It was a perfectly sunny morning on Friday 5th September 2014. For some weeks previous all the talk in Limerick was of the impending visit to Limerick of a giant marionette that would take to our streets for a three-day spectacle. Little did the city realise the profound effect Granny who have on our people, our sense of place and the endless possibilities our future presented.
The was an eerie sense of tranquillity in the city that morning. I was filled with a huge sense of nervous anticipation as I left my house in Pennywell and made my way towards the Sexton St train station depot where the Giant’s journey was set to commence.
Passing St John’s Cathedral, there was little or no traffic on the road until a cyclist went by. It was Mike Fitzpatrick, the then director of Limerick’s year as National City of Culture. Arriving at the starting point for the event it seemed the only people there were all wearing some form of official vests. There was little or no representation from the general public.
|The Royal de Luxe visit was transformational|
I spotted the Limerick City and County Council CEO, Conn Murray. We acknowledged each other in a way that suggested he was feeling just as I was. I deeply wanted in my heart and soul for this event to run smoothly, to be embraced by the public and to deliver the indescribable magic it had done for many other cities around the world.
Granny arrived, fast asleep in her bed as she was escorted into Limerick. Then she opened her eyes and things changed. From out of nowhere there seemed to be thousands of people in that station depot ready to walk the greatest walk ever seen in our city.
Trying to put into words the magic that took place in Limerick over that weekend is very difficult.
I followed Granny’s every move over her three-day visit. I watched as hundreds of thousands of people visited our city centre. I saw children wait with wide-eyed anticipation as Granny turned a corner. I heard stories of complete strangers buying each other ice cream as the carnival atmosphere took hold. I saw signs on shop fronts apologising for having run out of stock. I saw grown adults weep as our Granny walked past. I witnessed a unique event organised by a magnificent team.
Something happened in our city that weekend has changed us forever. What our city achieved was much more than just our Granny. The visit of Royal de Luxe was about people, place and pride. It was about showcasing our city in a way that dazzled. Limerick proved itself to be a giant.
|Granny opened our eyes to parts of the city we often forget|
On that weekend in September 2014 we were invited to reimagine Limerick. As the word spread each and every citizen of Limerick city and county seemed to come out and experience this magnificent event. We allowed ourselves to be swept away on a magical journey through the heart of our city.
We watched as thousands of visitors to our city were awed by what they saw. We saw parts of our city we never see. We looked around and asked what we would like our city to be in years to come. We encouraged our children to embrace our Granny and to play their own part in helping Limerick become a giant of the future.
So what is the legacy that Granny’s visit has left us? I believe we have proved we are no longer a city that allows negative mindsets to be the zeitgeist. Limerick proved it can throw an all-inclusive party right in the heart of the city. Limerick re-entered the hearts of many who had written it off. The young children who experienced the event have never forgotten it.
In some senses what we achieved in Limerick in making Granny’s visit a success is not dissimilar to the challenge now faced in successfully bidding for European Capital of Culture in 2020. In this instance we have most of our citizens now backing the bid and wishing the team the very best as we enter the final stage.
|Imagining what our city could become|
Whatever comes to pass over the next few weeks I believe that Limerick now finds itself in a once in a lifetime place where our city and its stakeholders are full of belief, full of energy and full of pride for who we are. What we may not realise is that the focus on culture over recent years has played an enormous role in bringing this sense of renewed vision to the fore.
The work that has gone into bidding for European Capital of Culture 2020 has opened many new conversations about what we, as citizens, want our city to become in the future. Whether we win the bid or not is immaterial.
What we have proved is that Limerick’s Giant journey did not end in 2014. It is a path we will continue to tread for years to come and one that is destined to lead us to a wonderful place.