High spirits for rugby . . . and open pubs
Good Friday match puts spotlight on city
GOOD Friday has traditionally been a religious day of prayer and fasting. But in Limerick today the faithful will drink freely and offer worship to their favoured rugby team.
Publicans, city officials and gardai in the city were putting the final touches in place yesterday for the expected invasion of thousands of people for tonight's clash between Munster and Leinster, which kicks off at 8pm.
Privately, all in Limerick are hoping that the night passes off without any major incident -- apart from a Munster win.
Following a successful legal application for an area exemption, the doors to 100 pubs in Limerick city and the surrounding suburbs open at 6pm and it is estimated that 10,000 people will watch the sell-out fixture in the bars.
Popular city watering holes including Souths, Clohessys, Flannerys, Charlie Malones and Willie Sextons are expecting large crowds for the game.
Limerick Vintners' Association chairman Jerry O'Dea said he hoped that the unique occasion will be well-run.
"It should be a great day and we hope that all enjoy themselves. We want everyone to engage in responsible drinking in the spirit of the day," Mr O'Dea said.
With the game expected to conclude shortly before 10pm, celebratory drinks for the winning fans will be curtailed to 11.30pm.
"All the pubs must have their premises cleared and doors shut at 11.30pm," Mr O'Dea added.
The proprietor of Charlie Malone's pub on Wolfe Tone Street, Paddy Kelly, is eagerly looking forward to the influx of supporters.
"We know that all the country are going to be watching Limerick to see how the pubs get on and how the night goes -- it is a major day for everyone here," Mr Kelly said.
"All the Leinster supporters are more than welcome here for the great hospitality we have to offer and hopefully, they'll enjoy the beating they get up in Thomond Park too," the publican joked.
While some began arriving last night, in excess of 5,000 Leinster fans are expected in Limerick today.
Chartered buses are transporting supporters of both provinces to the city while more will arrive by train.
Supt Frank O'Brien from Henry Street garda station said authorities are accustomed to dealing with major events at Thomond Park.
"Traffic wise, we are hoping it will be lighter because it is Good Friday. We are encouraging all fans to arrive early, use the park and ride facilities or park in the city centre. It is only a 15-minute walk to Thomond Park from the city centre," Supt O'Brien said.
For those without tickets, the match atmosphere looks set to be replicated at the Strand Hotel where over 1,000 people will be accommodated with big screens in a downstairs suite.
The hotel's general manager, Sean Lally, said the game was bigger than any previous Heineken Cup match held in the city.
Mr Lally said there was 2,000 hotel rooms available in Limerick on any given night and he expects all to be taken by kick-off. "At the moment we have 15 to 20 rooms left, but people are making last-minute arrangements," he said. "Leinster will be bringing massive numbers in support so it will be the biggest travelling group of supporters we have ever seen for a match," he said.
Meanwhile, Franciscan monks will be located near Thomond Park encouraging people to attend the religious services.
Br Shawn O'Connor from St Patrick's Friary in Moyross said they were not staging a protest but added that it was his belief that anyone who is a Catholic should not attend the match.
"All we are doing is promoting the stations of the cross that are taking place at local churches," Br O'Connor said.
Conscious of the day, the Limerick diocesan office has listed all of today's religious services on their website -- www.limerickdiocese.org.