From Plantation to Peace: Derry/Londonderry as the UK's first city of Culture



In 2013 Derry/Londonderry became the UK’s first ever City of Culture. This Leverhulme-funded project examines the impact of the year as City of Culture on Derry/Londonderry, in light of the substantial body of work on previous Cities of Culture as well as the unique character of this first recipient of the UK title.

As with Glasgow 1990, Derry/Londonderry 2013 marks an important change in the use of culture as a policy and planning tool. Whereas Glasgow was the first European City of Culture to mobilise culture specifically for economic ends, Derry/Londonderry is also hugely significant in that it intends to use culture as a mechanism to reconcile a divided city (Derry City Council, 2010).

Project Outline

In 2013 Derry/Londonderry became the UK’s first ever City of Culture. This initiative, awarded by the Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, is an attempt to build on the much celebrated ‘Liverpool model’ of culture-led regeneration as the European Capital of Culture 2008 (Cox & O’Brien 2012; Doak 2013; Gordon-Nesbitt 2013). Politicians, policy makers and planners view this event as an opportunity to stimulate, a range of benefits to the city and its people. Interestingly, key anticipated outcomes from City of Culture status include transformations in inter-community relationships, conflict healing and a reversal of cultural alienation.

Given that an aspect of culture has been a causal factor in creating a divided and conflictual city, analysis is needed as to how a major cultural event such as the  City of Culture will in practice help to overcome seemingly intracta‌ble cultural differences. This proposal sets out to unpack, investigate and problematise the City of  Culture and how it intends to create a more peaceful, equal, respectful and shared city.

Research question and objectives

“To what extent can culture become a transformative vehicle for peace-making and conflict resolution in Derry/Londonderry?”

In support of the research question there are a series of research objectives:

  • The first investigates the conceptualisation of culture used by local stakeholders. This will enable the researchers to ascertain how culture is mobilised by  different communities, groups and agencies in D/L, for what purposes, how this affects community identities, community relations and impacts on city spaces. 
  • The second analyses how event organisers cope with competing demands for resources. There will obviously be numerous funding applications for various events so it  is important to unpack the decision making processes involved and how such decisions affect community relations and perceptions of fairness and equality. 
  • The third questions how organisers manage the celebration of different cultural identities in D/L, and the processes and problems involved in developing shared and neutral city spaces. 
  • The final objective focuses on the methods used to reconcile conflictual communities and, related to this, levels of community engagement and participation.


The project employs a multidisciplinary research design, including: citizen surveys about identity and culture, social distance, understandings of and attitudes to CoC and priorities for the city; in-depth interviews with stakeholders across the public, political, private and voluntary sectors; and a series of case studies that aim to penetrate the various interpretations of culture and how they will accommodate or be accommodated by the CoC. The theoretically informed empirical analysis will adopt an interdisciplinary perspective drawing upon literatures from the social sciences (e.g. art, drama studies, cultural studies, human geography, town planning, political science and sociology).



This project is funded with a 3 year Research Project Grant from The Leverhulme Trust,

running from September 2013 to September 2016.

Research Team

Dr Philip Boland (PI)

Dr Brendan Murtagh (CI)

Professor Peter Shirlow (CI)


Dr Siún Carden (research assistant)

Lindsey Mullan (PhD student)