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BBC NI's Rosie Billingham:Huge turnout expected for millennium party
 real 28k

Friday, 31 December, 1999, 23:40 GMT
Musical focus for NI party

Thousands hear Brian Kennedy sing at Belfast City Hall


Northern Ireland's millennium celebrations started on a high note with the singing of the world famous "Danny Boy" in Londonderry.

Nobel peace prize winner John Hume with his wife Pat were among the 2,000 singers in the city's Guildhall Square as the province-wide party to greet the new year got underway.

In Belfast, the party began with a rendition by local star Brian Kennedy of another world famous Ulster love song, Carrickfergus, from the City Hall where he was accompanied by the Harp Orchestra.

The Falls Road singer was on stage shortly before midnight in a millennium concert outside the City Hall which was attended by up to 30,000 party-goers.

Such is the party fever which has gripped Northern Ireland that all leave for ambulance crews has been cancelled for the first time in history.

An extra 50 crews will be on duty to deal with an anticipated increase in emergency call-outs which have already risen by more than 20% over the Christmas holidays.

Into 2000
Massive crowds are expected in the centre of Belfast on Friday night at the height of two days of celebrations due to end at midnight on Saturday.

Most of the city centre, as well as bridges over the River Lagan and nearby streets, is being sealed off.


John Hume with wife Pat sing the Derry anthem
Church services, many of them interdenominational, were being held in towns and villages, including one in Omagh, Co Tyrone where 29 people were killed in the terrorist bomb atrocity in August last year.

Meanwhile, Ballymena Borough Council were planning to celebrate the millennium new year's eve by lighting a beacon on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim, in tandem with the lighting of 2,800 beacons across the UK.

The beacon on the mountain, where Ireland's patron Saint Patrick is reputed to have tended sheep as a slave in the 5th century, was lit at 1630 GMT at sundown.

It coincided with the lighting of similar beacons on Ben Nevis, at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland and on the River Thames in London.

Beacons of light

A special service to mark the millennium was held in Omagh where a Real IRA bomb exploded killing 29 people and injuring hundreds more in August 1998.

It was organised by the town's churches forum and aimed to reflect the hurt of the past and the hope for the future.

Around one hundred people attended the service, during which the mayor lit a beacon using a flame from the original millennium beacon which was lit by the Prime Minister and brought from Birmingham

A fireworks display was set to light the skies over Belfast to usher in the millennium.


Beacons have been lit throughout Ireland
Throngs of people were expected at the best viewing point at the Waterfront Hall by the River Lagan where the fireworks will be reflected in the water for a truly spectacular effect.

Abba tribute group Bjorn Again are the headline music act entertaining the crowds enjoying themselves in the area surrounding the city's ultra modern concert hall..

Across the road in the recently restored historic covered St. George's Market a jazz and folk festival is the focus of the revellers.

Two huge screens are showing part of an international 26-hour broadcast via the BBC, uniting millennium celebrations around the world.

Funfairs and folk music

Earlier on new year's eve. 17th century Belfast was re-enacted on Hill Street.

Religious celebrations were held at 1300 GMT on new year's eve at an open-air service outside the City Hall and on 1 January 2000 the Waterfront Hall will host an interdenominational service.

The celebrations will continue into 1 January with two more open-air concerts at Belfast City Hall and Lanyon Place, and the jazz and folk festival continues at St George's Market.

There will also be a family funfair in Victoria Square, and an evening of traditional music and dance at the Waterfront Hall.

'Excitement'

Celebrations on the first day of the new millennium will be topped off by another fireworks display at the Waterfront.

Belfast City Council Event manager Chris Waring said excitement about the celebrations is building up.

"Throughout the UK, Belfast is held up as one of the places to celebrate the millennium.



The buzz has really built up
Chris Waring, council event manager
"I think the buzz about the city today and over the building of the stage has really built up into a last minute rush and panic and excitement, and I think people are saying Belfast is the place to be," he said.

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See also:
30 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Millennium heralds NI's bright future
31 Dec 99 |  UK
UK's party of the century

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