By MITCHELL SMYTH, Special to QMI Agency
LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland -- Danny Boy is arguably the most famous Irish song in the world. Many people know it is sung to a traditional Irish melody called The Londonderry Air.
The wistful ballad will be sung in pubs all over the world on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, but nowhere will it be sung with more feeling than here in its "hometown," for this is Danny Boy's 100th anniversary.
It was in early 1913 -- some like to think on St. Patrick's Day -- that Frederic Weatherly, an English lawyer and songwriter (who, incidentally, never set foot in Ireland) first heard the old Irish melody, which itinerant pipers had been playing for a century. He began to write: "Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling / From glen to glen and down the mountain side . . . "
The song and melody will get their full public recognition as a Londonderry icon on June 21, when a massive choir and an audience of thousands will sing it at a huge outdoor concert as the sun goes down on the longest day of the year.
The all-day concert -- called Music City -- is just one highlight of a year-long celebration of the city's having been chosen U.K. City of Culture 2013. (Runners-up were Sheffield, Norwich and Birmingham).
The accolade was quite a coup for Ulster's second city (and Ireland's only walled city), which for 30 years, until the 1998 peace accord, was one of the cockpits of the Loyalist-Nationalist (i.e. Protestant-Catholic) "troubles" that claimed more than 3,000 lives across the British-ruled province.
St. Columba founded an abbey called Doire, meaning an oak grove, in the sixth century. This became the town and later the city of Derry, but when King James I imposed English rule in 1613 his minions changed it to Londonderry. And that name still stands, officially, even though the Nationalist-controlled city council changed it back to Derry in the 1990s.
But back to the City of Culture festivities. These wouldn't be complete without St. Columba (also called Columcille), who, after founding his abbey in the oak grove, departed for Scotland to convert the pagans there to Christianity. Along the way (says the legend) the good saint fought the Loch Ness Monster (yes, the first mention of Nessie is in the tales of Columba).
That incident will be re-created on June 9 when, as part of a huge water pageant with sailboats, cruisers and floats, Nessie will come up the River Foyle.
More than 100 events are being held under the banner of the City of Culture. These include the all-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil over seven days in August; it is the biggest festival of Irish culture in the world and this is the first time it will be held in Northern Ireland. Organizers forecast that the festivities will bring in $800 million.
Many of the events will be held in the Ebrington Centre, a huge new entertainment complex on the east bank of the River Foyle and, ironically, a reminder of the worst of the "troubles."' It was the site of Ebrington Barracks, where thousands of British soldiers were stationed for 30 years. (The soldiers who took part in the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, in which 13 Catholic civilians were shot dead in Londonderry's Bogside, came across the river from Ebrington).
Apart from the Culture festivities, must-see things here should include the statue of two men in the act of shaking hands (but their hands don't touch, indicating that, when the statue was erected in the 1980s, there was still some way to go to peace), and the 2011 pedestrian Peace Bridge, from the Nationalist west bank of the Foyle to the Loyalist east bank, signifying that, hopefully, peace has come.
NEED TO KNOW
-- City of Culture celebrations are part of a 2013 all-Ireland tourist drive called The Gathering, in which everyone of Irish ancestry -- an estimated 70 million people worldwide -- are invited to visit. Just about every municipality has events planned. See thegatheringireland.com.
This story was posted on Sat, March 16, 2013
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