The Seasonal Festivals of Derry City
The Festival’s Office of Derry City Council is responsible for co-ordinating and organizing Derry City Council’s various festivals throughout the year, in particular the Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival, the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival, the St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival, the Christmas Festival and the Christmas Illuminations.
The aim of the festival’s office is to provide a range of cultural and musical entertainment for citizens of the city and visitors alike. The Festivals Office works in partnership with the community and voluntary organizations and the public and private sector to bring together a range of events that promote the city and provide entertainment to various audiences particularly families.
The festival’s office has enjoyed success over the years having won awards for the Jazz festival and Halloween celebrations. The work carried out by the section in promoting the city as a key destination for events was raised in a recent appraisal, which highlighted the economic benefits for the city from events.
As well as delivering and co-ordinating events, the festival’s office is involved in the funding of local community festivals and events through the Council’s Grant Aid Programme.
Festivals organized by Derry City Council are as follows:
- St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival
- City of Derry Jazz Festival
- Family Fun Day (Waterside Half Marathon)
- Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival
- Christmas Lights Switch On
- Mayor’s Christmas Choral Festival and Christmas Market
St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival
The St. Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival is steeped in fun, history, culture and tradition. Everyone comes together for a family friendly and inclusive event to celebrate the 17 March. The weekend’s celebration is further enhanced with street theatre, music, crafts, drama, dancing, storytelling, discussion and debate in order to provide something for everyone to enjoy.
The St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival has become one of the largest festival events in the City’s event calendar bringing thousands of spectators to the city centre to view the spectacular color and vibrancy of the community Carnival parade.
The annual carnival parade brings together a mixture of new and seasoned community group performances, traditional and contemporary dance groups, and pipe bands along the 2km route.
The St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival festival has become a date where a warm welcome home is extended to the city’s diaspora and join them by taking to the streets to soak up the unique atmosphere in the city centre on the weekend closes to the 17th of March.
Since its inception, the St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival has grown from a one day civic event into an extended festival focusing on cultural identity and shared celebration. Collaboration with artists and cultural organizations has developed quality programming, which has been mirrored by the volume of people who come out to experience the celebrations year on year.
Diverse communities from throughout the Derry City council area participate in a wide variety of cultural events in local community, waterside and cityside venues. New and creative ways to investigate and share language, history, culture and tradition have combined within a family friendly and inclusive focus to evolve this traditional feast day into a civic celebration belonging to all the people of the City.
Visit the Derry City Council website for further information.
City of Derry Jazz Festival
The City Of Derry Jazz And Big Band Festival is a jazz festival held annually during the May Bank Holiday weekend and helps to kick off the summer season for local vintners. It started in 2002 and is funded by Derry City Council, Guinness and the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure and is supported by BBC Radio Foyle and BBC Radio Ulster. It also features some blues and is one of leading annual music events in Ireland.
In 2013, the Jazz Festival was the biggest and best musical extravaganza to date. Over 35,000 music lovers took to the streets in pursuit of the perfect medley of music on the Guinness Jazz Trail, which in 2013 featured over 80 venues and over 200 musicians. Bars, hotels and restaurants were packed to the rafters over the course of the five day event, as people flocked to enjoy the huge selection of entertainment on offer – 90% of which was free thanks to the support of Derry City’s sponsors.
In addition to the support of the local community, the five day Jazz Festival draws in a huge influx of visitors to enjoy what has become the city’s favorite entertainment event. It runs the first Thursday in May and ends on the following Monday. Beginning on the first day, the festival swings into action with an opening party to remember. It is designed to embrace blues, jump, jive, swing and rhythm that will have participants dancing the night away.
During the Festival, the Guinness Jazz Trail has became the ultimate entertainment treat for music lovers. The Trail takes music fans on a tour of the city’s most vibrant pubs and clubs over the May Bank Holiday weekend, through a jam-packed programme. Participants jump, jive and swing they way over 80 venues that play host to some of the finest musical talents to visit Derry. The Jazz Trail is the ultimate guide to what’s on over the four days of amazing fun.
Visit the Derry City Council website for further information.
Family Fun Day (Waterside Half Marathon)
From humble beginnings back in 1981, the Waterside Half Marathon celebrated its 32nd staging in 2013. The event caters for all levels of runners and joggers. Wheelchair participants are also welcomed and walkers are able to take on the 10 mile walk. There is also a three-person relay team running format which facilitates participation in bite size chunks, for all those not quite ready to try the full 13.1 miles.
Changing/shower facilities are available, courtesy of local sponsors. All finishers get a quality ribboned medal, a commemorative race T-shirt plus the usual excellent post race refreshments at the finish line. To qualify, all Half Marathon Run entrants must be 17 years or over on race day.
A generous prize fund is retained and offers a comprehensive range of cash awards for the more competitive Half Marathon participants – under 20 to over 70!
Events include the following:
- A 2K Family Fun Run that utilizes the Half Marathon finish area for maximum spectator input.
- Half Marathon Team Relay
- The 3-person team relay has become more popular each year and offers participation in three bite size chunks of approximately 4.5 miles each.
- The precise changeover points and transport arrangements are detailed in the Race Pack, available in the week before the race.
- The minimum age for Team Relay members is 15 years on race day.
- Wheelchair Race
- Wheelchair participants in the Half Marathon are welcome.
