The cultural contribution of the northern city

The best Irish band of all time? For a cohort of people who came of age around the New Wave scene of the late 1970s and early 80s, the Feargal Sharkey-led quintet should be in the conversation. Along with a host of brilliant punk-tinged pop songs that still hold true today, the Undertones were also an important reminder that there was more to life in the North than The Troubles. Teenage Kicks was John Peel’s favorite song, Here Comes The Summer became an anthem of the era, and “My Perfect Cousin” gave us some of the era’s best lyrics: “He’s got a skin jacket of sheepskin lined with fur; My mom said it cost a bundle.

After the group broke up in 1983, Sharkey had a brief solo career before working in the UK music industry, and his love of fly fishing brought him back into the news recently when campaigned against the dumping of raw sewage into rivers by private individuals. water companies. The rest of the band formed That Petrol Emotion for a while, and in recent years have started playing again as The Undertones, with Paul McLoone on vocals.

Did you hear Mammy die?

Séamas O’Reilly, author of Did Ye Hear Mammy Died.

Séamas O’Reilly’s memoir won Biography of the Year at last year’s Irish Book Awards for its poignant and often hilarious account of life at the time of his mother’s death. Séamas – one of 11 children – was only five years old when his mother Sheila died of cancer. The title of the book comes from the gathering where people from the parish of Molenan, a few miles south of the city of Derry, came to pay their respects at the family home. Many visitors were greeted by the little Séamas asking them: “Have you heard that mom is dead?

Rory Gallagher

Of course, Rory Gallagher belongs in Cork. And yes, the Leesiders are so gracious they are willing to acknowledge that the great guitarist’s birth in Donegal entitles that county to a small slice of association. But a crucial and unsung part of young Rory’s musical development took place in Derry. His father, Daniel, was from the northern town, and the family lived there for a few years until 1956. From an early age in Derry, Rory and his older brother Donal listened to Radio Luxembourg and the BBC, but they also had an advantage over young people in the South by being able to hear the music broadcast by the radio station of the American naval base at Lough Foyle.

Northern Ireland also had television before the South, and Donal recalls a regular walk with his brother at 6 p.m. in the Diamond district of downtown Derry, where a store offered a demo version of this incredible new technology.

A young Rory Gallagher.  Photo: Irish Examiners Archive
A young Rory Gallagher. Photo: Irish Examiners Archive

They made their way past the regular crowd that gathered there and peered through the window of the BBC’s first-ever pop show, Six-Five Special. The fact that they couldn’t hear anything didn’t matter to young Rory.

“He already knew the lyrics to a lot of songs,” Donal recalls. “So he was unconsciously singing out loud as the bands played on the screen and providing great entertainment for the other people gathered there.” Thus, Derry can even boast of having hosted the first public performances of Rory Gallagher.


We may laugh at the Eurovision Song Contest these days, but it was a hugely significant event when 18-year-old Dana (Rosemary Brown) won the event in Amsterdam in 1970. In her white minidress and sitting on a stool , she delivered All Kinds of Everything to a television audience of hundreds of millions. Among those who remained in his wake was Spain’s entry Julio Iglesias, who finished fourth.

For a rapidly modernizing Ireland, victory was a rare achievement on the international stage, and the government sent a special plane to bring “the girl from the Bogside” back to Dublin. Not even RTÉ’s concerns over the estimated €20,000 cost of staging the next competition could spoil the celebrations.

Seamus Heaney

One of the greatest poets of our time, Seamus Heaney is buried in Bellaghy, the village where he spent most of his childhood, around 40 miles from the city of Derry. It was this region that inspired some of his famous works, including Digging, where he contemplates his relationship with his father and his family’s deep ties to the region. The Nobel laureate’s ties to the county and its main city remained strong throughout his life. He became involved with the Field Day Theater Company and was even quoted by Bill Clinton during his Guildhall speech in 1995.

Although his poems are often rooted in his rural upbringing, Derry’s darkest hour also inspired The Road To Derry, written after a heartbroken visit to the city on the day of the funerals of the Bloody Sunday victims. “The Roe wept at Dungiven and the Foyle cried to heaven, / Burntollet’s old wound opened and the Bogside bled again.”

Field Day Theater Company

Seamus Heaney and Stephen Rea both participated in Field Day.  Picture: Pacemaker Belfast
Seamus Heaney and Stephen Rea both participated in Field Day. Picture: Pacemaker Belfast

The stars aligned in 1980 when Tyrone playwright Brian Friel and Belfast actor Stephen Rea decided to start a new theater company in Derry. Along with others like Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, they realize that art can be a force for good in a province nearly torn apart by The Troubles.

Their first production was Translations, Friel’s story of the culture clash between Irish-speaking locals and English officers in 19th-century Donegal. The Guildhall cast included Rea, Liam Neeson, Mick Lally and Ray McAnally. Unsurprisingly, it was hailed as a triumph. Field Day later expanded beyond theater to become involved in other aspects of culture, including several literary publications.

Phil Coulter

  Phil Couter.  Photo: Nick Bradshaw
Phil Couter. Photo: Nick Bradshaw

Up there among the best Irish songwriters of all time, Phil Coulter has seen his creations performed by artists like Cliff Richard, the Bay City Rollers and Elvis Presley. The son of an RUC man, he burst onto the international scene when his string puppet won Eurovision for Britain’s Sandy Shaw in 1967. And as well as catchy pop tunes, Coulter showed he could also do personal and moving things when he wrote Scorn Not His Simplicity – brilliantly sung by Luke Kelly – in honor of his son with Down syndrome.

Recently aged 80, Coulter even managed to claim a stake in the country‘s contemporary songwriting canon with Ireland’s Call. Of course, the cross-border rugby anthem has its detractors, but for every one of them there are still a thousand people who will shed a tear at the good version of The Town I Loved So Well. All together now: “What’s done is done and what’s gained is won, And what’s lost is lost and gone forever…”

Derry Girls

Derry Girls season 3.
Derry Girls season 3.

The Channel 4 comedy was Foyleside’s most publicized contribution to popular culture this century. Kudos to the UK channel for commissioning the show – they also kicked another Irish gem, Father Ted, back in the day – but most of the praise really belongs to Lisa McGee. The genius of the Derry Girls writer was to create a no-patronage comedy from an era in the city that was full of tragedy. For foreigners, we mostly heard about the shooting and shelling. Obviously, those who lived in Derry had a lot more to do with their lives.

McGee based many situations and characters on his own childhood in the city and turned hyper-local themes into something people around the world could relate to. Along with giving the city’s tourist trade a huge boost, scenes like How Many Bags of Potato Chips Do We Need and The Difference Between Catholics and Protestants will be cited often for years to come.

Comments are closed.