LIMERICK tomorrow takes on the mantle of our inaugural National City of Culture and will hope a spectacular programme of events will help shake controversy that dogged the build-up.
It will launch tonight with a giant New Year's Eve festival, featuring a pageant, fireworks and a concert led by The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan singing many of her greatest hits with the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
The 20th anniversary world tour of 'Riverdance' is launching in Limerick in January and will form the centrepiece of the €6m programme. It is hoped that this will result in a massive spin-off for the Limerick region and have an ongoing impact after the year has finished, transforming Limerick's perception and planting cultural roots for its future.
The programme will be divided quarterly and there are over 100 events on the programme for this first section. Many of these events are funded by the Made in Limerick local funding and there are also many organic events being run during the year.
Recent controversy has surrounded the process used in the appointment of Patricia Ryan to the top position of chief executive of the year-long festival. The 18-month contract was not advertised and Ms Ryan has said that she has no experience of cultural management or working within the arts industry.
She is heading up Ireland's first city of culture and the implications of this for its success both nationally and, perhaps even more importantly, internationally, are huge.
She went on to say she will be relying on the festival's artistic director Karl Wallace, who does have a proven track record in the arts.
Limerick city and county manager Conn Murray has defended Ms Ryan's appointment, saying he "personally identified a number of potential candidates" and engaged with them in confidence, setting out the terms of reference for the post.
Mr Murray accepted criticism over the process used to appoint Ms Ryan but insists the time constraints imposed on him resulted in a different process being adopted.
"I accept the criticism around the process and if, quite honestly, I had been given a different approach to this, different time lines, obviously the approach would have been different," he said.
A native of Limerick, Ms Ryan previously worked for Pat Cox who is chairman of Limerick City of Culture Board, when he was in the European Parliament. She has also worked as special adviser to Mary Harney as health minister.
She will receive an annual salary of €79,000, with a maximum bonus of €15,000 per annum subject to meeting key performance indicators.
Tonight's New Year's Eve show is entirely sold out and Riverdance's six shows in University of Limerick's Sports Arena are selling strongly.