A festival of music, film and spectacle: the best of Belfast 2024

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A year-long celebration aims to start a new chapter for Belfast, forging better connections and conversations within communities through creativity and culture

Belfast did not have the best of starts to 2024. Never mind the mass public sector strikes, the not-unrelated fact of Northern Ireland being without a functioning government (the government returned, the strikes were settled, or suspended … for now), at the end of January, one of the city’s most respected – revered – publicans, Pedro Donald, who over the years had brought us the John Hewitt, La Boca, the Sunflower and the American Bar, announced that he was leaving for Amsterdam. There may not be bombs and bullets any more, he said, but Belfast was “a dump and derelict”. Indeed, apart from a few good years between the Good Friday agreement and the financial crash, the city was in many ways no further on than when he started in the trade in 1984.

Some bridled at the broadside. But walking towards the Sunflower along Royal Avenue, historically the main shopping street, after 6pm sometimes, you would have been hard-pressed to say Pedro had called it wrong. Hard-pressed, too, to say that the people in whose gift was the title of “city of this” or “capital of that” were being entirely unreasonable when they overlooked bids from Belfast in the not-too-distant past.

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