Londonderry's hard-fought campaign to secure the accolade of first UK City of Culture is about to bear fruit.
A spectacular pyrotechnics show heralded the arrival of a year-long programme of world-class events as the New Year rung in last night.
Derry threw its hat into the ring when the competition was announced in 2009.
Refusing to be intimidated by cities such as Manchester, Brighton and Aberdeen, Derry’s team pooled resources to prepare a bid that blew the judging panel away.
Against all odds, Northern Ireland’s second city was plucked from the dozens that had entered to be placed on the shortlist with Norwich, Sheffield and Birmingham.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and former mayor Colum Eastwood were among those who made the trip to Liverpool to witness the final announcement being relayed live to the nation from the Albert Docks.
There were ecstatic scenes both in Liverpool and back in Derry — where hundreds of people had packed into the Guildhall — as the Maiden City emerged triumphant in a victory for the whole of Northern Ireland. It emerged the judges, led by Liverpool’s cultural champion Phil Redmond, had unanimously voted in favour of the historic Maiden City.
The Belfast Telegraph, which backed the bid and programme of events from the outset, was in Liverpool to capture the moment and support the bid orchestrators, which included then chief executive of Derry City Council Valerie Watts and former chief executive of Ilex Aideen McGinley.
Monday marked the end of two-and-a-half years of preparing for 2013, with highs and lows along the way as the city leaders entered unchartered waters to ensure its people and visitors from across Ireland, the UK and the world have a year they will never forget, one which leaves a legacy for future generations by helping to address the city’s well-documented history of division, poverty and strife.
Derry’s victory also helped to bring the All Ireland Fleadh north of the border for the first time in its history, and the event is expected to draw more than 300,000 visitors.
Mayor Kevin Campbell told the Telegraph the Maiden City was about to embark on an exciting new chapter.
He said: “It starts here and it starts now and we have an exciting programme lined up for the city.
“Experts have predicted it will generate £500m for Derry, which will help this city out big time.
“This is not all money going into tills, but also in terms of promoting ourselves on a world stage and getting the publicity and in leaving a legacy.
“We really hope people will come and recommend the city. We hope they will say: ‘We had an absolutely fantastic time there and we will be back’.”
Organisers have also called on people from across Northern Ireland to get involved in the City of Culture, which should be seen as a prize for the whole province.
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Cities/regions who put their name forward for UK City of Culture 2013 back in 2009:
Aberdeen; Barnsley; Birmingham; Bradford; Brighton & Hove; Carlisle; Chester; Chichester; Chorley; Bath; Cornwall; Durham; Derby; Gloucester & Cheltenham; Hull; Ipswich & Haven Gateway; Leicester; Manchester; Norwich; Oxford; Pennine Lancashire; Reading; Sheffield; Urban South Hampshire, and Wakefield
Birmingham, Sheffield, Norwich, Derry-Londonderry