- They start just before the main Half Marathon field – approximately 2 mins in advance!
- The 10 Mile Challenge Walk, introduced in 2012, is not a competitive event.
- participants must be aged 12 years or over on race day.
- No individual prizes are awarded but all finishers receive a ribboned medal, commemorative T-shirt and refreshments post event.
Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival
The annual Hallowe’en celebrations with a week-long programme of activities always promises to be ‘Out of this World’ with everything from shape-shifters prowling the city to creepy tall ship tours, haunted treasure haunts, a freaky circus and ghostly goings-on galore to keep you entertained! This event has become Europe’s greatest Hallowe’en festival celebration.
The city dedicates five days to a carnival of all things spooky. There is a parade, fireworks, and a whole programme of family events. In between the haunted houses, ghost tours and horror-story telling, they squeeze in workshops, catwalks, scary movies and a Dragon Safari (where giant footprints appear at a number of locations). The best part of the Carnival is how the people join in. Everyone is in costume. To venture past the famous city walls after October 30th without so much as a novelty hat, you would be completely under-dressed.
The biggest display of spirit, evil and otherwise, is the homemade costumes. Throughout the night, zombies unravel, black eyes smudge, wings flutter to the ground, and withes eyelashes can be found stuck to your shoe. During the Catwalk event, revealers are invited to show off their spin-chilling costume designs. The most innovative examples of ‘creepy couture’ are chosen by judges to strut their stuff in the Carnival Parade, which always takes place on October 31st.
Also taking place on the night of October 31st is Ireland’s largest nighttime broomstick dropping fireworks display over the River Foyle.
Derry City has become synonymous with Halloween and for years has successfully hosted Ireland’s largest free Halloween party with an enhanced programme of fantastic family events that will showcase the Derry at its best. This annual event takes place during the last weekend in October.
As always this the festival has a real family focus with a range of fun children’s activities scheduled throughout the festival with spooky goings-on and scary adventures in venues across the city to ensure the kids are involved in the magic and mystery of the festival. There is plenty to keep the adults entertained too with Hallowe’en themed walking tours, a seasonal country market and a continental market with plenty of evening entertainment in the city’s hotel and bars. This event alone, is well worth a trip to Derry City, the very heart of Irish culture at its best.
Christmas Lights Switch On
The Christmas Season kicks off with the official ‘Switch On of the City’s Christmas Lights’ mid-week in November.
The Switch On, which is one of the highlights of the city’s festive events, attracts thousands of families from all over. The celebrations take place in Guildhall Square with musical entertainment provided for the enjoyment of all present.
This festival celebration is a huge family occasion for everyone as the city prepares for the Christmas season. It’s a great opportunity for families to come into the city centre, meet Santa and soak up the great festive atmosphere and have some fun. It attracts huge crowds each year, bringing to Guildhall Square several thousand children and their parents.
On this special day, Guildhall Square comes alive with festive cheer and when Santa arrives the atmosphere is amazing. There is always a full line up of musical entertainment organized for the evening for all the family. The Switch On marks the start of a range of festive events for visitors and residents in the city in the run up to Christmas.
Family entertainment on the night of Switch On, runs from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. The official Big Switch On usually takes place around 7:30 pm. It is one of a range of special events organized for families during the festive season.
The Guildhall in Derry is a building in which the elected members of Derry City Council meet. Built in 1890, the Guildhall houses a large hall where many events of social and political nature have been held. The square in front of the Guildhall is the main city square in Derry City. It regularly plays host to important events. It is also home to Derry’s Halloween carnivals and the Christmas lights Switch On. Linking Guildhall Square to Ebrington Square (Derry’s other main and upcoming square) is Derry’s new Peace Bridge.
Mayor’s Christmas Choral Festival and Christmas Market
The Mayor’s traditional Christmas concerts have become an essential part of the city’s festive season, bringing communities from across the City together to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.
These Concerts are beautiful events featuring some of the city’s finest musical talents and are made even more special by people joining together and remembering the true nature of the festive season. As the community joins together to enjoy the celebration, this special time of the year allows for reflection and for an opportunity to meet new and old friends.
The Festival’s Office of Derry City Council is responsible for co-ordinating and organizing these concerts in partnership with the community and voluntary organizations. They are scheduled throughout the month of December at different churches, with a Grand Final Concert in the Guildhall, located in Guildhall Square.
In addition, there is a blend of intriguing events and superb shopping for everyone including Christmas markets, Christmas choral singing, and daily activities in the winter wonderland located in the city’s Craft Village. Craft Village is transformed with Christmas trees and lights and animated characters in costume, a real family treat. European community groups show-off their festive cultural traditions bringing a truly international flavor to the city centre.
Kids can make their own decorations at the Christmas workshops and listen to stories by the fireside in the Christmas Cottage. While all of this is going on, there are daily performances by Victorian Carol Singers and Choirs from Schools, Churches and Communities.
The final weekend before Christmas sees the city’s festivities reach a fantastic crescendo. As well as the continuing attractions of the “Winter Woodland” in the Craft Village, the Saturday before Christmas allows shoppers a last opportunity to pick up a unique gift at the Walled City Market stalls, decorated in Christmas themes with additional craft producers exhibiting their goods in the Piazza area of the nearby Millennium Forum.
There are so many activities going on in the city prior to Christmas, that a fantastic festive atmosphere comes alive during the month of December within Derry City for all to enjoy.