No going back to Dirty Derry

Suzanne Breen has written the first major  sceptical (but not cynical) piece about UK City of Culture. Eamonn is quoted as verging on the negative but rescues himself with his own positive take.

“It must not become the bland leading the bland. There is a lot of darkness in Derry and that must be reflected – the death, the despair, the hatred and the grief. Great art can come out of war and conflict. I’m reminded of the quote: ‘In Switzerland, they had 500 years of peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock’.”

The quote was from a post war spiv profiteer  played by Orson Welles, not necessarily an authority on Switzerland. The same point could be made about the new Free State when the Celtic revival went stone dead. But who would have swapped it for the civil war? History only repeats itself if we let it.

Many of the commenters in Suzanne’s overview stand back with arms folded, lips pursed waiting to be impressed, some of them privately hoping for failure. They are the sort of people who always wait for someone else to buy the next round. The better ones are victims of the Ulster disease, the curse of blogs and public opinion generally, for whom history tells an unrelieved bad story and who are gripped by the sad, often aggressive  passivity we know so well. The worst are the inevitable detritus of the Troubles.

It’s one thing to be starry-eyed, another to welcome the kiss of death. UK City of Culture will I’m sure provide Eamonn with lots of material for a socialist analysis. The answer for most people will be to pitch in and help make the whole thing an even better show.  By the will of the people, it is not going to fail.

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  • “By the will of the people, it is not going to fail.”

    As per usual, the ‘people’ will be led by the nose. Beware of the ‘leaders’ 🙂

  • Well done Brian, and here is my quote, “Ther’s more good in the world than bad” if some Derry wans would open their eyes to see. as it is said, God help those who have eyes to see yet never see and ears to hear yet never hear. Keep going.

    Sandra Doherty

  • Bugger (the Panda)

    “They are the sort of people who always wait for someone else to buy the next round”

    I like that, must remember to steal it sometime.

  • Oracle

    When you consider what the other bids were offering as their presentation then the Awarding to Derry was not on merit!

    And if it wasn’t on merit then it’s a sham if not a shame, you have to spare a thought for the cities that lost out.

  • George

    500 years of democracy and piece

    I’ve just realised this UK City of Culture has nothing to do with the European Capital of Culture and receives no government funding.

    Cork got the Capital of Culture gig in 2005, received a paltry 13 million in funding and, dare i say it, was an unmitigated disaster.

    It hasn’t had the same troubles as Derry in recent decades but was also blighted by people with arms folded, lips pursed waiting to be impressed, some of them privately hoping for failure.

    The businesses in the city didnt’ get behind it and unless Derry has a host of charitable types waiting to step in, I don’t see how this thing is going to be a success.

  • noel. adams

    Keepa da hands offa
    This bid has been a sucess and no toe rag loyalist or
    dissident is going to rob this city of its destiny our place
    has been hard earned and is not for the taking by

  • Magazine

    Well put Brian. As much as I like and respect Breen’s work (and perhaps she’s only right to be putting out a counter to the prevailing view) she’s not really on the money with this article. I think that too many people have had enough of the sneerers who prefer to criticise than to construct. There are valid points here about cuts to arts funding but if anyone can put a decent argument forward as to how CoC status would do anything but improve that situation I’d love to hear it.
    What Breen misses here is the genuine, and I think unprecedented, goodwill towards the bid that exists across the City. Even Peter Robinson acknowledged that he only really understood the force behind it when he came here after the announcement. People here want this. We are not fools and no-one believes that it is a panacea for all of the ills of the City, or NI, but it is not supposed to be.
    Good on Derry for getting it – no mean feat in itself. Its telling that the doubters in the article generally come from the extremes – look at the mandates that McCann, 32 County CSM and the UDP (and its successors) have secured over the years and you can see where most of the City sits on this one.

