Derry Halloween 2021 to expand into Donegal for first time as Awakening The Walls and fireworks return

Derry’s premier Hallowe’en celebrations will be extended into Donegal for the first time this year with special events being planned for Grianán of Aileach and Swan Park in Buncrana.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 8:44 am

The new development was among several revealed at a meeting of Derry & Strabane Council’s Business & Culture Committee on Tuesday.

With possible restrictions still in place by late October, the annual Halloween carnival parade in Derry will not take place but the fireworks displays in Derry and Strabane will.

The primary focus in planning for this year’s event is to be the “extension and expansion” of the Awakening the Walls programme out from the City Walls and into the wider City Centre.

The giant Sarusus entertain the crowds at the Awakening on the Walls carnival in the city centre.  DER4419GS - 016
The giant Sarusus entertain the crowds at the Awakening on the Walls carnival in the city centre. DER4419GS - 016

Included in these plans are for the Awakening the Walled City to comprise of a crowd friendly circuit of the city that can accommodate considerable footfall, social distancing and crowd management while enabling people to enjoy a variety of themed locations and experiences safety and at their leisure.

An illuminated trail with a number of themed zones that could feature a range of installations, large scale inflatables, displays, dressing and animation is being looked at.

Another zone would be included for Strabane town with the development of visual art installations.

A number of trading opportunities would be identified within each of the Zones in order to give audiences visiting each area a fully immersive experience that is self-contained and will support crowd management plans, and ensure an even spread of visitors across the city and reduce mass movement.

Crowds fill Grand Parde as the Awakening of the Walls begins as Derry City and Strabane District Councilâ€TMs Halloweâ€TMen celebrations get into full swing ahead of the spectacular carnival parade and fireworks display on Thursday night. Picture Martin McKeown. 28.10.19

Following consultation with the North West Carnival Initiative it was decided that a Carnival Parade would still be deemed too high risk to start the planning at this stage in its usual format which involves thousands of people in close proximity.

North West Carnival Initiative have proposed, as an alternative, a site based event experience at St Columb’s Park creatively reimagining the space using creative art installations and community participation.

Councillors were informed that an additional ‘fifth zone’ has been identified with activity to be extended into Donegal with the support of £30,000 from the North West Development Fund.

The objective of this funding is to extend the tourism impact of Derry Halloween into the wider region and placing the wider region on the map. The plan is to use Grianán of Aileach Fort as a promotional location to help tell the mythical story of Samhain.

A dancer emerges fron the City Walls during the Awakening of the Walls as part of a previous halloween festival in ther city. Picture Martin McKeown. 28.10.19

There is also a plan for some family based activity in the recently redeveloped Swan Park site in Buncrana.

The Events, Tourism and Marketing teams are working closely with the officers in Donegal County Council to deliver this project on the ground.

“This exciting activity will help reinforce the City and District as the number one Halloween destination,” Councillors were told.

Elected Members attending the monthly committee meeting were reminded how last year’s Halloween celebrations were reduced significantly but included a very successful Community Participation programme, a Citywide Dressing Scheme of Large Scale Inflatables and a full Halloween digital programme that included Little Horrors and Samhain Sessions to keep the spirit and brand of the festival alive.

Aeidin McCarter Head of Culture with the Council said that as the city and district takes tentative steps back towards life as we knew it pre-Covid, the Council continues to follow the guidance from on managing COVID-19 with the Festival and Events team continuing to closely monitor the evolving situation and working closely with Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance and other industry bodies.

She said that Council is very mindful that there is still a risk of proceeding with an event in its pre COVID-19 format. “Not only is it a potential risk to the general public who might attend the event, but to Council staff, contractors, artists, statutory authorities and agencies who collaborate with Council to deliver the events programme.

“For that reason there is likely to be a focus on a local and domestic audiences with international travel restrictions likely still to be in place, however there is an opportunity to promote to an international audience for future events through the delivery of quality digital content.”

She added that given this new environment, officers have been working with the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to create and plan programme content for Halloween 2021. She said should some restrictions remain in place in October it is hoped a programme of some scale can be rolled out based on the learnings from Halloween 2020, in particular the large scale inflatable trail.

Aeidin McCarter added that officers in consultation with the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) will continue to carefully assess and plan for all elements of the Halloween programme, as the city and region moves cautiously through 2021.

She said a final decision on the safety of proceeding with wider programming including the Legenderry Food Village, Harvest Market, Live Street Music and Street animation/theatre will be made in August when there will hopefully be more clarity as we ease out of lockdown. She assured elected members that all content will be developed in line with the COVID-19 safety guidelines of the time.

She indicated that the proposed dates for this year’s Halloween Festival are Friday 29th October – Sunday 31st October 2021 with Awakening the Walled City programme running for three evenings. There will be a Fireworks Displays on the October 31 in both the City and Strabane with the final decision being made in line with the COVID-19 safety guidelines at the time and that officers will also work to explore the opportunities for business and hospitality promotion and the roll out of the LegenDerry food brand, to assist with the easing out of lockdown at this time.

As with other years, a call out will be made to organisations across the cultural, hospitality and creative sectors to collate and promote the wider city and regional offering at Halloween.

Members voted to approve the overall budget and procurement arrangements that were outlined at the meeting subject to confirmation of funding from partners and were advised that an updated report would be brought back to the committee in September.

Newly elected chairman of the committee, Councillor Conor Heaney welcomed the report and thanked the officer team for their work saying the city and district was hopeful to see a return of the Halloween celebrations later this year. He encouraged the public to continue to adhere to the COVID regulation guidelines and health safety messaging.