The Maiden City Festival takes place in Derry, Northern Ireland in the second week in August each year. In 2008 the Festival was described as a "diverse, varied programme of events that underscores the organisers' desire to provide something for everyone", as well as a "showcase for Protestant tolerance and openness". Events included Bluegrass on the Walls, Children's Heritage Visual Art Workshops, drumming events, including some with members of the north west's African community, music of all kinds at the Verbal Arts Centre, Foyle Ulster Scots Highland Gathering, firwework display, the fifth Annual Scottish Dance Competition, historical walks and talks, with the finale being the Relief of Derry Pageant (the Apprentice Boys of Derry 319th Relief of Derry Celebrations) on 9 August 2008.[1] The Festival commemorates the actions of Protestant Apprentice Boys who shut the city gates against the forces of the Catholic King James in December 1688. King James laid siege to the city from December to August 1689 until the Protestant forces of William of Orange relieved the city.[2]

Festival co-ordinator Billy Moore described the Festival (in 2008) as the way in which the Protestant community of Londonderry, a minority community, is able to make a contribution to the life of the city and to the diversity of expression of culture. From the outset we have themed the Maiden City Festival as a showcase for the Protestant culture of tolerance and openness, and a means of showcasing the heritage that is entrusted to the Apprentice Boys of Derry".[1]


The Festival had begun in a small way in 1998 but had been interrupted in 2006 and 2007, due to funding and organisational issues.[2] Billy Moore, of the Apprentice Boys, was able to confirm the return of the Festival in 2008 thanks to funding from the Irish Government's Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as from Derry City Council and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.[3] The Department of Foreign Affairs was the largest sponsor of the event, which costs approximately £50,000 to run, paying £27,000 towards the costs. Brochures for the festival, featured the logo of sponsors, including “Department of Foreign Affairs, An Roinn Gothic Eachtracha”.[4]

Northern Ireland Government Departments funded the Festival to the tune of £100,000 in 2001–02, £155,000 in 2002–03 and £100,800 in 2003–04.[5] This included funding in 2003-04 offered by Londonderry Regeneration Initiative for the post of a Development Worker and associated advertising and recruitment costs. In addition, the Ulster-Scots Agency made available £30,000 in 2001–02, £30,000 in 2002–03, £30,000 in 2003–04 and £30,000 in 2004–05, and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland provided £50,000 of National Lottery funding in 2002–03.[6]


The Maiden City Festival was an innovation by the Apprentice Boys of Derry, beginning in 1998, to implement some of the recommendations of the Opsahl Report in order to make the Derry celebrations more understandable and thus inclusive. The project, after some seeding money in 1998, curated an exhibition in 1999 which was opened in the Guildhall in Derry with a group from Sligo dressed in authentic 17th century costume and with music and other performances/lectures during the week. In 2000 the festival comprised a range of events, including a weekend festival aimed at encouraging Protestants to participate in the celebration of Saint Patrick.[7]

Historical celebrations

The celebration is part of a long history of Protestant celebrations in Derry, characterized by large numbers of Orange lodges marching on the town, and often accompanied by riots and violence. Leon Uris describes Apprentice Boy's Day in 19th century Derry (celebrated on the date of the Battle of Boyne, July 1, which was the turning point in the war to make England Protestant) in his book "Trinity." "A black mass of men spewed over the Carlisle bridge with the band ka-booming "Onward Christian Soldiers." They led a line of gilded carriages holding high officials and aristocrats... The carriages were followed by legions of swaggering Orangemen in black bowlers, black suits and black rolled umbrellas that went together with their black mouths. This black ocean and its black tide was punctuated with sprigs of orange lilies for the Orange Order and sweet Williams for King Billy, which they wore in their hatbands and lapels and their sashes, which told if they were purplemen or blackmen or scarletmen or bluemen, and on their breasts many colored ribbons to boast about their military service to the Queen. Bands and bands followed. I counted seventy. Bands and pipes and drums and bagpipes and accordions came before the banner of each lodge... There was a preacherman leading every lodge. Alongside him another man holding a velvet cushion and on the cushion a Bible inside a glass case and the glass case topped with a crown. Alongside the biblebearer another man walked with drawn and polished sword...Half of them were singing and half of them another in a mess of discord." What remains the same about modern day Apprentice boys celebrations, probably doesn't nearly match the spectacle of 19th century Apprentice boy's day.


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