  • Damian O’Loan

    You could read Breen’s article as a contribution, as an example of the ‘getting stuck in’ attitude Brian favours. Her strengths lie, partly, in her scepticism – she points to what needs to be addressed for the event to be a success and is the first to do so. It would have been worse, from Derry’s perspective, had she ignored it altogether.

    McCann, equally, is right to point to the slightly bizarre nature of hardened adults weeping on victory. Naîve optimism would also be counter-productive. Yes, celebrate the victory, but there’s a lot of work, notably fundraising to do before the event can be considered a likely success. Whether that works or not comes back to the ‘getting stuck in’ approach and I don’t think McCann will be found wanting. I certainly found his response more positive than Campbell’s. Robinson’s was actually a rare admission of cultural disconnect, quite refreshing and bodes well.

    If anything comes out of it, aside from just regeneration, I’d like it to be a popularisation of the distinction between culture in the everyday sense, and high culture, or the best a people produces – touched on by Breen in her mention of Birmingham’s superiority in the latter category. Yes, violent sectarianism is part of Derry’s culture. But it’s nothing to be proud of, whereas Heaney, for example, is.

    The musical instruments idea is a perfect bridge between the two, and with the importation of el Sistema to deprived parts of Glasgow already in place, a likely success. These are the kind of ideas that could lift the city. So let’s have McCann and Chavez, Heaney with McCausland, Campbell working alongside Anderson. The whole thing will be a spectacle at least. Republicans can relax, it’s not like anything good produced will disappear with the border.

  • RepublicanStones

    Off topic Brian, but sad to hear about this.

  • RepublicanStones
  • Dixie

    Lets be clear about this, Derry has been ‘awarded’ nothing more than a title for a year that has more to do with making a political statement rubber stamping the fact that the city remains as British as Thatcher’s Finchley.

    Come 2013 what more can be done that isn’t happening each year in the city? For example at this time of the year the place is coming down with fleadh’s and feile and we have the biggest Halloween night in these islands. All these events are great yet they have made no financial difference to the ordinary man and woman on the street, so how will sticking UK City of Culture above them bring jobs or anything else to the town?

    Even as the wanna-be Hooray Henrys [and Henriettas] were hugging and crying in the Guildhall we were hearing that Derry hasn’t a venue big enough to host the Brit Awards and the event might have to be held in Belfast instead.
    We might be witnessing the town’s literati following the Deputy First Minister off to Belfast in a convoy of limousines while the mere Derry wans will have to make do with a giant screen in the Brandywell…Those who could be bothered that is.

    But these are the times we find ourselves in, when those of us who don’t go along with the new order have the finger pointed in our direction with the scream of ‘Dissident!’ ringing in our ears…Much like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

  • sdelaneys

    So will we be expected to shout “Brits in” this time, Dixie?

  • wee buns

    I was not there, but I can feel Mc Cann’s dismay at the blubbering.
    It is a traumatized city, if least by the sudden onslought of shopping options which followed the ceasfires, after years of …well…being famous for all the wrong reasons.

  • socaire

    I take it we gardeners have now got the Provisional Alliance’s imprimatur to enter “Britain in Bloom”?

  • Dixie

    sdelaneys they haven’t gone away you know, they’ve just left someone else in charge, a bit like the manager’s job at Primark or Debenhams.

    But by all means if you want to shout Brits in it’s now the politically correct time to do so, you might even get a well paid job on the UK City of Culture think tank.

  • Dixie

    wee buns especially when one of those blubbering was herself only a few months before-hand opposed to it….

    Then Martin stepped into the fray.

  • wee buns


    Let’s go there. A cuckoo clock with a paramilitary emerging…on the hour……sold on every shop shelf across Britain.

  • old school

    City of Culchies.

  • sdelaneys

    somehow I doubt if you or I’d pass the scrutiny board for a plum like that.

  • sdelaneys

    city of cliches?

  • barnshee

    “All these events are great yet they have made no financial difference to the ordinary man and woman on the street, so how will sticking UK City of Culture above them bring jobs or anything else to the town?”

