Northern Ireland

Belfast Mela founder: Never in my dreams did I think it would get so big

People attending the Belfast Mela festival at Botanic Gardens (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)
People attending the Belfast Mela festival at Botanic Gardens (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

The founder of the largest celebration of cultural diversity in Ireland has said she never dreamed it would reach the scale it has.

Crowds gathered at Botanic Gardens on Sunday afternoon for the culmination of the Belfast Mela festival.

Festival founder Nisha Tandon and Lord Mayor Ryan Murphy led a colourful procession through the park at the opening of the event, which saw a showcase of food, music, arts and dance from across the world.

In the absence of a first and deputy first minister amid the ongoing collapse of the Stormont Assembly, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Jayne Brady attended on behalf of government.

Ms Tandon said the first Belfast Mela in 2006 brought together just a couple of hundred people in Botanic Gardens.

Seventeen years on, thousands of people attended events across nine days, finishing with a festival of entertainment in the park in the south of the city where it started.

“Never in my dreams did I think it would get so big,” she said.

People attending the Belfast Mela Festival at the Botanic Gardens
People attending the Belfast Mela festival (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

“But we have a beautiful small team that puts so much effort into making this happen and the support we get from the public is immense, as well as our funders and sponsors, who feel that diversity, equality and inclusion is so, so important.

“Mela has become an important platform for so many diverse communities who now call Belfast home, enabling them to share and express their cultural identity.

“Let’s continue to celebrate everything that is good about our city and its people. We look forward to bringing you another cultural extravaganza of global music, dance, food, theatre and arts in 2024.”