Return of Colmcille to City of Culture

Trapeze artists have been entertaining the crowds at the pageant Trapeze artists have been entertaining the crowds at the pageant

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The centrepiece event of Londonderry's year as UK City of Culture - the Return of Colmcille pageant - is under way.

Involving more than 800 people, the show was written by the author of the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Frank Cottrell Boyce.

A giant vengeful Loch Ness monster, warrior monks and Amelia Earhart are among the characters who make an appearance.

The event takes place on and around the River Foyle on Friday and Saturday.

Donegal-born Colmcille is traditionally regarded as the founder of Derry and its monastery and is the city's patron saint.

Who is Colmcille?


Colmcille also known as Saint Columba is the patron Saint of Derry.

Colmcille is the Irish word for Columba. He was an Irish missionary credited with spreading Christianity in Scotland.

Colmcille is one of Ireland's three patron saints alongside St Brigid and St Patrick.

He also founded the monastic abbey on Iona on the western coast of Scotland.

Colmcille is historically revered as a warrior saint, and was often invoked for victory in battle.

John Wassell, producer and co-founder of outdoor art company Walk the Plank, which is producing the extravaganza, said it was the biggest project he had worked on in more ways than one.

"It is the biggest project that I've worked on, both in terms of its scale and also its complexity," he said.

"We're not just doing one show, we're doing five different types of show over 30 hours."

The festivities are under way in Londonderry Friday night's parade featured rowers

John said he had no doubts about what event he was most looking forward to.

"I suppose the thing I'm most looking forward to is this rumour the Loch Ness Monster is going to appear," he said.

"I've heard it's on its way from Scotland and I think there have even been news reports of a monster being cited in the Foyle.

"It's coming here because 1,500 years ago Colmcille and the monster had a battle and Colmcille won. The monster has heard Colmcille's coming back this weekend and is coming for the final showdown."

The River Foyle is the focus of the weekend's events but the streets and walls of the city are also part of the celebrations.

Running order

  • Saturday 8 June 1400 -1730 What's In the Box?
  • 1430 - 1700 Welcome to Colmcille
  • 2100 The People's Procession
  • 2230 Showdown on the Foyle

Organisers promise aerial acrobatics, a Colmcille catwalk, a medieval feast, the return of Derry's favourite whale as well as music, art, comedy, a procession, and glowing babies.

The story of the saint's return started in May on the Scottish island of Iona, where Colmcille founded another monastery.

Thirteen rowers left the island in a 40-foot currach, a traditional canvas boat, following the journey made by Colmcille and his followers almost 1,400 years ago.

Promising to completely transform the city over the two days writer Frank Cottrell Boyce said Colmcille was "a monastic superhero".

"His love for Derry is well documented in poetry and literature," he said.

"Coming back to his home town he'll want to hear all the stories he's missed over the last 1,500 years, from the shirt factories, to the Undertones, from Dopey Dick to the U-boat surrender on the Foyle and then of course there are suggestions that an old enemy might be afoot in the shape of Colmcille's nemesis, the Loch Ness Monster.

"We want everyone to come along and take part."

Organisers have said there will be some traffic and travel disruption. Full details can be found here.

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