The Return of Colmcille: Derry~Londonderry UK City of Culture

Date: 7 June 2013 to 8 June 2013

Client: Culture Company 2013

To create for the people of Derry-Londonderry a lynchpin, landmark event that would reposition the city as a confident, creative beating force and show to the world exactly why it was such a worthy winner of being the first ever UK City of Culture in 2013.

Winner Best Outdoor Event, 2014 Event Awards

Telling an immersive and unifying story on a broad canvas across a city whose recent, and much documented troubled past, had created division and misunderstanding was a challenge that needed a sensitive but confident approach, not least because all eyes were on Derry-Londonderry as the first ever UK Capital of Culture.

A critical part of our solution was to work with the very best by choosing a proven story teller with an impressive track record of telling big stories to very big audiences. Our partnership with Frank Cottrell Boyce, writer of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, led to the creation of The Return of Colmcille, an epic tale of the city’s founder, a monastic superhero, historic vanquisher of the Loch Ness monster and key figure in the spreading of literacy and the concept of peace-making across Europe.

The result was the most ambitious outdoor arts project in Northern Ireland’s history with pageantry, procession and spectacle unfolding in spectacular style across the city, temporarily renamed Colmville, with a series of story telling performances capturing tales that he’d missed during his 1,500 years away.

Played out in several ‘chapters’ The Return of Colmcille began on Iona - the saints isle of exile following a bloody battle - where a precious cargo, central to our story, began a journey by curragh to Derry~Londonderry. Some fourteen days later crowds of over 40,000 flooded the streets and walls of the city as processions, site specific theatre, dance, music, literature, aquatic spectacle and more, featuring over 1000 local participants, took to the streets.

Our cargo was unveiled, transforming Derry~Londonderry into ColmVille where performances across the city culminated in a procession created by and for local people. Rumours of a fearsome foe with a grudge to bear spread online, as a social campaign with over 2 million hits worldwide caused a stir in national news. The audience waited with baited breath as our epic showdown finale on the River Foyle between the Saint and a 70 metre long, 18 metre high, fire-breathing Loch Ness Monster, brought the city together as Derry~Londonderry shone in a whole new light.

With thanks to our partners: Culture Company 2013, North West Regional College, The Verbal Arts Centre, Foyle Port, The Nerve Centre.

"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 off-beat 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

Project Specification
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