January 4 - Memorable start augurs well for 2014

Amid fireworks and fanfare, a momentous year for Limerick got under way in spectacular style. The New Year’s Eve party to kick off Limerick City of Culture 2014 was thoroughly enjoyable for many reasons, but most of all because it put some world-class performers where they belong – on centre stage, after weeks of controversy when the spotlights fell instead on assorted administrators and civil servants.

Amid fireworks and fanfare, a momentous year for Limerick got under way in spectacular style. The New Year’s Eve party to kick off Limerick City of Culture 2014 was thoroughly enjoyable for many reasons, but most of all because it put some world-class performers where they belong – on centre stage, after weeks of controversy when the spotlights fell instead on assorted administrators and civil servants.

The joy evident in the short but enthralling performance of Dolores O’Riordan and the Limerick-based Irish Chamber Orchestra summed it all up. Here was a local girl made good on the world stage, proud to be performing before thousands in her native city, and as excited as anyone else in Limerick about a special night at the beginning of a special year.

The vast majority of the big crowds who watched the fireworks explode over King John’s Castle and enjoyed the superb music close by City Hall will have been unaware of the considerable tensions which preceded the night, in particular the decision by City of Culture artistic director Karl Wallace to tender his resignation.

Mr Wallace’s considerable contribution to putting the year’s cultural programme together was properly acknowledged at a special New Year’s Eve reception in St Mary’s Cathedral. Only those closest to him will be fully aware of the reasons for his decision to step down just as the year gets under way.

Mr Wallace’s expected departure is highly regrettable. This latest development comes just as it seemed that a line had finally been drawn under the controversy surrounding the appointment of City of Culture CEO Patricia Ryan.

Of course, the spectre of a man overboard is a familiar one in the City of Culture sphere – others cities with that designation have experienced turbulence before their parties got started. We can only hope that, as was the case with Derry and Liverpool, the early difficulties which have beset Limerick’s special year give way to a cultural celebration which will resonate far beyond the city boundaries.

It will be at least another 12 months before we can accurately assess the legacy of Limerick City of Culture 2014. Even then, some of the positives it is likely to bring will not be easy to measure. Defining the economic benefit of major local events – attributing to them a figure in the millions – has become popular in recent years. This is different: what price does one put on the sense of cultural wonder felt by a youngster from Limerick who participated in the memorable New Year’s Eve pageant? Who is to know what that child might go on to, having been imbued with the artistic spirit?

No doubt about it, we are in for an eventful and hopefully memorable year.

If the opening night is anything to go by, the people of Limerick are ready and willing to get behind it in a big way. Let us hope that many people from the rest of Ireland – along with visitors from further afield – also join the party.