Londonderry’s award-winning Hallowe’en festival is to double in size this year, from four days to eight.
Plans for this year’s festival, which will run from Friday, October 26 to Saturday, November 3, were agreed by Derry City and Strabane District Council’s business and culture committee.
The festival will have its biggest-ever budget of almost £400,000, bolstered by a new grant of £95,000 from Tourism NI.
Over 94,000 people attended the festival in 2017, a figure the council is confident of topping this year.
“The festival has grown to become one of the largest Hallowe’en festivals in Europea and the largest in Ireland and the UK,” said the council’s head of culture Aideen McCarter.
This year’s theme will be an extension of last year’s ‘Under the Samhain Moon’. It is currently being developed with local arts and culture groups.
The festival will also include ‘The Ancients Return’ Street Carnival, the traditional fireworks display in Derry as well as Strabane, the Hallowe’en Street Carnival, ‘Awakening the Walls’ to mark the start of Walls 400, a children’s arts festival, harvest markets in Derry and Strabane and the Castlederg Apple Fair which will open the festival on October 26.
“The 31st October 2018 falls on a Wednesday and the aim is to sustain the high audience numbers and the media coverage by extending the event to a week-long celebration delivering a high level of programming across a full week,” said Ms McCarter.
“The last number of years have shown a large increase in visitor numbers to the city.
“In 2015 the festival attracted an audience of 50,000. In 2017 overall the festival attracted audiences in excess of 94,000 across the city and district.
“In 2017 the Halloween programme enjoyed is biggest-ever programme of events with over 2,000 participants taking part in over 100 events in over 40 venues.”
The carnival won ‘Tourism Project of the Year’ at the UTV Business Eye awards in December.
It was also named ‘Best Northern Ireland Event or Festival Experience’ at the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards last month.
Sinn Fein councillor Mickey Cooper said: “It is good to see that Tourism NI is fully recognising the importance of this event.
“No other event can boast of a similar scale.
“We should insist that Tourism NI continues to help towards this as it obviously helps them as well.”
The SDLP’s Martin Reilly said: “The festival fully deserves the awards that it has won and it is great to see the benefit this festival brings to wider Northern Ireland.
“Coverage on BBC2 and by TG4 will only add to the occasion.
“The extension of the festival over a week is fully justified and there is no doubt that council is able to sustain it over a longer period and over a wider area.”
Deputy mayor Derek Hussey of the Ulster Unionists added: “I am delighted to see more events in Strabane and the rural area, but I think that there is no choice with so many people turning up, we were almost running out of space.”