As a healthcare and recruitment business owner I have had the joy and occasional despair of visiting various second cities across Europe and beyond.

To be honest, in true Hunger Games fashion I’ve never been a great fan of any capital – I’ve always enjoyed life better in District 12. That’s not to say capitals are not a great place to do business and visit for the occasional weekend – let’s be honest though the traffic, cost and general quality of life is generally enough reason to think about living somewhere else.

Plus its never a fun afternoon in Victoria Square equipped with a bow and arrow and hiding in the glass dome like some sort of shopped-out Katnis (a character from the Hunger Games for the as yet uninitiated).

Of all the ‘second’ cities I have visited Brno, Wroclaw, Debrecen, Birmingham, Marseille, Barcelona (if it’s still a second city at the time of press!) to name but a few they all share the same worn out attitude…. ‘we hate the capital… they get everything… poor us…. If only we had…’. I’ve always found this attitude a massively wasteful use of energy.

However there has always been one exception to the Hunger Games second city model – the ‘Mocking Jay’ city that will become the 2020 European Capital of Culture – Galway. Galway has been forged out of something else; something harder, something defiant, something that has taken centuries to instill and pass down to the Tribes of today that live and thrive across the city.

For the purposes of comparison on the face of it Derry and Galway are very similar. Similar populations, both are on the west coast, both have functioning and successful commercial ports, struggling local airports, universities, a strong historical richness and cultural confidence as well as a reputation for delivering world-beating events and programmes. It also rains so much animals get nervous and pair up on a regular basis.  However once you get beneath the skin of comparison things start to diverge fairly quickly – lets do some stats:

  • Exports: In 2015m Galway’s top 13 companies exported some 23 billion worth of goods in 2015. Lets put that in perspective – the whole of Northern Ireland exported approximately £7.74 billion in the same year. Even at Brexit exchange rates that’s a scary per capita comparison. Galway exports around £255,878 per person compared to £4553 per person across the whole of NI… let alone the Maiden City.
  • University numbers: Galway can point to around 27,000 students between GMIT and NUI Galway – well over 20% of the total population. The Magee Campus has 3500 students accounting for around 3.5% of the local population. Interestingly 20 years ago Galway had around 4000 students – its was described as the ‘Graveyard of Ambition’ in Ireland.

    Galway also has challenges – infrastructure and traffic in and around the city needs serious investment. The city experience at rush hour is less fun than a home lobotomy kit. Talent retention and growth are also major challenges. However as with most things in Galway – improvements are being driven home – one way or the other.

    So what has Galway done to become the cultural capital of Europe and Ireland – how has it attracted global giants like Medtronic, Boston Scientific, EA Games, HP, Cisco, SAP, and grown numerous local success stories. Specifically how and what can Derry learn from the Galway journey to greatness.

    • It’s all about the people. Easy to say – hard to copy. The 14 Tribes that developed and led Galway through the centuries are alive and well. The sense of ‘Tribe’ is palpable in the City. Tribes don’t talk, plead, navel gaze – Tribes protect their own, ensure the Tribe has longevity, go forth and conquer where necessary. Originally a derogatory term during the challenging Cromwell period, Galway adopted the title of ‘City of Tribes’ as an act of defiance. You have to love that.
      • The Tribe ‘philosophy’ was required again in the 90’s when the last large employer in the area left the city. The city was at low ebb. The answer was to get around the table and solve the ‘graveyard of ambition’ challenge – no one was coming to save the city; Dublin was blind and uncaring, national policy was less than favourable, infrastructure was appalling and the light at the end of the tunnel was not a revitalised Connemara rail line. Talking to business people involved at the time the mantra became quite simple:
          • ‘We can’t be all things to all people’ – lets focus on a niche and build an ecosystem that acts as a ‘sticky magnet’ for ripple investment and development. Galway now has one of the most sophisticated and large Medtech clusters in the world and a strategic advantage that is incredibly hard to copy.
          • It is no great surprise but for this eco-system to thrive research and development had to keep pace – the Universities responded to meet the demands of these new FDI companies and the subsequent high growth spin out developments and businesses. New courses and new opportunities to study and stay became apparent.

            At the same time Galway made themselves one of the most welcoming cities in the world – it also rates as the most ethnically diverse outside Dublin. The tourism and visitor experience is one of 100% positive immersion – service is exemplar, welcomes are genuine and pride is at all time high. Derry too has a strong service experience, it has always been genuine but consistent and lasting pride has been elusive. Now is the time to ‘Tribe Up’ – its time to become the Galway of the North.

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Derry Now editorial team on 028 7129 6600 for Derry City stories Or 028 7774 3970 for County Derry stories. Or you can email [email protected] or [email protected] at any time.