Derry

I dragged my family all the way to Derry yesterday to experience the UK’s first City of Culture, an opportunity it won over other great cities – Birmingham, Sheffield and Norwich. I hasten to add that I didn’t drag them all the way from Cambridge where I now live but from another part of Northern Ireland where most of my family live. Except that other exile, my much adored only sister who now lives in the US. I chose yesterday – 4 April – in fact because she left us that morning to return westward and I thought it might distract us from that fact. And because the homepage of a gallery I wanted to visit said that its new exhibition was open from 4 April. It wasn’t, at least not until 6pm that evening when we would be gone again. In fact, nothing seemed to be open. Not even the city’s beautiful Guildhall which was not only shut, but totally behind fencing. There wasn’t a mention of the City of Culture in either the train or bus stations. The Tourist Information signage in the city centre didn’t mention it either. Or have any maps of cultural highlights – we had to Google from our phones to find addresses of places. There wasn’t even the shop HQ place they had two years ago when I last visited and when the city was bidding from City of Culture status. Maybe it had moved somewhere else and we just couldn’t find it. The only evidence of it all was one of those awful outdoor screens which seemed to be broadcasting the TV, and a few flags. What’s going on? Derry is one of the most important cities in Ireland. It encapsulates the whole of Irish history in one historic centre – a walled city that was established in the 6th century and has seen centuries of rebellion from the 17th century right up until the recent Troubles and the civil rights movement. It really has the most complex and important political and cultural history and identity. Maybe it’s all still waiting to happen – the Turner Prize and other home grown cultural events arrive and emerge later in the year. But there’s not much going on at the moment. Even though it’s the school holidays. Maybe it’ s supposed to be low key and quiet. Oh well. It’s still the friendliest city I know and the train journey there is through some of the most stunning scenery you are ever likely to see. And the banks of the Lough Foyle estuary were literally teeming with wading birds of all kinds – avocets, oyster catchers, sandpipers, geese, whooper swans. Beautiful.

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About donnalynas

I've been Director of Wysing Arts Centre since 2005 and have worked with a lot of very talented people to develop it into a genuinely inspiring and creative place. Before Wysing I was Curator at South London Gallery (1999-2005) and Touring Exhibitions Organiser (1995-97) and then Curator (1997-99) at Modern Art Oxford. Previous to that I had studios in Reading and Dundee - I studied design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and then spent five years making stuff and organising shows in my studio and empty shops.
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