Limerick to open €30m interactive rugby experience

Former player Paul O’Connell fronting new tourism venture funded by JP McManus

Paul O’Connell, chairman of the International Rugby Experience, and chief executive Barry Hannon at the site on O’Connell Street in Limerick city. Photograph: Alan Place

Paul O’Connell, chairman of the International Rugby Experience, and chief executive Barry Hannon at the site on O’Connell Street in Limerick city. Photograph: Alan Place

 

A €30 million interactive world rugby experience is on track to open its doors in Limerick city next year despite delays in the construction stages due to Covid-19.

Financed by a charitable entity owned by billionaire horse racing owner and philanthropist JP McManus, the 2,787sq m (30,000 sq ft) “state-of-the-art” rugby experience will employ 50 staff when it opens in autumn 2022.

Visitors to the international rugby experience, which is being constructed on O’Connell Street, will be able to score a try, kick a conversion at their favourite rugby ground, pass the oval ball to their favourite rugby hero or sidestep tackles on a sequence of changing floor lights.

Former Irish, Munster and Lions rugby player Paul O’Connell – who is fronting the project on behalf of Mr McManus – said the development aims to attract 100,000 visitors per annum.

“It’s not a building full of artefacts, it’s a digitally interactive experience ... 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,” O’Connell said.

The history of rugby will be relayed across modern digital audio and visual booths, created by 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.

Premier focus

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 UK-based firm Niall McLaughlin Architects, has suffered delays in the construction phase due to the pandemic but O’Connell remains upbeat it can open in the autumn. “There have 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.

“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 Joy Neville, a former Munster and Irish women’s rugby international, is one of a host of rugby stars who will feature in the visitor experience.

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 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.”

*This article has been updated to correct an error