The Return of Colmcille Approaches in Derry~Londonderry

Derry~Londonderry welcomes back its patron saint and founder in the UK’s most ambitious outdoor spectacle of 2013

This June, the streets and walls of Derry~Londonderry and the River Foyle will become the stage for a unique series of events specially commissioned to celebrate the UK’s first City of Culture.

Taking place on June 7 – 8, the two-day spectacle will see London 2012 opening ceremony writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, celebrate the iconic patron saint, Colmcille (Columba), and the city of Derry~Londonderry.

Through a series of events played out in chapters, The Return of Colmcille welcomes the mysterious saint back to the very city he founded, to his people, and the remarkable tales that he missed whilst he was away.

With a cast and crew of over 800 people, the culmination of performances will be an unforgettable showdown on the River Foyle, where a monstrous foe lies in wait. Expect storytelling on a grand scale, music, art, comedy, procession, performance and fireworks for this once in a lifetime weekend. 

The story starts on the tiny island of Iona, where Colmcille founded his most famous monastery, and from where he and his followers produced mesmerisingly beautiful manuscripts and spread not only Christianity but ideas about literacy, peace-making and nation-building.

From there on May 24, the Colmcille Curragh – a 40 foot canvas traditional boat, and her crew of 13 rowers – will set off on an epic journey mirroring that made by Colmcille and his followers almost 1,400 years ago.

Their arrival in Derry~Londonderry on the evening of June 7 marks the beginning of the weekend events. Accompanied on the final leg of their journey by an evocative soundtrack by Scottish composer, Jim Sutherland, commissioned as a gift from Scotland, the Curragh will be followed by a barge carrying a large crate. This precious cargo will be craned onto the Quayside and ceremonially processed to take pride of place in the Guildhall Square.

The next day, Saturday, June 8, at 2pm, the contents of the box will be revealed to the curious crowds gathered in Guildhall Square. Entertainment and performances follow at locations across the city throughout the afternoon.

At 9pm the People’s Procession will make its way over the Peace Bridge and through the city before coming to a stop on Queens Quay. Celebrating some of the unique chapters and characters that have been forged to form the identity of the city, the people of Derry~Londonderry come down to the River to support the returning Colmcille.

Frank Cottrell Boyce said: ‘Colmcille is a colossal figure, a monastic superhero and his love for Derry is well documented in poetry and literature. Coming back to his home town, he’ll want to hear all the stories he’s missed over the last 14,00 years – from the shirt factories, to the Undertones, from Dopey Dick to the U-boat surrender on the Foyle.

'Then, of course, there are suggestions that an old enemy might be afoot in the shape of Colmcille’s nemesis, The Loch Ness Monster. The city of Derry~Londonderry is going to be completely transformed for two days and we want everyone to come along and take part.'

At 10:30pm the final chapter begins when strange sounds will be heard from up the River – at last Colmcille’s nemesis is sighted. Seeking revenge for being crushed by Colmcille, the magnificent Loch Ness Monster will approach. As the people join together to defend their saint and their city, an epic showdown will unfold in an explosive finale – a new moment is made in the history of the city.

Culture Company chief executive Shona McCarthy said: ‘The Return of Colmcille will be one of the most iconic events to take place in the city during the UK City of Culture Celebrations in 2013 and the plans that Walk the Plank and Frank Cottrell Boyce have in place to celebrate the return of the city’s patron saint are amazing.

'It’s hard to explain the size and scale of events without giving too much away, you really have to come to Derry~Londonderry to experience it. Our city is fizzing with excitement and I can’t wait for all the surprises and the drama to unfold.’

A full programme of events and a map of the city and activity taking place on the Friday and Saturday will be distributed in the run up to the events. For details of how to take part visit www.thereturnofcolmcille.com.