Culture Night brought Belfast to life last night with an explosion of colour and a carnival atmosphere.
Fire-eaters, Flamenco dancers, stilt-walkers and magicians. There was also Irish dancing, singing, street theatre performances, a massive drumming session and, bizarrely, a staring competition.
The festivities kicked off around 7.30pm with a colourful parade led by legendary godfather of punk Terri Hooley and a host of weird and wonderful characters.
Crowds of up to 20,000 flocked into the city centre for more than 160 performances crossing genres from theatre, art, music, circus, literature — and everything in between.
And the event, now in it’s third year, was the biggest, brightest and wackiest yet — with over 100 galleries, venues, businesses, community centres, churches, studios, and historic buildings throwing open their doors for a night of free fun.
Belfast man Faron Morrison brought his six-year-old daughter Mirren out to experience the celebrations for the third year in a row.
“It’s such a great family event,” he said. “We have come to all the Culture Nights.
“There’s just such a great family atmosphere and lots for the kids to do.
“Mirren is part of the Children’s Circus School so we’ve come down to support them as well.”
Among the highlights of the night were tours of the Belfast Telegraph’s historic premises on Royal Avenue, where hundreds of visitors were treated to off-the-record tales from some of our best-known journalists and shown displays of amazing photographs, famous old newspaper front pages, old printing equipment and, of course, a peek at the famous presses in action.
“We believe Culture Night Belfast is a great idea and the Telegraph is 100% behind it,” said Belfast Telegraph managing editor Paul Connolly.
Londonderry also hosted a number of Culture Night events ahead of becoming UK City of Culture in 2013.
And there were also smaller parties in Strabane and Newry.
However, organisers of the Belfast event believe the success has put the city on a par with Culture Nights in places like Dublin, Derry, Cork, Reykjavik and Copenhagen.
Joe Nawaz from Culture Northern Ireland said: “Last year we had more than 15,000 people and this year we hope to exceed that. It’s a really, really great event. Everything is free and we have closed Donegall Street for a parade which is full of colour.
“Culture Night started three years ago and was inspired by events in Dublin and Reykjavik. We saw it as a great opportunity to showcase the rich wealth of art and artists that Belfast has.
“It’s very rare to see the city centre so packed after 9pm, with families and women pushing prams. It’s such a great family atmosphere and brings a slice of Belfast as a real European city.”
Marion McClintock, from Glengormley, was with her four children enjoying the arts, craft and play at St Anne’s Square.
“We came down for the Horrible Histories event and then discovered this play area,” she said. “The kids absolutely love it. They’ve been making masks and crowns and have just had a fabulous time. It’s also great that the weather has been so kind to us. We’ll be back next year.”
Lisa Dunne from Belfast was attending her first Culture Night with her two children, Lugh (2) and Danu (3).
“This is just great. There’s a great carnival atmosphere,” she said.