Limerick’s leading lights

A huge fireworks display will kickstart the City of Culture celebrations, writes Colette Sheridan.

Limerick’s leading lights

A FAMILY-FRIENDLY pageant, a sophisticated firework and lighting show with a specially designed soundtrack, and a concert headlined by Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries, accompanied by the Irish Chamber Orchestra, will take place in Limerick on New Year’s Eve as it commences its celebration of its designation as the City of Culture 2014.

The producer and creative director of the opening night, Paul Boland, says there’s huge excitement in Limerick and a real sense of local talent and community participation in the celebrations. Street theatre company, Buí Bolg (from Wexford) will lead a procession through the streets of Limerick along the banks of the river Shannon to the Medieval Quarter. Buí Bolg may not be local but they are collaborating with Limerick’s Honest Art, headed by the versatile Pias McGrath, who is an actor and a playwright as well as a technician.

The pageant will see hundreds of professional performers and members of community groups acting out an epic story of hope and new beginnings. It will kick off with a radio play written by Mick Finn which will have a sound design set up by Alan Dormer, a post graduate student at University of Limerick.

“There will also be video mapping headed by Mario Beck and Art O Laoighaire,” says Boland. “This will involve images being imposed on buildings which will transform them. It will look like a piece of animation and will take away the negative look associated with certain buildings. The buildings that will be video mapped are the Revenue Commissioners and the Courthouse.”

Limerick will be illuminated by the procession as thousands of people carrying glowing lanterns will walk through the city’s streets. “The procession will involve 250 young local performers aged between nine years to 14,” says Boland. “We also require a huge network of volunteers, from stewards right through to performers on the night. There will be between 700 and 900 volunteers.”

The firework display will see Limerick’s skyline set alight with music arranged by Paul Webb, a DJ from Limerick. King John’s Castle will act as the backdrop for the fire spectacle as it reflects and dances along the river.

The lighting design is by Limerick native, Brian Kelly, who has worked extensively throughout the UK. A video shoot, which will be a live music promotional video, will be created, capturing the riverside activity.

“The video is going to be directed by a very famous director from Limerick called Eugene O’Connor. He has done shoots with everyone from Santana to Prince. So, there’s plenty of professional local talent being used.”

Boland says it’s anticipated that 25,000 people will attend the river side activity. About 16,000 people will see the pageant and some 3,000 people will listen to the outdoor concert with the spire of St Marys’ Cathedral as a backdrop. It will be broadcast live on RTE television.

“The only time we’ve seen really big crowds in Limerick were for events like the Munster homecoming or Limerick winning the Munster final this year. It’s a whole other ball game for us.”

The concert will open with local band, Leading Armies, described by Boland as a band to look out for. “They’ll be joined on stage by the singer/songwriter, Soak, from Derry, to show the transfer of the City of Culture from Derry.”

The concert will also feature the Coronas, the Strypes and Maverick Sabre. Boland is involved with Limerick’s Rubberbandits as their production manager, travelling all over the world with the hilarious act. “The Rubberbandits might make a special appearance on New Year’s Eve,” he says.

Boland admits that organising the opening night is something of a logistical nightmare, not to mention getting the forthcoming twelve months up and running. He has worked as a technical manager at University Concert Hall for 10 years and does a lot of freelance production work.

“Everyone from the subcontractors right through to the powers that be knows that the timeline was crazy, to say the least. It was always going to be difficult. The budget for the year was only announced in mid October. Up until then, all we could do was speculate.

“To be fair to everyone involved, from the programme teams to the artistic director Karl Wallace, they’ve done a mammoth task. It’s all about forming a team that we can carry through 2014 and hopefully beyond.”

Boland stresses that ‘culture’ isn’t just about the arts. “It’s also about sport and community development. We’re keen to cross genres as much as possible.”

Musically, there seems to be something in the air in Limerick. “There’s a host of up and coming acts from here such as Windings, Protobaby, Leading Armies and the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra.”

Limerick native Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries, says she is proud her hometown has been designated as the first ever city of culture in Ireland. “I’m really looking forward to the New Year’s Eve celebrations which are not just for music lovers but the young and old. There’s something for everyone,” says O’Riordan.

“Limerick has a bad rap over the years so it is great for the reputation both here in Ireland and abroad for us to be given the honour of hosting the national City of Culture.”

Growing up, O’Riordan says she didn’t get to see many bands in Limerick.

“I lived in a small village outside the city and grew up in a large family, so my world was very much centred around that. I used to sing in the local church and I would also occasionally sing in the local pubs for which I used to get a few bob. That for me was the start of my interest in music, which has obviously expanded since then.”

On New Year’s Eve, O’Riordan will sing some of the Cranberries’ classic hits.

She will also be on our screens as one of the judges in the latest series of The Voice of Ireland, starting on Jan 5.

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