Maiden City festival gets into full swing

MUSIC and history will be the main ingredients of this year's Maiden City Festival in Londonderry, an event that has escalated beyond being solely about the Relief of Derry parade. LAURA MURPHY takes a look at what's in store for the walled city in the week ahead.

THE Maiden City Festival 2008 - which will kick off in Londonderry on Saturday - is predicted by its organisers to the highlight of the August holiday period.

The last time the took place in the north west city was 2006 - but judging by the line-up of festivities in store, it really is back with a vengeance.

It's hailed as a "showcase for Protestant tolerance and openness", but the array of activities that comprise the week-long event are sure to appeal to fun-seekers right across the board.

Indeed, this year's timetable has been described as a "diverse, varied programme of events that underscores the organisers' desire to provide something for everyone".

Old favourites, fond memories and great new talent are all included in the prospective plan of action.

Saturday sees a musical opening with Bluegrass on the Walls, and a trip down memory lane in the evening with a return of The Signetts to revive sound of the sixties with Roy Arbuckle, Frank Robinson, Trevor Keys and Jack Molloy.

A Children's Heritage Visual Art Workshop will be taking place at the Playhouse in St Columb's Hall, and that afternoon a the sound of a range of drum performances announcing the return of the Maiden City Festival will be reverberate around the city walls, launching the event with a lively beat.

This will take on a real African flavour as crowds soak up performances by the Kergite Club, which consists of members of the north west's African community.

Musical entertainment will not be in short supply throughout the week, as Bloom's Caf at the Verbal Arts Centre will host virtuoso performances from outstanding musicians featuring a feast of sounds from all around Europe, including Sean Woods, Stuart Buchanan and The Henry Sisters.

Foyle Ulster Scots will be having a Highland Gathering on Monday night, and on Tuesday August 5, a special kids' evening will see fireworks and fun-a-plenty.

The fifth Annual Scottish Dance Competition is set to take place on Wednesday, and for those who prefer their music a little more 'European', the popular ABBATASTIC will cap of an evening's entertainment, including a variety show by the Crimson Players with special guest comedian Gareth Fulton.

On Thursday 7, the adults will be able to enjoy a trip down memory lane at a cabaret night, which will see the city echo the sounds of the eighties and nineties with the Magic Drifters and The Professionals.

The Henry Girls - three of six sisters from Co Donegal - will be performing more traditional music that afternoon with a eclectic mix of some of their individual and musical experiences.

For those of you more interested in the historical aspect to the Festival, local historian Richard Doherty will launch his new book Military History of the Siege of Londonderry, and the Memorial Hall and Museum will open its doors to all visitors.

A number of special walks and talks on Siege history will also take place around the Walls.

One sure to prove popular is The Guns of Londonderry - a period guide to the seventeenth century canons and guns used during the famous Siege of Derry.

There are also plans for a demonstration of the period muskets and replica cannon used as part of the Crimson Players' Pageant re-enactment of the Siege.

On Thursday, local historian William Temple will give a talk on the influence of Presbyterianism in Londonderry.

Friday evening will wind the week up as the city prepares for the Saturday finale that is the Relief of Derry Pageant. Enjoy the sounds of local group Balkan Alien Sound, whose style offers their own interpretation of musical stylings from Eastern Europe, or for an alternative kind of enjoyment, take part in the Foyle Ulster Scots Cruise.

The week will conclude with the Apprentice Boys of Derry 319th Relief of Derry Celebrations.

Festival co-ordinator Billy Moore said he is delighted with this year's programme and the return of the event as a positive feature of the North West summer's tourism and entertainment schedule.

He said that it provided a firm basis on which future growth could be established.

"We haven't been able to secure the range of funding that we had in 2005, but we are very pleased at what has been achieved with more limited resources in 2008," he continued.

"We've worked hard to create a diverse programme that establishes the foundation for the positive atmosphere of previous Festival years, where locals and visitors, people of all communities, enjoy a friendly, family Festival."

He continued: "This would be the eleventh festival had there been an unbroken run since we made our first small steps in 1998. We weren't twiddling our thumbs in 2007 when there was no Maiden City Festival."

He said that the Siege Heroes Mound in the grounds of St Columb's Cathedral had been renovated, and a permanent Museum display had been established in the Memorial Hall.

Added Mr Moore: "The Maiden City Festival is the way in which the Protestant community of Londonderry, a minority community, is able to make a contribution to the life of the city and to the diversity of expression of culture.

"From the outset we have themed the Maiden City Festival as a showcase for the Protestant culture of tolerance and openness, and a means of showcasing the heritage that is entrusted to the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

"That is why we hope there is a welcome in the city for everyone."

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