A €30 MILLION interactive world rugby experience is on track to open its doors in the heart of sports mad Limerick city, Autumn 2022, despite suffering delays in the construction stages due to COVID-19.
Financed by a Charitable Entities group owned by billionaire horse racing owner and philanthropist JP McManus, the 30,000 sq ft “state-of-the-art” rugby experience has already created 100 construction jobs to the Treaty City, and inject a further 50 staff posts when it opens.
The Mid-West’s sporting Mecca is home to Munster Rugby, the All-Ireland Senior Hurling and triple Munster Hurling Champions, as well as a crop of current Olympic hopefuls.
Visitors to the international rugby experience, which is being constructed on O’Connell Street, Limerick, will be able to score a try, kick a conversion at their favourite rugby ground, pass the oval shaped ball to their favourite rugby hero, or side-step tackles on a sequence of changing floor lights.
In an exclusive interview this morning, Irish, Munster, and Lions rugby legend Paul O’Connell — who is fronting the development on behalf of Mr McManus — said the development aims to attract 100,000 visitors per annum.
“It’s not a building full of artifacts, it’s a digitally interactive experience. You know, I suppose sports museums wouldn’t perform well historically, whereas a digitally interactive experience is what kids and families want, and it is how you can bring the sport to life,” Mr O’Connell said.
The history of rugby will be relayed across modern digital audio and visual booths, created by the “world class” London-based Event Communications, and “there will be a whole floor of interactive experiences that kids and adults alike, will love.”
“We have great confidence in it, it’s very exciting,” said O’Connell, who, along with Mr McManus’s daughter Sue-Ann Foley, is a Director of the not-for-profit company behind the project.
The “premier focus” is to boost the city centre economy as well as supporting tourism in the surrounding region.
The development which is being designed by “world-renowned Niall McLaughlin Architects” has suffered “delays” in the construction phase due to the global Covid-19 pandemic but O’Connell remains upbeat they can open in three Autumn: “There has been delays for sure, but we have had to roll with the punches, we just have to follow (public health) guidelines, and whatever happens, happens; at the moment, it’s full steam ahead.”
“Hopefully it will be big for Limerick, and hopefully it helps other attractions that we have on our doorstep, including Bunratty Castle, King John’s Castle, the Hunt Museum, the Gaelic Grounds, Thomond Park, the more attractions you have in a city the more chance you have of a family making a weekend journey of it.”
Limerick international rugby referee, and former Munster and Irish women’s rugby international, Joy Neville, is one of a host of rugby stars who will feature in the digital visitor experience.
Mr O’Connell said encouraging children — particularly “young girls” — into sport, where they can access “great adult role models”, is something he is passionate about, having a young daughter of his own.
“I must say I particularly enjoy girls that do well on the world stage because I have a young daughter myself. I grew up in a house with three boys, and it’s only now that I realise the role of girls in sport, to show other young girls that this is a viable lifestyle for you.”
“It’s great to see and it’s great to have the Olympics on the television so that the young girls are watching other young girls knocking it out of the park.”
“I do a little bit of work with Bardardos, and we believe every kid should have at least one adult role model and the shame of it is that some kids in Ireland don’t even have one.”
O’Connell agreed sport has its role to play in the regeneration of Limerick, which has some of the most impoverished communities in the country as well as affluent neighbourhoods.
“How do kids get adult role models? Well, Sport is the ready–made system we have in place for these kids, and the more kids we have playing sports and playing in teams – and especially in Limerick where you get such a mixture of backgrounds playing together on teams because we are such a small city – the more kids meet these brilliant community sports role models, and come under their influence, the better it is for the city.”
“It’s great for mental health as well, and that’s one of thy reasons it it is going to be great to have a sports experience and a sports attraction in the city, because sport really is the heartbeat off Limerick city, whatever sport that is.”