Friday, September 12, 2014

The Giant Grandmother in Limerick

In early December, the biggest Granny in the world visited Limerick city and walked around.

The 'Granny' was in fact a giant puppet created and executed by Royal De Luxe, a French company that specialises in creating acts for street theatre, overseen by company director and artist Jean-Luc Courcoult. The company has other giant puppets, including The Girl, The Dog, and apparently one known as The Spider - which I personally would find absolutely terrifying - as well as many other projects that are documented on the company's website.

But back to Limerick. Of course there were the begrudgers. The whingers who went on and on about how much it was costing (around a million Euro, according to Limerick City of Culture Director Mike Fitzpatrick), how the city centre would be disrupted for the weekend by streets being closed off to traffic, how local businesses would suffer, etc. However, given the publicity around the event, and the warnings to car owners in the city who would normally park their cars along the streets where Granny was due to go that the cars would be towed if they were there on the days in question, you'd want to be completely out of the loop not to be aware of what was going on. There was AMPLE WARNING, in a nutshell. And Park&Ride buses had been provided ....

In the days before the weekend, odd things started to appear in Limerick city. There were cars parked in odd places with huge iron safes embedded in them. A bus that would normally carry human passengers was seen cruising around, half full of potatoes. And odd giant footprints were spotted on the pavements .... all of which contributed to the general excitement of the weekend, so that by the time Granny arrived on the Friday, a nice buzz was building up.

In addition to the Royal De Luxe technicians, there was a team of local volunteers who helped make up the team of 'Lilliputians' to help 'Granny' get around. I see myself doing it, referring to this giant puppet as though she was a person - this was the genius in her execution and performance, she was so well made and operated, and the character developed in such a manner, that in the eyes of the people who saw her and followed her around the city, she DID become a 'person'. She travelled in her wheelchair for a time, and also got up to walk, waved and smiled at spectators, drank some whiskey (a couple of gallons apparently) and smoked a pipe, and - to the great amusement of the many small children among the crowd - stopped in the middle of the street to have a pee. Yes, that's right. To piss. Pass water. Urinate, if we must be direct about it. Yeah, she wasn't bothered. She was a giant, remember? And being a giant, she slept in the Sarsfield Barracks on this huge bed specially brought over for her ...

I loved the atmosphere in the city when I went to see her. The weather was amazing all weekend, and people were in great humour - the wonder of the Granny, the amusement at her antics, the vibe generally, it was amazing. The gardaí - or police force, to those of you not familiar with Irish institutions - were out and having a laugh with the rest of us, and did a marvellous job controlling the crowds - because there were crowds. Cafés and sandwich bars did a roaring trade, to the extent that many of them had to close in the middle of Sunday afternoon because they had run out of supplies. (I heard it on the radio the following Monday.) More than one person in my Facebook acquaintances was converted, and praised the initiative and Granny herself. And many, myself included, think that there is room for more street theatre in Limerick city, and like how Royal De Luxe gave us a taste of what's possible. And I believe the person who organised this event is Karl Wallace, in which case - wow. Your vision is justified, Mr Wallace.

I took a few shots myself, but I think that in order to fully appreciate Granny and the wonderful effect she had on Limerick city, I will refer you to the photographs taken by the various photographers for the page. I particularly like the shots of Granny on the bridges, with all the people milling around her.

What a great weekend.

Some of my own shots:

Granny was going down Roches Street in her wheelchair in Limerick city centre, and because even in her wheelchair she's so large, the Lilliputians had to help her along by making sure she didn't get caught up in cables. They used a pole to push up the cables as Granny was going under them.

The shots below give an idea of the scale. Granny herself is quite tall, and the equipment to make her move of her own accord is even taller. No cables along the quays!

Come back to Limerick soon, Granny. We miss you.


Carole said...

I saw the posts on this but didn't understand what it was. Thanks for explaining it. Sure wish I could have been there in the wonderful cultural city of Limerick.

Sharon said...

She was superb, you could feel the excitement on the streets and that huge "Aww" when people spotted her first.
Then this weekend with Elemental we were still all go. Limerick is alive with culture.