LIMERICK City Centre is set for its biggest influx of people in more than 30 years, this weekend, as the Giant Grandmother comes to town.
Not since Pope John Paul II visited Limerick in 1979 have so many people been expected in the city.
Between now and Sunday afternoon, an estimated 200,000 people will come to the city to experience the unique public performance of French street theatre company Royal De Luxe.
Mayor Michael Sheahan says he is “excited as a child” at the spectacle, while Strand Hotel boss Sean Lally summed up the feeling of the business community when he said: “It is going to be huge”.
The centrepiece of Limerick’s designation as Ireland’s first city of culture, there will be three days of free family entertainment, led by the giant, who will walk among the people of Limerick.
She will arrive by rail at 10am this morning and will leave by boat from Sarsfield Bridge at 2pm on Sunday.
Between these times, a story will be told - but this is remaining a closely guarded secret by creator Jean-Luc Courcoult.
A major traffic operation will be in force for the during of the event and gardai are warning people to plan their journeys in advance.
A small army of volunteers will help the giant on her journey, and they have been praised by council leader Kevin Sheahan, who said: “It is marvellous to see there is no shortage of volunteers to participate and help out with this venture. I think Limerick has a great side to display in terms of volunteerism which perhaps was not as good as it was in other places.”
Mr Lally said staff at his hotel, which is one of many viewing points in the performance, have held several operations meetings this week in readiness.
“We are getting a huge level of interest. We have had people ringing from Liverpool that have booked a holiday in Ireland. They saw the parade there, and were blown away with it,” he said, “Anyone who is within a 90 minute to two hour drive is going to be a potential customer this weekend in terms of booking in to see the parade.”
City business association chairperson Helen O’Donnell is encouraging small traders to open longer hours to avail of all the extra trade on offer.
She said: “There is enormous potential for small businesses to open for longer hours, and open on Sunday. It is up to individual businesses, but we are encouraging them to do so”.
Not only this, businesses are also being encouraged to get involved: Ms O’Donnell’s cafe in the Hunt has made a ‘giant’ sandwich for granny, while Hook and Ladder have baked a cake for dessert.
Mayor Sheahan says the preparation for the Giant’s Journey has been “immense”.
“I was down in Kerry, and even there, they were prepared to vacate the county to come here and enjoy this spectacular. With the weather smiling on us, I hope it is something which really showcases Limerick at its best,” he said, “I am looking forward with great anticipation”.