There was rapturous applause for members of the PSNI, NI Fire and Rescue Service, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and other emergency services, in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry, on Monday evening (11th December 2023), but the warmth of the ovation paled in comparison to that which followed the performances of Foyle Down Syndrome and Ebrington Primary School Choirs. Their joint rendition of ‘Jingle Bell Rock – featuring Conor Collins on saxophone – may not have brought the house down but it brought the huge congregation to their feet.

The cathedral was packed almost to overflowing for the annual ‘Joint Emergency Services North West Community Carol Service’. Indeed, so large was the attendance that the cathedral ran out of orders of service.

This year’s service was supported by the Royal Foundation of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Among those in attendance were the Lord-Lieutenant for the County of Londonderry, Ian Crowe MBE and his wife, Christine, and the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Patricia Logue and her husband James.

The Lord-Lieutenant shared a message from Her Royal Highness, The Princess of Wales, with the congregation, in which she recognised those who had gone above and beyond to help others throughout the year – and especially to help children. The Princess says foundations we lay in early childhood shape the rest of our lives and the adults we become.

This evening’s service was one of 12 Community Carol Services taking place across the UK this year, hosted by Lord-Lieutenants and supported by The Royal Foundation.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the four local Church leaders: the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster; the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown; the chairperson of the North West Methodist Mission, Rev Dr Stephen Skuce; and the Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Gordon McCracken. The congregation included senior officers of the three main ‘blue light’ services, among them the recently-appointed Chief Constable of the PSNI, Jon Boutcher.

Music was provided by the Cathedral Girls’ Choir, directed by Nicky Morton, and accompanied by Dr Derek Collins on the organ.