City of Culture leaves a lasting legacy in the heart of Limerick

Aine Fitzgerald


Aine Fitzgerald

Alan English, editor of the Leader, presenting the Limerick Person of the Month award to members of the Limerick City of Culture team, including arts officer Sheila Deegan and director of Limerick City of Culture 2014 Mike Fitzpatrick, along with Paul Foley, Kathy O'Grady, Patrick Barrett, Helen Creed, Paddy Coleman and Evelyn Noonan. Also included are Ivan Tuohy, general manager of Clarion hotel, and Richard Meade of media agency Southern. Picture: Adrian Butler
ON an overcast morning on September 5 last as he cycled his way through the city, Mike Fitzpatrick was, he admits, filled with trepidation.

ON an overcast morning on September 5 last as he cycled his way through the city, Mike Fitzpatrick was, he admits, filled with trepidation.

Empty streets played havoc with the mind of a City of Culture director on what was make-or-break day for the city’s big year.

“I had dropped off the car and I cycled up there,” recalls Mike of his journey to the Bus Eireann school transport depot on Roxboro Road.

“Just cycling through the empty streets, I thought: ‘Oh no’.

Three days, 19 kilometres and some 230,000 people later, you couldn’t wipe the smile of Mike’s face.

The Granny. She came. She saw. She conquered.

“In terms of this past year - it’s a great honour to receive this. We are really thrilled. It’s lovely to be appreciated,” said Mr Fitzpatrick this Monday on receiving the Limerick Person of the Month award at the Clarion Hotel on behalf of the City of Culture team who each helped in their own unique way to make it a “fantastic year” in Limerick.

While Limerick has long held the title of a sporting city, and quite rightly so, 2014, Mr Fitzpatrick says, put Limerick’s strong sense of culture on the map.

“It has certainly, I think, lead to a lasting perceptual change for Limerick and that’s what’s really exciting. We are looking at our city with a whole new set of lens.”

His biggest joy of the year was seeing the audience reaction – watching their eyes widen at a performance, their lips curl upwards. “You can always create things but until there is an audience in front of it, it doesn’t exist.”

Having moved on from what was a “fraught” beginning to the City of Culture year, the first goosebumps began to form for Mr Fitzpatrick when he walked into the empty Culture Factory – formerly home to Dell in Castletroy, ahead of the staging of Fuerzabruta, the immersive, acrobatic show.

“There was a sense that something great was about to happen - we had great media coverage that day but unfortunately Garth Brooks launched as well and all our media coverage was wiped out. What was fantastic was when Fuerzabruta opened, there was such a buzz around.”

Two quieter moments, which were just as significant in terms of satisfaction, came in the form of the The Colleen Bawn standing on the grass outside the Boat House for the first scene of the production, on a beautiful, calm summer’s evening, and “an amazing event” called Chamber Maid.

“It was just a performance in a house in North Circular Road which was exquisite - absolutely exquisite.”

And then of course there was the Granny - all 25 feet of her, turned out in her motherly blue paisley dress, grey hair swept back in an elaborate chignon, her huge expressive eyes drinking in the sea of joyous Limerick people against the city backdrop.

“I was fearful when I saw it in Lille first of all. You just ask, ‘Will the people come’?” recalls Mr Fitzpatrick. “But then you began to see people, then there was a sense of expectation and then she was lifted up off the crane and you could hear the reaction from the people, it was like: ‘Yes, we’re on!’”

His favourite memory of the endearing granny is from near the Hunt Museum when the bespectacled old dear told a story to the masses.

“The moment for me was when the lead security man walked up and lifted his arms like this,” says Mr Fitzpatrick stretching out his arms, “and the crowd just separated. It was the most amazing moment. The sea of people up Patrick Street. It was such a beautiful day.

“It was just a lovely, really special moment.”

Reflecting on the year, Mr Fitzpatrick describes it as “fantastic” not just for all the cultural groups in Limerick but also for the whole population of the city, county and hinterland.

“So many people have come up to us over the last couple of months in particular and talked about their highlight of the year,” he says.

While it may have been a frenetic year it was also full of fun.

“What was fantastic about the team was we could count on every member. They attended hundreds and hundreds of events - evenings or weekends, it didn’t matter.

“They were phenomenal. Some of the team had no experience working in the cultural sphere before but, my God, they took to it like ducks to water.”