Majestic river finale for Colmcille's battle with Loch Ness monster

The finale of the Return of Colmcille was watched by thousands of people along the banks of the River Foyle

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There was a nervous excitement in the air as people gathered by the side of the River Foyle in Londonderry for the finale of the Return of Colmcille.

Children climbed on parents' shoulders and onlookers hung out of nearby windows. There wasn't a single bit of raised ground free as people scrambled for the best vantage point.

From the bottom of the River Foyle two red eyes lit up, there was a giant roar and flames shot up into the air. The Loch Ness monster was on his way.

The arrival of the monster on the river would mark the end of a 30-hour performance taking place across the city of Londonderry. The show was to be the centrepiece of the city's time as the UK City of Culture.

Back in 2010 when Derry/ Londonderry won the UK City of Culture 2013 competition I admit to being a little sceptical. I thought there wasn't enough time and money available for this beautiful city built on the banks of the River Foyle to succeed.

I was wrong, my reservations misjudged. The people of Derry have responded to the challenge-cum-opportunity with flair, imagination and optimism. This weekend's events - shaped by the writer Frank Cottrell Boyce - were reminiscent of the opening ceremony of last year's Olympic Games (in which FCB had a hand), capturing the same spirit of participation, cultural celebration and storytelling; together with a similar off-beat sense of humour.

The sun shone throughout on a city - a once troubled city - which showed that if you can rise above the corrosive effects of cynicism and self-interest the world really can be a lighter, brighter place.

Frank Cottrell Boyce had scripted the production and promised it would be more exciting than his previous work on the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games.

The story was based around one of Ireland's saints, Columba or Colmcille as he is known. It is believed he founded the city of Derry before heading off to Scotland to spread Christianity.

In Cottrell Boyce's work, Colmcille would return to the city to hear all the stories he has missed in the 1,450 years he has been away.

Mysterious box

On Friday evening a boat which had set off from Iona on the western coast of Scotland arrived in the city with a box.

Ann-Marie McAleese, presenter of BBC Radio Ulster's Your Place and Mine, watched the arrival with anticipation.

"The Foyle became a shimmering, glistening stage in the summer sunshine as thousands of people lined the embankment, the peace bridge and the front of Ebrington barracks, to welcome back the city's founding father in a spectacular extravaganza to herald the Return of Colmcille," she said.

"Derry was dazzling, the atmosphere a mix of excitement, solemnity and dignified respect as the mayor officially welcomed the Curragh with the mysterious gift from the people of Iona to the City of Culture and the Codetta Choir began to sing.

"Specially composed music by Jim Sutherland filled the air, heard for miles around by people from the city and all over the world who gathered to witness this historic event. The City of Culture is bursting with pride and it showed on the faces of men, women and children eager to be part of this amazing weekend."

Loch Ness The Loch Ness monster travelled up the River Foyle seeking revenge on Colmcille.

The box was opened on Saturday afternoon and a giant book was revealed for the people of the city to write their stories for Colmcille.

The city then transformed into the fictional town of ColmVille, where pirates and monks roamed the streets and everywhere you looked there was another performance.

Around 800 people took part in the People's Procession through the city, telling some of the most popular local stories, including that of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic, to Dopey Dick, a killer whale who got trapped in the river in 1977.

There was also a performance from local band The Undertones, who dedicated a song to Frank Cottrell Boyce.

For the finale thousands gathered by the side of the river to watch the battle between the Loch Ness monster and Colmcille.

As the monster sped up the Foyle breathing fire and hurtling towards the Peace Bridge, Colmcille, with the support of the people of the city, scared the monster off.

Square Thousands gathered in Guildhall Square to find out what was in the mystery box.

As the crowds cheered and the monster sank into the water, three swans appeared on the river. A nod to yet another Irish legendary tale.

As fireworks went off across the city to celebrate the show ending, praise for Frank Cottrell Boyce and the organisers had already started to pour in.

William Allen, the editor of the Londonderry Sentinel, tweeted "City of Culture take a bow, Colmcille pageant finale was awesome. What a night and what an atmosphere".

While Martina Anderson MEP, who is from Derry, said: "It was majestic, it was wonderful. The city is buzzing. It touched people's hearts and all their emotions.

"I am so proud to be from this wonderful city."

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