A monastic superhero returns from exile to celebrate Derry–Londonderry’s year as the first ever UK City of Culture.
Best Outdoor Event, 2014 Event Awards
All eyes were on Derry–Londonderry as the first ever UK City of Culture – and our landmark event showed the world exactly why it was chosen as the first UK City of Culture in 2013.
Creating a unifying story in a city whose recent past was defined by division and misunderstanding was a challenge that needed a sensitive but confident approach. To help us shape that story, we invited one of the best storytellers around to join us – Frank Cottrell-Boyce, writer of the Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Games London 2012.
The result was The Return of Colmcille: an epic tale of the city’s founder, the historic vanquisher of the Loch Ness Monster and a key figure in the spreading of literacy and peace across Europe.
The event was the most ambitious outdoor arts project in Northern Ireland’s history. Pageantry, procession and spectacle unfolded in spectacular style across the city, temporarily renamed Colmville, with a series of storytelling performances showing Colmcille what he’d missed during his 1,500 years away.
The Return of Colmcille, 2013, Rich Kenworthy
The Return of Colmcille played out in several ‘chapters’. We began on Iona, the saint's isle of exile following a bloody battle, where a precious cargo began a journey by curragh to Derry–Londonderry. Some 14 days later, more than 40,000 people flooded the streets to take in a glorious tapestry of processions, site-specific theatre , dance, music, literature, aquatic spectacle and more – featuring over 1,000 local participants.
As our cargo was finally unveiled, Derry–Londonderry became Colmville, and a procession created by and for local people weaved through the city. But soon, rumours spread online about the arrival of a fearsome foe with a grudge to bear – drawing more than two million hits on social media and even making the national news.
The audience waited with bated breath for our epic showdown finale on the River Foyle – pitting the Saint against a 70-metre-long, 18-metre-high, fire-breathing Loch Ness Monster. And as they waited, the city came together – and Derry–Londonderry shone in a whole new light.
‘This weekend’s events… were reminiscent of the opening ceremony of last year’s Olympic Games, capturing the same spirit of participation, cultural celebration and storytelling together with a similar offbeat sense of humour. The sun shone throughout on a city – a once-troubled city which showed that if you can rise above the corrosive effects of cynicism and self-interest, the world really can be a lighter, brighter place.’
Will Gompertz, BBC Arts Editor
With thanks to our partners: Culture Company 2013, North West Regional College, Verbal Arts Centre, Foyle Port and Nerve Centre.