BELFAST – A Northern Irish city which endured years of unrest during the province’s troubled past was Thursday selected to be Britain’s first city of culture.
Hundreds of jubilant Londonderry residents cheered as it was announced that the city had won the accolade, giving a boost to the entire region after riots this week in Belfast evoked memories of the province’s darkest days.
“This is a gift to the peacemakers,” said Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, himself from Londonderry, in praise of all those who have strived to end conflict in the city.
“This is fantastic news for the city and the entire region and I am immensely proud of what has been achieved.”
Londonderry will become Britain’s first city of culture in 2013, a title which is designed to help areas boost their economy through tourism and the creative industries.
It does not come with any government funding but Northern Ireland’s second biggest city can expect to stage a number of events of national significance.
Londonderry beat off competition from three other cities across Britain to pick up the coveted award, in a competition that was launched by the previous government.
The city witnessed much suffering and bloodshed during Northern Ireland’s Troubles, as the three decades of civil unrest in the province are known.
It was the scene of Bloody Sunday, one of Northern Ireland’s darkest episodes in which 13 civilians were killed by British soldiers when they opened fire on a civil rights march in 1972.
A long-awaited official report on the incident last month cleared any of the victims of being armed and said soldiers gave no warnings before opening fire.
Londonderry is still marked by sectarian divisions, but in recent years strides have been made to bring Protestant and Catholic communities closer together.
The Troubles pitched Catholic republicans, opposed to British rule, against Protestants, who favoured being governed from London, and left some 3,500 people dead.
The violence was largely ended by a 1998 peace deal but sporadic violence still flares in the province. Sectarian rioting erupted over several nights this week in Belfast which left 82 police officers injured.