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EDITIONS
Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 10:00 GMT
NI hails 21st century
Belfast's fireworks reflect on the regenerated Laganside
Belfast's fireworks reflect on the regenerated Laganside
Northern Ireland's millennium celebrations reached a crescendo with fireworks blazing a trail into the new year.

Almost 40,000 people crowded into Belfast City Centre to celebrate the turning of the century and a new era of peace and prosperity.

Into 2000
The young and old, families, couples, crowds of teenagers, all wearing sparkly clothes, silly hats and headband head-boppers, lined the banks of the River Lagan to watch the sky set the water on fire.

In the build-up to the display they were entertained by Abba tribute group Bjorn Again at a massive stage erected outside Belfast's new Waterfront Hall - the first big regeneration project which showed that confidence and investment was returning to the city.

As Belfast's own Big Ben, the Albert Clock, struck midnight GMT, the bottles of champagne, sparkling wine and hip flasks came out, people shook hands and cheered in the new year.

Across the roads from the river, jazz and folk music fans were in the covered St George's market, where a two day festival got underway.

Street parties

Meanwhile at the City Hall, Belfast-born singer Brian Kennedy lead the singing of the traditional tune to herald in the new year, Auld Lang Syne.

Afterwards the crowd at the City Hall made their way in a procession led by the cross-community Friendship Band to the Laganside to merge with the revellers there.

Unlike the street parties in other areas of the UK, the public did not need tickets to go to Belfast's outdoor events and while traffic was excluded, the whole city centre was a hive of activity with people walking from venue to venue.

Two huge screens broadcast BBC coverage of the celebrations around the world.

Londonderry

In Londonderry the celebrations attended by around 15,000 started on a high note with the singing of the world famous Danny Boy.

Nobel peace prize winner and leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, John Hume, was among the 2,000 singers in the city's Guildhall Square as the party and fireworks to greet the new year got underway.

There were also major celebrations in the County Down towns of Bangor, Lisburn and Newry.

County Armagh

In Craigavon, nearly 20,000 revellers gathered at the Watersports' Centre on Northern Ireland's largest lake, Lough Neagh, for a waterside fireworks display.

A glowing dragon boat formed part of the carnival scene along the shore and the number 2000 burned brightly in figures several metres high throughout the 20-minute display.

Meanwhile the crowd was entertained by Queen tribute band Flash Harry.

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

Laser lights were used to create a symbolic bridge of light across Carlingford Lough to link the communities on each side of the Northern Ireland border.

At the last sundown of the millennium beacons were lit across the province, in Belfast, on Slemish Mountain and at Cushendall in County Antrim, in tandem with the lighting of 2,800 beacons across the UK.

Belfast's millennium beacon at Lanyon place was lit by teenagers Leanne Martin and Brendan Grimes who were affected by the Omagh bomb.

The Slemish beacon mirrored one reputedly lit by Ireland's patron Saint Patrick over nearly 1,000 years ago.

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

Beacons have been lit throughout Ireland
An extra 50 crews were on duty to deal with an anticipated increase in emergency call-outs which have already risen by more than 20% over the Christmas holidays.

But the Royal Ulster Constabulary reported that the celebrations so far have been trouble-free.

As thousands made their way from the public concerts, firework displays, funfairs and parties, heading home to continue the celebrations into the new year, there was a universal atmosphere of well-being and confidence that the new millennium would bring something better for the province.

The celebrations will continue into 1 January with two more open-air concerts at Belfast City Hall and Lanyon Place, and a jazz and folk festival at the historic and recently restored 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.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Rosie Billingham
BBC NI's Rosie Billingham: "Huge turnout expected for millennium party"
See also:

31 Dec 99 | N Ireland
30 Dec 99 | N Ireland
31 Dec 99 | UK
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