Derry-Londonderry starts UK City of Culture year

A pyrotechnics display has marked the beginning of the Derry-Londonderry 2013 City of Culture year.

The fuse was lit at 20:13 GMT, heralding the start of the first UK City of Culture year.

Derry will host 140 events during the year - including the Turner Prize and the Royal Ballet's first visit to Northern Ireland for 20 years.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the award was "a precious gift for the peacemakers" in Northern Ireland.

Organiser Martin Bradley said: "The way that Derry-Londonderry has come together as a team to ensure that the full potential of 2013 is realised has been truly remarkable and will ensure the maximum possible benefits for all the people of the city."

"As the first winners of this prestigious title, we have been pioneers, working without a blueprint and setting benchmarks for future UK cities of culture."

The excitement began in July 2010 when the city was awarded the title ahead of rival bids from Birmingham, Norwich, and Sheffield.

'Precious gift'

Actor James Nesbitt is chancellor of the University of Ulster, which has the Magee campus in the city.

He said: "This decision confirms what many of us in the province and further afield have known for many years - that Derry-Londonderry is a cultural powerhouse.

"Whether it is writers like Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, songwriters and performers like Phil Coulter or the Undertones, artists like Willie Doherty, film-makers like Margo Harkin and Tom Collins, or actors like Amanda Burton, Roma Downey and Bronagh Gallagher, the city has asserted a huge influence on the arts internationally."

Television producer and writer Phil Redmond, who headed the UK City Of Culture judging panel, said the award was "a cultural tool to bring people together".

"When people read Derry's bid... it's about acknowledging the past, not shying away from the past, and using that point that the past informs our present and helps shape our future," he said.

"If that is not the role of culture then I don't know what is."

'Musical heritage'

The year will open with a Sons and Daughters concert on 20 January 2013 in a new, purpose-built venue in Ebrington Square.

The aim of the concert is to celebrate Derry's rich musical heritage. It will be broadcast by the BBC.

The Turner Prize will also be staged in the former barracks on Ebrington Square. It will be the first time the prestigious art competition has been held outside England.

Playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea will return to the city with the Field Day theatre company, which was founded in the city in 1980.

They will present a new work by playwright Sam Shepard.

Image caption The Lords of Lightning wowed the well-wishers who joined the celebrations

Derry City Council's Brendan McMenamin, lead programmer of the New Year's Eve event, said it was going to be a great occasion.

He said: "The show will place the Peace Bridge and the river centre stage and conclude with the sounds of the shirt factory horns to welcome the New Year and our ambitions for a brighter future for the city."

After the fireworks, Culture Company's Sound of the City provided musical entertainment across a number of venues in the city to mark the transition to 2013.

Irelands leading electronic music festival, Celtronic, staged an event at the historic St Columbs Hall.

It was headlined by leading DJ and producer Ewan Pearson.

The Nerve Centre hosted a celebration of Derry's thriving music scene when some of the city's leading bands rang in the New Year.

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