Giant memories to remain long after Granny’s visit

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

Granny makes her way down a packed Sarsfield Street [Picture: Mike Cowhey]

A Giant visit: Granny makes her way down a packed Sarsfield Street Picture: Mike Cowhey

LIMERICK bid adieu to the Grandmother Giant after three simply massive days, the enormity of what was witnessed unlikely to sink in for some time.

As many as 230,000 people greeted the Royal de Luxe creation on her 19km circuit around Limerick, the towering 7.5m marionette casting a large shadow over the throngs of people that cheered her every move.

It was a giant spectacle unlike anything the city has ever witnessed.

Not even last minute technical hitches - put down to “too much whiskey for Granny” - could derail the event, with the solution dreamed up by the larger-than-life ‘creative genius’ behind the French street theatre company, Jean-Luc Courcoult, that she would lie ‘in state’ outside Brown Thomas after completing her journey around the city.

As a result, the thousands that waited for hours for her delayed arrival got up close and personal with her.

Pat Cox, chairman of Limerick City of Culture, who ran the event as the centrepiece of the year’s programme, said that the Giant’s Journey would be “a serious boost to Limerick’s self-confidence to do with managing and undertaking major national events.

“It has been, from the beginning to the end, a magical tour around our own city, blessed by magnificent weather, marvellous crowds, wonderful temperament, great engagement - it is just a super spectacle,” he said, as he posed for pictures in front of the Granny with his grandchildren.

“It shows what Limerick can do, and shows everywhere else what we can do as well.

“This is in its own right is a magnificent spectacle, but it also establishes something else about stretching ourselves, stretching the goodwill to get sponsorship and so on, and showing that in the end, the goods can be delivered.”

The notion that Limerick could pull off a gigantic event of this scale - costing more than €1m to produce - was comprehensively demonstrated, argued Mike Fitzpatrick, director of the year of culture

“Limerick can do it,” he said.

“We have really become a different place and I met so many people that said we have moved so far in the last eight months,” he said, indicating that any question of whether it was a good idea to bring Royal de Luxe to the city had been “blasted out of it.

“We have proved that we can do a very large, complex event,” he added.

Chief Superintendent David Sheahan, Henry Street, who was an ever presence around the event over all three days, marshalling his forces, said he was “so proud to be part of it.

“I am proud for the city of Limerick because this has been the most spectacular event that anyone will ever see here,” he said.

“I said it to people beforehand that this was going to be a spectacular event and it turned out to be just that. I knew coming up to this that we were going to get 200,000 people.

“The legacy of this will live on in the history of Limerick, and I would say if we can build on this legacy, the future for Limerick is just enormous.”

The Grandmother stole the hearts of everyone who saw her; ambling her way through the city streets and out to the Lee Estate and Shelbourne Park, retiring to her wheelchair when tired, and snoozing in Sarsfield Barracks.

She spoke - through an interpreter, actor Louis Lovett - and smoked a pipe, told tales of Limerick and drank whiskey, resulting in several moments of hilarity when she hitched up her skirts and relieved herself, most memorably taking a wee on O’Connell Street, outside the Chicken Hut.

Followed at all times by her backing band - French post-rock band Les Balayeurs du désert - and propelled by her loving and hard-working team of 27 ‘Lilliputians’ - including local actors Kevin Kiely, Zeb Moore and Frances Healy, plus ex-Regeneration official Kieran Ryan - the Granny did several loops of the city and wound her way quickly into the hearts and minds of everyone who saw her.

Speaking immediately after the event finished on Sunday, project director Iseult Byrne said it was “beyond her expectations” of success.

“It was amazing, I am really, really delighted,” she said. “The most exciting part of this whole thing is that people came out in their droves, they were excited to be here, everybody had a smile on their face, thousands of people enjoying this.

“There are moments when you are working away and you wonder if anybody is listening, and they are here, it turns out they are,” she smiled.

Volunteer Mark Butler, from Clareview, said his experience of walking with the Granny in the ‘Benevol’ or human shield around her, was “an amazing experience.

“I loved every single minute of it. We didn’t know anything about it, we found out about all the surprises along with everybody else,” he said.

“The crowds were amazing - we were coming down the street here and all we could see was row after row of people. I thought it would never end, all the people and they were so friendly, we had no incidents whatsoever.”

Standing in the crowd with her children Mary Caher, from Doon, said they waited “three hours before we ever saw her, but it was worth the wait.

“I have never seen anything like this before, it is brilliant,” she added.

The amazing crowd numbers - confirmed as over 230,000 people over the three days from Friday to Sunday by the Garda Press Office - blew everybody away, while the scintillating weather made the event a particularly joyous one.

“We had planned and planned and had known Royal de Luxe’s reputation, but what we didn’t count on was the phenomenal response from people, the engagement, the love they had for the Granny,” said Mike Fitzpatrick.

“It is an inanimate object but yet people were saying they loved her, and that wasn’t just children, it was older adults like myself,” he laughed.

Pat Cox said that Limerick had “never seen this, nothing like this.

“This is the biggest single public event on consecutive days that this city has ever hosted, and it has done it brilliantly well.

“It is a real case here, with the Granny lying beside us, of Limerick You Are A Lady, showing all her best qualities,” he added.