Friday, July 09, 2010

Proud of the town we love so well

We're all hoping aren't we? I'm holding my fingers tightly crossed and really, really hoping that come next Thursday when the City of Culture is announced the judges will have decided that Derry/Londonderry is the place worthy of the title.
I'll admit something, I was a cynic when this first started. For one, our major theatre doesn't seat very many people and is nigh on impossible to get parked near to. Secondly, it's Derry and traditionally not very many good things wing their way Derry's way.
Now, proud as I am to be a Derry wan - and very proud I am too - I couldn't but feel we were pitching out of our league. Yes, we have Seamus Heaney, and Brian Friel and Cathal Breslin, Nadine Coyle, Jennifer Johnston and a whole other pile of dead famous people among our midst but we don't really have the infrastructure to host the UK's largest arts events for a whole year.
And then there was the embarrassment that was local political parties throwing the rattly out of the pram over a UK banner flying high over Derry/ Londonderry/ Doire. We seemed destined to shoot ourselves in the foot before it even began.
But as the campaign has built momentum, as we have edged nearer to the finish line, something new and exciting has started to creep in. Derry has started to hope. We have started to value ourselves. We have started to stand up and say we are proud to be who we are and we are on a winning streak.
The most emotional week I had recently was undoubtedly that in which in the Saville Inquiry reported back, exonerating all those who were killed or injured on Bloody Sunday and pointing the finger of blame squarely where it deserved to be pointed.
Two days after that report - that most momentous and gloriously sunny day - I went to the Nerve Centre and watched the 'Voices' video - the short film made to support the bid and I was blown away. (Of course the fact that my sister and two gorgeous nieces feature, albeit briefly, in the video had absolutely nothing to do with that, honest guv.)
I've always been been a staunch fan and supporter of Derry. I've set my three bestsellers on the banks of the Foyle and been delighted when people from outside the city have contacted me to say they now see the city in a new light. But when I saw the Voices video, I saw the city in a new light myself and it was a damn nice light.
Gone are the barriers, checkpoints and building sites/ bomb sites of my childhood. Gone are the rusty slides and hard concrete floors of dodgy parks. Gone are the same old people rattling on about the same old past. Gone is the fear and replacing it all is a sense of hope and of pride. And great shops, restaurants, bar, clubs, parks, community groups and even the fountains in the Guildhall Square are a good job.
The pride that Phil Coulter sang of in 'The Town I Love So Well' - in those lines 'There was music there, in the Derry air, like a language that we all could understand' seems to be back. Derry looks and feels like a cool place to live. It feels like the place it always should have been - but which we lost somewhere along the way. It feels like a place steeped in history - a gateway to the North and the South. A place with a young, vibrant community. A place with a remarkably talented and vibrant community who give and give and give and never stop to ask for much in return.
I'm hoping that the judges in the City of Culture bid have seen all this. If I can have my eyes opened to a place I see every day and see it as something special then surely those looking at Derry with fresh eyes will see what we have to offer.
Personally I'll be standing on the sidelines on Thursday, waiting to see what lies ahead - planning a chick lit convention or something equally fabulous - should we get the go ahead.
But I won't beat my chest and shout about the unfairness of it all if it doesn't happen. As far as I'm concerned those behind the City of Culture bid have already achieved what they wanted to and more - they have given the people of this city a sense of place, a sense of pride and a sense of hope.
So, as Thursday approaches and I start to feel even more emotional and melancholy about the place which always has been and always will be home to me, the words of Phil Coulter sound in my ears once again.
"For what's done is done and what's won is won
And what's lost is lost and gone for ever
I can only pray for a bright, brand new day
In the town I loved so well".

Oh, and if you want, you can watch the video here!

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