THE man tasked with leading Limerick City of Culture in 2014 said this week that he believes the national cultural designation can lead to a “re-birth of the city into a new entity, for a new time”.
Pat Cox, former European Parliament, TD and MEP, has accepted the invitation to chair the governing group that must now plan a year-long programme of cultural events for 2014.
Cox will be aided in this task by his fellow Freemen of Limerick, rugby icon Paul O’Connell and Riverdance composer Bill Whelan - men that “will actually demonstrate what it is Limerick is really about”, as new supermanager Conn Murray, who personally headhunted the trio for the voluntary positions, explained.
“We have been very fortunate that three Freemen of our city have accepted an invitation to lead the team to bring the new Limerick forward in 2014,” he explained.
“Men of extraordinary calibre, extraordinary leadership qualities, and above all, exceptional track records internationally and of course nationally,” he added.
Undoubtedly the trio - along with Arts Council director Orlaith McBride, who has also accepted a position on the driving group - will be able to open doors and get meetings at the top level, with Bill Whelan immediately signalling the strong possibility that Riverdance will be performed in Limerick as part of one of the major events for the year, the draft programme for which is expected to be unveiled in June.
“It would be absolutely my hope that that will happen and I have already approached my partners in Riverdance on this and I think we will make this happen,” he said.
The governing body will also include representatives from the local business and arts community, while a salaried post of artistic director is to be advertised.
These developments have done much to alleviate fears locally that little had been done in the six months since Minister Jimmy Deenihan officially announced Limerick’s designation as National City of Culture for 2014, seen as ideally a precursor to an application for European Capital of Culture subsequently, and also deliver a programme of cultural events and engagement for 2014, plus a programme with a longer term positive impact.
In fact, it was Mr Murray who propelled the project behind the scenes, treating the designation as a central philosophy in his plan for the re-branding of Limerick that will incorporate the merging of the local authorities.
It is no accident that all of this is scheduled to take place in 2014.
Murray said of the City of Culture this week: “We hope that the perception, the hearts and minds of those that are out there, will understand, will open and accept, that which is an extraordinary personality within itself, and that is Limerick.”
Echoing that sentiment, Mr Cox said delivering a programme, which he declined to give detail on and it is understood may take the form of several high profile events coupled with a grouping together of resources under the council’s existing arts budget, would be “a big challenge, (but) I think the city and county and the resources of Limerick are up to meeting it”.
“There is a huge commitment already on the part of the local authorities. This is really a major, strategic local project and we have already had an initial discussion, not in terms of ballpark numbers, with Minister Deenihan, and it is very clear that we have an enormous level of governmental goodwill, which in the course of this year we want to see translated into actual resources.
“We are confident that on reasonable, but also reasonably modest financial resources, that this is a project that might have a small pocket, but a big heart and will have a big impact.”