Feeling included/excluded: living heritage and official narrative in the UK City of Culture
Kerstin Pfeiffer (Heriot-Watt University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the feelings attached to place, belonging, and heritage in Derry/Londonderry’s UK City of Culture festival through the prism of theatrical engagements with the city’s foremost heritage icon, Columba/ Colmcille.
Paper long abstract:
In 2013, Derry/ Londonderry was the first ever UK City of Culture. The second largest city in Northern Ireland, close to the border with the Republic of Ireland, is home to Catholics and Protestants and had seen its fair share of the Troubles in the 1970s and beyond. So "telling a new story" became the city's mantra for the City of Culture events. The main events focused on Columba/ Colmcille, a 6th-century saint and symbol of identity on both sides of the sectarian divide. The Return of Colmcille, a 3-day open-air pageant written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, blended the different traditions of Columba/Colmcille into a "shared narrative". The Return of Colmcille drew on the practices of community-based theatre in involving amateur actors, thus encouraging an emotional connection between spectators and performers and the creation of a temporary community. While it was praised for creating connections and enhancing a shared sense of place, its new narrative of Derry/Londonderry was not unproblematic, not least because it quite literally dis-placed other representations Columba/ Columcille. This paper approaches City of Culture festivities (broadly) from an anthropological and performance studies perspective. Based on fieldwork in Derry/Londonderry, it explores how cultural practitioners promoting a less secularised representation of Columba/Colmcille experience their displacement from (or sometimes placement within) the new official narrative by investigating the feelings they attach to the figure of Columba/ Columcille and his role as a cross-community focal point, and the aesthetic dialogue of community-based theatre.
Home is where the heart is (broken)?