On Saturday June 6 Thomond Park will play host to a spectacle of a different kind as world famous entertainer Sir Elton John becomes the first artist to perform at the newly developed €40 million stadium. The showman will be followed soon after by crooner Rod Stewart, completing the first series of outdoor gigs ever to be held on the historic and hallowed turf. Between the two artists, they have sold in excess of 500 million records.
Leaving aside what these concerts represent in monetary terms for the local economy - upwards of 50,000 people will attend the two concerts - the importance of these high-profile events can be measured in terms of putting Limerick firmly on the international map, igniting a blaze of feel-good and positive publicity to help counter some of the more negative stories to emanate from the Treaty City in recent times. Limerick - and the mid-west region of Ireland - now has a truly world class outdoor venue that surpasses nearly all other contenders around this small Island, and the possibilities are endless.
But let us step back a moment. There was a stage in the planning for this stadium that the developers and designers realised that the ground would need to cater for more than just sporting occasions, thus it was deemed necessary that the structure must be engineered in such a way as to make large-scale music events viable. Specifically, it was noted that stadiums around the world have been found to be less than satisfactory when used for concerts, so this was addressed in the design stage.
The result is a mouth-watering prospect for music fans; forget Marley Park, Croke Park, Lansdowne Road - the superstructure of Thomond Park has been modelled in such a way as to make concerts possible, and the sound should reflect that.
Rumours had circulated for some time in music circles that the ground was being paved for high-profile concerts in Thomond Park, but it was Peter Aiken who tied the deal together. Aiken's contacts enabled him to something that other promoters might not; namely to bring marquee names to Limerick for the opening concerts - names that would be guaranteed to shift the amount of tickets required for such a venture.
This reporter was genuinely surprised by the announcement that Elton John was to be the first artist to appear, but in hindsight the move is an astute one, followed up by the equally astute capturing of Stewart to perform on July 4. The demand for these tickets has proved that the promoters chose well - both are destined to be sell-out concerts and tickets are changing hands on internet website for large sums. Crucially, the relatively inoffensive and extremely popular nature of the acts have proved invaluable in securing local support for the gigs.
Peter Aiken revealed to the Limerick Leader that he had been seeking to stage a concert in this venue for several years, originally approaching the powers-that-be with the prospect of an Andrea Bocelli gig, even before the development of Thomond had taken place. He outlined his amazement at the development that had subsequently taken place and it is clear he is keen to be associated with such a popular venture.
But the key voice was that of Thomond Park stadium director John Cantwell, who outlined that these concerts will be the first of many to come.
"It would be our intention that this is the first in a series of events. The stadium has to operate, not just as a sporting facility, but also as an event and function facility - the business model dictates that we have to pay our way," commented Mr Cantwell to the Leader.
Thus, not only can we look forward to Elton John lighting up Thomondgate with his spectacular show and array of famous hits, as well as Rod Stewart causing fans to go weak at the knees with his gravelly voice and slinky hip-action, but looking ahead there should be more events to keep Limerick music fans well sated.
Simply put, we can't wait.