negativity about the place - instead the Clipper Festival has been heralded an unprecedented success. The riverfront has come alive with music, magic and entertainment and the people of Derry have come out in their droves to support it.
I can’t in my lifetime recall an event in the city which created such goodwill and such a festival atmosphere. I would say the week long party has even exceeded the previous high points of the annual Banks of the Foyle Hallowe’en Festival. For the first time we have embraced our river - and we have allowed ourselves to revel in sheer positivity and hope.
I know this may well sound cheesy and it is definitely cliched but this week has without a doubt been a game-changer for Derry. My son has been enthralled at each at every turn. He has revelled in each new event and his enthusiasm has been infectious.
The feeling is not confined to my eight year old - Twitter and Facebook have been buzzing with chat about what is going on down at the quay. The festival has truly been a family affair with everyone from babies in prams to elderly grannies and grandads getting in on the action. There’s even been a beer tent - and not one complaint about anyone having a few too many and getting a bit rowdy on it.
This is what it should be like - and what, we all hope, 2013 and beyond will be like. If you ever wanted evidence that Derry is stepping bravely into a new and shiny future we have it right on our doorstep, right now. We have a showcase of our talent, our creativity and our positivity right here, right now showing the world how it is done.
For our children, we are creating a lasting legacy.
We are building childhoods so different from our own - allowing our children these amazing experiences, and allowing them to belong to a strong community. We are showing ourselves as a force to be reckoned with - proving that we can do things right and that we have a lot to offer both to our own people and to the visitors from near and far.
I’ve heard that crews from the clippers - and not just our homegrown crowd - have said the welcome they have received in Derry has been second to none. They say they have been blown away not only by the warmth of our welcome but by the standard set by this year’s festival.
We can only hope that this is start of things to come for our lovely city on the banks of our lovely river.
As we walked away on Sunday the boy turned to me and said: “Mummy, I don’t think I will ever, ever forget this.” I think it is fair enough to agree that this week has been fairly unforgettable - thankfully for the right reasons.