EMBEDDED deep amidst the army of Lilliputians responsible for propelling the Giant Grandmother on her 19km journey around Limerick was a group of locals, hired to give the Gallic troupe a Limerick flair.
Standing in Shelbourne Park on Saturday evening, local actor Kevin Kiely Jnr found himself drawing a breath, struggling with the emotion and the swelling of pride burning in his throat at seeing his native city come out in their thousands to welcome the massive marionette.
“Friday was really busy, but when we went down to Shelbourne Park and the crowds were pouring in after us when we brought the Grandmother in and the show and the spectacle...,” he stops, struggling for the words. “You look around and it just all landed on me.
“I had nothing to do in the show for a few minutes, and I just looked out at the crowds and just found it unbelievable. That was very emotional for me personally, I was very, very proud at that point. And then to head into the Sunday and there were even more people on the streets, it was just insane.”
The actor, who has on screen roles in The Dark Knight Rise and World War Z on his CV, was one of 14 locals cast among the Lilliputians. Ten of those were ‘Giant Technicians’ among the French crew of Royal de Luxe; Frances Healy, Niamh Bowen, Kieran Ryan, Kevin, Aidan Phelan, Damien Moore, Jared Nadin, Emma O’Grady, Paddy Hoyne and Zeb Moore.
Several, including Kevin, Zeb and Kieran, manned the ropes to propel the Grandmother.
“The energy was colossal but you feed off the crowd and their reaction, because everyone was mesmerised with the face of the Grandmother. People said to me how lifelike and soulful she was, and alive almost,” explains Kevin.
“For Limerick I think it has been one of the best weekends in living memory; the best weekend of my life, as far as Limerick goes.”
Fellow actress Frances Healy, well known from turns in Fair City and The Magdalene Sisters, admits that she is “not a patriot in any way, but in spite of all my cynicism, I was beyond proud of Limerick.
“Thank heavens for sunglasses, because there was tears, many times on that round that she took my breath away, that I will never forget,” she says of the Grandmother.
“I loved it! I got to work the elbow and the hand with the stick on, and honestly, you have never seen a happier woman in your whole life. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.”
For Kieran Ryan, and ex-Regeneration official who worked on the recent Sail and Oar Festival and who took a group of 20 of the cast and crew out to sail with Foynes Yacht Club after the event was finished, it was something totally different.
“I described it as like playing two matches against Shannon, back to back, when I was 24,” laughed the ex Garryowen player, who lives in Old Pallas, but hails from Newport.
“I don’t think people realise how physical it was, it was really tough going. A lot of it was adrenaline, and the crowd were off the wall. I now know what it feels like to play for Munster, it was that kind of a feeling. The crowd were just lifting you all the time, every time you got back up on the rig, and you saw tens of thousands of happy faces, you had to smile, there would have been something wrong with you if you didn’t embrace it.”