Cork launches European Capital of Culture 2005
One of Ireland's biggest parties has been promised by organisers of today's launch of the Cork 2005 European Capital of Culture year.
However, Met Éireann has warned that it will be "a real wintry weekend" in the south with the possibility of some structural damage from the 70 m.p.h. gusts that were forecast for last night.
More than 360 performers will take to the streets of Cork today to herald the start of the activities.
This afternoon, the President, Mrs McAleese, will release 2,005 balloons into the air after a civic reception at City Hall at 1.30 p.m.
This will be followed by an international carnival and street party.
The emergence of a 600-metre serpent out of the River Lee this evening is expected to be one of the weekend's highlights.
The serpent will be part of the Awakening ceremony, which has been devised by the Waterford Spraoi street theatre company. As it rises from the water, the serpent will span three city centre bridges, in an explosion of light and fire.
Bob Geldof's event company, Ten Alps, will then stage what is being billed as Ireland's biggest ever fireworks display.
Some 3,500 kilos of fireworks will be fired from six sites around the city over a 15-minute period.
Met Éireann has forecast cold and windy weather during the event, with the possibility of some frost later tonight.
Some 26,000 people have secured free tickets to watch the spectacle from the quays. It will also be broadcast live on RTÉ One from 5 p.m. and will be shown on big screens around the city centre.
Organisers expect that more than 80,000 visitors will attend the weekend festivities, while more than 60 European journalists and film crews will be on standby to capture it all.
Visitors will be able to enjoy street performers from all over the world, including fire-eaters, circus acts and giant puppeteers.
A series of exhibitions and cultural events have also been planned in arts centres around Cork today and tomorrow.
The Forty Shades of Green exhibition, showing at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, will include ceramics, glass, textiles, wood and sculpture.
Elsewhere, five young Estonian artists will give their impressions of the newly-expanded European Union in an exhibition at the Cork Vision Centre.
Mr John Kennedy, director of Cork 2005 European Capital of Culture, encouraged people to support the designation of Cork as the prime focus of cultural activity in Europe this year.
"This will be a great day for Cork and we are encouraging everyone to embrace the opening events and celebrate the city by attending the carnival, looking down on the fireworks from the city's hills or watching Awakening live on RTÉ," he said, adding that the activities heralded a positive new era for Cork. "It's only a beginning for the city."
Many Cork streets will be closed between noon and 8 p.m. today to facilitate the carnival, and people have been advised to use public transport where possible.
Meanwhile, the city councils of Belfast and Cork yesterday announced a new cultural partnership for this year as Belfast lost out in its bid to become the European Capital of Culture for 2008.
Many events have been planned, among them the performance of the Belfast Circus at the City Hall today, while arts and community groups from Belfast will take part in Cork's St Patrick's Festival in March.
For further information on the Cork Capital of Culture events, see www.cork2005.ie