IT was the best of weekends, three days sent from Heaven, an experience that will stand the test of time. No doubt about it, in 60 or 70 years, there will be elderly people in Limerick telling their grandchildren about the time the Giant Granny arrived from France and cast an entire city under her magical spell.
The visit of the Royal de Luxe Grandmother was an event that gathered pace irresistibly. Only a handful knew what to expect. On Friday morning, at the appointed hour when she arrived by train, there was a healthy turnout to greet her. The organisers were in place, perhaps wondering anxiously if the big crowds they had hoped for would come out. The vast garda operation, meticulously planned, was pressed into action. But would it be needed on the scale mapped out by Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan and his team? The question hung in the air, but not for long.
All ambitious events carry the risk of failure, but from the moment the endearing Giant started walking in the direction of William Street, the success of the City of Culture’s flagship event was assured, because to walk alongside her was a truly awesome experience and those who got up close and personal were always going to be the greatest ambassadors. At the Limerick Leader we tried hard to build the sense of anticipation and awareness in the run-up to the event, but the best recommendations don’t come on newsprint – to generate excitement there is nothing to beat word-of-mouth endorsement, the friend who tells you that you simply must be there to witness a piece of local history, as uplifting an experience as Limerick has seen in generations. It was hard to take your eyes off this extraordinary creation, but when you did there was something just as compelling to behold: the sight of absolute joy and delight on the faces of everyone watching her march down the streets. For most of us, it was the local event of a lifetime.
Already, and understandably, there have been calls to build on this staggering success. Limerick has proven beyond any question that it can stage huge events. Has the broad, majestic Shannon ever been seen to such stunning effect, as this theatrical marvel traversed the bridges? Has our riverside city ever looked so well, with tens of thousands of people lining its streets, a quarter of a million in total over the three days? Has local pride been so emphatically in evidence as this internationally renowned spectacle went down a storm in a relatively small city?
We offer our congratulations to all who played a part, big or small, in making the weekend happen. The Man above was clearly on our side too, for the weather was sublime from beginning to end.
Amid the celebrations, there were some interesting points raised. Many enjoyed the freedom of walking around in a largely pedestrianised city, particularly on Saturday when the crowds were enormous. Although plenty of businesses were boosted by the occasion, not all city centre traders were euphoric, but surely all could see the merit of introducing untold thousands of new visitors to a city that has vast untapped potential for growth, if the investment is made to improve the retail offering.
At the weekend, we saw a glimpse of a better future. And we saw much more: a sight that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.