    It won`t –I am reminded of the remark attributed to both OConnoll and Parnell.

    Asked by a roadman “will Ireland be free” -the reply -“what do you care you will still be breaking stones”

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Im not Suzanne Breens biggest fan but full credit to her for saying out loud what many ordinary people……beyond the “cultured classes” and PR types ……actually believe.

    The City of Culture thing is one big loada nonsense and will hopefully fail.

  • Magazine

    I’m genuinely interested in the sentiment behind this. Why is it nonsense and why do you want it to fail? Even if you don’t like the place or the ‘cultured classes’ (and that’s a pretty microscopic group in Derry) then what is the harm in the city of culture and why the hope that it would fail?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    oh I was there a week last Friday. I love the place. I would never dream of calling the cultured classes in Derry a pretty microscopic group as you have done.
    The whole nature of this City of Culture (whether Liverpool or Derry or a thousand other places) is that it takes money from one group of people and gives it to another (PR companies).
    The success of Derrys bid is that it has enabled a group within the city to cling to the “UK” aspect, while another group does the culture thing.

    You may be familiar with the classic “Simpsons” episode where Mayor Quimby and Springfield were sold an unnecessary monorail……on the basis that it might be go to Shelbyville instead.
    A phoney competion.
    And Derry has won this phoney competition.

    If it fails, a lot of people who thought they would enrich themselves at mostly public expense will be burned. Gotta love that.

  • wee buns


    what would the outward expression be of ‘failure?’
    Surely that would be the most interesting work of art.

  • wee buns

    All throught the past 20yrs, ‘peace money’ being hemorrhaged into Derry, many time, but not all, for parachutist ‘community workers’, who literally swept in from far afield, often. This is the kind of compensation we could have lived with out. Akin to sweeping into Africa and dumping bags of grain. Much better to build wells, give tools, means for survival. Then piss off and leave people in peace.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    wee buns,
    PR types forced to sell their BMWs. Id pay good money (but obviously not TO them) to see that.

  • Dixie

    In 1985 Conradh Na Gaeilge [PSF] were getting by in two small rooms in Dove House in the Bogside….

    Today they have an almost £4m ‘state-of-the-art Irish language Arts, Culture and Business Enterprise Centre’ in Great James Street….

    Ó labhair an teanga Ghaeilge liom…

  • Magazine

    FJH, from your postings on here you are no fool so I just can’t see how you feel that there is some large ‘cultured class’ in Derry. Spend any time in most English towns or even Galway, Cork, Dublin for that matter and you will find the cultured classes. Part of the very strength in Derry is that the exclusive elite that I think you are referring too isnt here in any significant way. Almost all of the arts/cultural organisations here have developed from a community level up – if you are here again soon then go into the Playhouse or the Nerve Centre and try to spot the cultured class there… And while you are here look at what the bid document for the city of culture actually contains – broadband access for the most econically deprived in the City, musical instruments and tuition for all young people in the city (and that includes DJing and drums as well as violins and pianos), to name but two. Can’t say why you wold rejoice in the failure of that? And the bashers can’t have it both ways – there is no money for this so its not worth having, yet all of these PR types (who exactly?) are going to be quids in? How does that work?
    Your contention that ‘The success of Derrys bid is that it has enabled a group within the city to cling to the “UK” aspect, while another group does the culture thing.’ is a very valid point though, and exactly what we need to work to ensure doesn’t happen – not just sneer in the hope that it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy…

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Thanks to the Sperrins and Inishowen and the City itself, Derry had a thriving culture befor the “City of Culture……oops UK City of Culture” PR people descended on the City and will have a thriving culture long after they have gone…….in their afore-mentioned BMWs.
    I have no problems with PR companies and Ad Agencies…….unemployed journalists need employment.

  • joeCanuck

    I wonder if Finchley is as Northern Irish as Belfast.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    It seemed more Tel Aviv than Belfast … not that I noticed…of course