NI 2013: Culture and Division

Published Wednesday, 25 December 2013
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The year kicked off in style as Derry~Londonderry took on the UK City of Culture title and launched a year-long celebration of the arts, but cultural issues of a different kind were to be at the heart of disputes throughout Northern Ireland's 2013.

NI 2013: Culture and Division
On New Year’s Day, fireworks explode over the iconic Peace Bridge (© Martin McKeown)

The City of Culture certainly started as it meant to go on - with a massive fireworks display over the Peace Bridge - and it would continue to fly the flag for literature, poetry, art, music and much more.

Flag flying in the literal sense, however, continued to prove deeply divisive.

Loyalist protests sparked by the restricting of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall in December 2012 rumbled on and, in the absence of a consensus, the issues of flags and parades were placed on the table at the Haass talks after violence erupted again near flashpoints during the summer.

US diplomat Richard Haass visited Northern Ireland to first gather views from across community and political divides and then to chair talks aimed at solving long-running points of contention.

The self-imposed end of year deadline seemed to be a tall order - without a pre-Christmas agreement reached, but Dr Haass remained hopeful an eleventh hour deal could yet be struck.

The need for common ground and stability grew with the deepening concerns over potential long-term disruption to the public in general and traders in particular.

However in August, organisers of the 2013 World Police and Fire Games, which saw 7,000 athletes from 67 countries taking part in 56 sports at 41 venues across the region, hailed the event as "the friendliest and best games ever".

There is no other alternative to the peace process, there is no other choice - you have to work and live together.

Dalai Lama, speaking in Derry

The dissident republican threat remained high and a number of plots were foiled by security forces, but others narrowly avoided causing catastrophes.

A proxy car-bomb was planted close to Victoria Square, one of Belfast's top retail outlets, towards the end of November - partially exploding during efforts to make it safe.

And just weeks later, another bomb attack targeted the busy Cathedral Quarter during the run-up to Christmas and the device fully exploded outside a restaurant in front of evacuated revellers.

Despite such terrorist attacks, the event everyone had been braced for passed off without major incident.

In June, some of the world's most powerful leaders came to Northern Ireland as Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh hosted the 39th G8 summit.

Barack Obama visited Belfast ahead of the summit and both the US President and the First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the Waterfront Hall where the audience included local school children.

Mr Obama hailed the work towards peace and the achievements already made, but insisted there was more to do because "there's more to lose now than there ever has been".

It seems to be with that very point in mind that Northern Ireland's main political parties are staying at the table with Dr Haass and striving to negotiate compromises that everyone can live with.

This little island, its best days are yet ahead.

US President Barack Obama, speaking in Belfast

Amid political storms, actual storms also raged across Northern Ireland towards the end of the year.

There was to be no white Christmas beyond a few flurries on high ground in the run-up to the festive holidays. Instead, the region braced itself against storm winds that brought down trees and hit electricity supplies at times.

Perhaps the snow quota had been used up by March, when drifts of even up to 20ft were recorded. Serious disruption hit more isolated rural areas in particular, with livestock dying by the thousands.

Rescue teams were deployed to those worst affected, with Chinook helicopters used to drop emergency supplies - but many farming careers were ended in one fell swoop.

It was those rugged landscapes that had previously drawn a touch of Hollywood to Northern Ireland.

The growing film and television industry had already welcomed Game of Thrones to transform hills and forests into George RR Martin's Winterfell, and in 2013, the industry continued to thrive.

Horror-fest Dracula, starring Luke Evans, was among the big-budget offerings filming locally.

Meanwhile, Ballymena hometown hero Liam Neeson was awarded the Freedom of the Borough and, for Co Down star Jamie Dornan, success lay on the other side of the pond as he was snapped up to play Christian Grey in the hotly-anticipated Fifty Shades movie adaptation.

May the force be with you. Well done, big fella.

Ballymena Mayor PJ McAvoy, to Liam Neeson

But Hollywood was still to suffer its loses in 2013, including the shock untimely deaths of young US stars with global followings like Glee's Cory Monteith and Fast & Furious actor Paul Walker.

Closer to home, local icons were also remembered - from legendary sports reporter Malcolm Brodie to poet laureate Seamus Heaney and peacemaker Father Alec Reid, to name but a few.

It was the tragic death of Dublin-born actress and singer Bernie Nolan that would really touch hearts though, becoming one of the most read stories of the year on

Thousands identified with her story, and many wanted to leave their messages of support during her brave fight against cancer for the second time - and share their sorrow when that battle ended.

The passing of political leaders like Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher were also marked in Northern Ireland and around the globe.

At the Vatican, when the eyes of the world watched for signs of a new Pontiff after the resignation of Benedict XVI - the first in 600 years - his replacement would keep the faithful of Ireland in mind.

"Best wishes to the people of Ireland, and I ask them for their prayers," Pope Francis said in March.

The power of words was demonstrated throughout the year, from capturing historic movements to paying moving tributes.

Our past, our future ... it is all about time. It is in the present time that we really need to be responsible, accountable people and live to make a better future for ourselves.

Hannah Nelson

One young speechmaker surely deserves special mention though.

At just 16-years-old, it fell to Methody pupil Hannah Nelson to address that Waterfront Hall event in June ahead of none other than Michelle Obama, who would then introduce her husband to the audience of school children and dignitaries.

The pressure was well and truly on, but Hannah rose to the occasion with the air of a seasoned professional orator as she spoke on the subject of creating permanent peace.

"As a 16-year old, I don't want to live in the past," she said.

"I want to live for the future. I want to live in a country where it is not my religion that is important, but my value as a person."

It remains to be seen if Northern Ireland will take another step towards that kind of enduring peace in 2014.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Rod in Bfast wrote (111 days ago):
In 500 hundred years time what will people say our culture was? I think they will think we were a bunch of mindless bitter morrons
realistic in planet earth wrote (112 days ago):
the comments here just show what a few narrow minded people - in each tribe - can do to hold NI back.......... childish, pointless and really very embarrassing......:(
me in NI wrote (112 days ago):
Even-handed article ending on a hopeful note with wise words from a young woman and look at the comments, would make you despair.
ric in armagh wrote (112 days ago):
Why not change the name of the country to North of Ireland - Northern Ireland while we're at it and change the national anthem to God save Danny boy. idiots
Sean D in Derry wrote (112 days ago):
Let’s not forget that the people of Derry were going to vote to have the name changed but decided not to just to be inclusive. It's only Londonderry because we the people who live here decided not to change it. Personally I think it should be put to a vote, this 2 name thing is making us look like a joke
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