Thousands queue to take first steps on Peace Bridge

Local schoolchildren make thier way across the river at the opening of the Peace Bridge. (2606SL17) Photo: Stephen Latimer
Local schoolchildren make thier way across the river at the opening of the Peace Bridge. (2606SL17) Photo: Stephen Latimer

Shortly after 3pm, the wait was officially over.

Thousands of people from Derry, Donegal, Strabane and even New Jersey lined the banks of the River Foyle to wait their turn to walk across Derry’s new foot bridge.

Newly weds, fathers with children on their shoulders, mothers pushing prams, young people clutching bottles of water, elderly couples with bags of shopping, tourists and dog walkers all slowly made their way to the other side.

People in canoes, yachts and jet skis zipped up and down the river, waving to those walking across the bridge.

First across the bridge were the VIP guests. Local politicians, business people, community workers and children made their way to the centre of the bridge where the ribbon was officially cut by European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johanne Hahn.

The sense of occasion was shared with even the most well known of public figures as they got in on the party by taking pictures of themselves on the new bridge with their mobile phones.

As the ceremony came to an end the VIP guests shuffled their way off the bridge before it was officially open to the public.

“Are you ready to claim your bridge?” asked MC for the day Wendy Austin. The reaction on the Cityside of the river was vociferous to say the least and the peoples’ desire to “claim their bridge” became tangible minutes later when the stewards removed the barriers and allowed them through.

People stopped on their journey to the other side to take pictures, to talk with old friends whilst some took time out to admire the many different views of the city, that up until recently, had never been enjoyed before.

As people made their way over and back the queues of people waiting for their turn to walk the bridge continued to increase.

Some walked alone whilst others were joined by friends and loved ones. It takes all of five minutes to reach the other side but many found it hard to walk without interruption. The views are spectacular and half way across there are two wooden benches for people to sit and watch the world go by.

Thousands of people may have walked the bridge yesterday but it was an extremely intimate moment for many old enough to remember the city’s past but with each step came the sounding call that Derry was no longer a city stuck in the past but a place of reconciliation with its eyes firmly set on the future.

June 25, 2011 is the latest date to signify Derry’s determination to move from the past towards the future. The publication of the Saville report just over a year ago was a watershed moment in Derry’s history but yesterday’s ceremony along the River Foyle was a signal to the rest of the world that Derry has moved into a new era of peace, equality and respect.