We need more than just Riverfest: If City of Culture has showed us anything it is that the public crave civic events
This newspaper recently quoted Labour Councillor Joe Leddin as saying that Limerick “is just not at the races” for festival organisation.
This came on the back of criticism of local authority funding to the tune of €10,000 which is being granted to the EVA biennial festival of contemporary art, a festival that already receives significant Arts Council funding.
Leddin’s comments must be listened to. Out of all the local authority councillors who have suddenly become outspoken on the issues of both arts and festival funding, Leddin has experience at the coalface.
As one of the organisers of the annual Great Limerick Run, Leddin along with John Cleary and the team at the GLR have over a period of time evolved this event into something that now prides itself (according to its website) as ‘Ireland’s biggest mass participation sporting event outside Dublin’.
In recent years Limerick has improved significantly in terms of the focus it now places on public events and festivals. Our year as National City of Culture could surely be credited for us upping our game.
However, as Ireland’s third city we are nowhere near other Irish cities in terms of the quality of our festival offering. We must do some naval gazing and ask ourselves why?
If City of Culture showed us anything it showed us that the public crave civic events. Yet other than Riverfest in May (an event which is bolstered by the Great Limerick Run attendance on the same weekend) we have failed to develop and support and (importantly) commit to any other festival that attracts footfall, bednights and spend.
What seems to happen in Limerick is that we focus on funding. We put together a pot of money and then feel we need to spread the pot thinly across the many festival applications received.
Don’t get me wrong. I have an understanding of the many different festival ideas that have popped up in Limerick. I have a respect for the many different organisers and idea generators this city is producing. These are civic leaders who want to do something that has value and attracts the general public.
The problem as I see it is that we do not have a trained festival and events professional working within the local authority whose job it is to identify good ideas, build on these ideas and ultimately produce one or two new civic festivals with a view to evolving these new events on an annual basis to ultimately become key destination events in the Irish (not just Limerick) calendar.
Having 20+ small events in our annual local calendar is noble. However, if we are to be at the races in terms of Failte Ireland and external corporate partnership opportunities we really have got to start focusing on the creation one or two bigger, more ambitious ideas.
To do this will require collaboration, soul searching and a willingness to merge some of our existing offerings. We saw the beginnings of such moves last year when the Richard Harris Film Festival joined forces with the Limerick Film Festival.
Now that local councillors have engaged openly in this debate we should consider putting a halt to the ‘something for everybody’ approach in terms of funding. We need to focus on something new, potentially something that has a collaborative merging existing festivals with similar themes.
A simple bit of research will probably show us how other cities have succeeded in creating festivals of note – good ideas with an understanding of what the public want, buy in form local government, a five-year plan, a willingness to start small but an ambition to become big. Finally, and most importantly, an event that has the support the citizens of Limerick. The reason events struggle is because people don’t turn up.
A quick chat with the Great Limerick Run team will show clearly how an event that was once fledgling has grown year on year to become recognised as a key Irish sporting event. There are learnings there.
Councillor’s comments don’t often stand out but this week I think Joe Leddin was on the ball. As an elected representative with a specific niche knowledge, perhaps party interests could be put aside to allow him educate the local authority in the world of successful event creation?
Wild Atlantic Way could really help put Limerick on the map
I took a break over the past two weeks and rather than leave the country I stayed local, firstly attending a week-long yoga and meditation retreat in the Burren and then taking in a few walks and outdoor activities locally.
The experience was an eye-opener. During my time in County Clare I experienced first-hand the work that has been done on developing the Wild Atlantic Way.
Here in Limerick we have had mixed opinions as to whether Limerick should be included on the official WAW route. Having seen what the Wild Atlantic Way has done, how it has branded itself and how it has taken previously unheard of spots and transformed them into areas of interest I can see how valuable such an inclusion would be to our city and its environs along the Shannon Estuary.
The Wild Atlantic Way concept is not twee. It’s not stage Oirish. It is a tasteful celebration of our physical landscape, our cultural heritage, our history and our lifestyle.
The WAW won me over over the past two weeks. I am a convert and hope beyond hope that Limerick’s inclusion can come to pass.
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