Party like it's 1999

 

Long before the words Millennium Dome, Millennium Bug and Millennium Fever began to be tossed around, most people had started to wonder idly what they would do to celebrate the turn of the millennium. It has been a regular topic of pub conversation for decades; it came up every New Year's Eve and it usually ended with one bright spark pointing out that the millennium actually starts on January 1st 2001 (don't ask me). It was always one of those things you were going to plan with great style, originality and wit - whisking 10 friends off to a yacht in the Maldives for example, or hiring a castle and holing up with oodles of fireworks, champagne and marshmallows.

Now that the annual drink fest that is New Year's Eve is over for another year, the scary fact is that the next party will be The One - the party to end all parties (quite literally if you believe the millenarians), the most celebrated celebration of them all and the most hyped year change since, well, since the year 999. Luckily some people actually started organising parties and events while the rest of us were talking about it and there are already huge amounts of parties, balls, raves, cruises and festivals planned for the turn of the year. Unfortunately many of them are already booked out.

If you want to rent a castle in Ireland for example, you're out of luck, as they are almost entirely gone. Glin Castle in Limerick has been taken for the end of 1999 since 1995 by four families from England who are planning a reunion. Bob Duff who manages the castle, which is owned and lived in by the Knight of Glin and his family, reckons he has had an inquiry about renting the castle every week for the last two years. Geraldine Murtagh of Elegant Ireland, which is the agent for many of the private properties such as Glin Castle, Humewood Castle and Mallow Castle, confirms that interest was huge for exclusive rentals, particularly from groups from America and England, who were "very keen to get things organised and were willing to pay very large deposits." Most of the large properties which would sleep 20-plus are gone but she still has some smaller places if you fancy a four-poster and some staff for 1999. Further information from Elegant Ireland, telephone: 01 4751632.

Many of the top hotels around the country are similarly booked out. The Clarence Hotel in Dublin has gone to one private party (I wonder who that is?) while Dromoland Castle in Limerick has been booked by two parties since 1990. Ashford Castle in Galway got its first booking in 1990 and estimates it could have booked out the hotel 20 or 30 times over with the number of inquiries it has had. Mount Juliet in Kilkenny has not finalised its plans yet but hopes to early this year. One of the most extensive packages, which at the time of writing still had vacancies, is one dreamed up by John and Frances Brennan at The Park Hotel in Kenmare. It is offering a five-night package that includes a tour of the ring of Beara in vintage cars, a Las Vegas casino night, and on the night itself, a vintage champagne reception, a sevencourse dinner and fireworks. Prices start at £1,850 per person, telephone: 064-41200 for details. Interestingly, The Park also had many inquiries about taking over the whole hotel, two of them from air pilot organisations - because many airlines won't fly over the New Year due to fear of Y2K (aka the Millennium Bug or Everything Breaking Down) problems, this is the first time that pilots can celebrate together.

However some hotels are not yet booked out because they have not yet finalised their plans. Neither the K Club, The Merrion Hotel or the Shelbourne Hotel had their prices and packages worked out at the time of writing. Both the Merrion and the Shelbourne put this down to the high number of variables such as the availability and price of staff, entertainment and supplier. These will all be in high demand and the general prognosis is that they will be able to set their own prices for the big night.

Of course, not everybody has the inclination or indeed the budget to live the high life and do new year the room service way. Most towns and cities around the country are planning their own celebrations and there are a number of different organisations that have been set up to co-ordinate millennium plans, including both capital, on-going projects and one-off celebrations. Since late November, we have officially had our own Peter Mandelson, hard at work on millennium hoo-ha. Seamus Brennan TD is "Minister for the Millennium" and has a committee and a budget of £30 million at his disposal. Not just any old committee though; along with a raft of people from business, the media and so on there is a fair scattering of "names" such as singer Ronan Keating, writer Deirdre Purcell and Paul McGuinness, the manager of U2.

Before everybody gets very excited thinking of these people sitting around planning a £30 million party for the night in question it should be said that the vast majority of the budget will be going on long-lasting projects - monuments, buildings and the like. The committee will be seeking the public's ideas for worthy millennium projects early this year.

Millennium Festivals is the Department of Tourism's response to the whole shebang and it proudly proclaims that "The Party Starts Here". In fact the party starts in March for Millennium Festivals who are bringing many of the country's festivals, including Dublin's St Patrick's Festival, the Galway Arts Festival and the Wexford Festival Opera under one umbrella with the aim of attracting people to Ireland, the "Party Capital of the World" for the whole year. In the capital, Mile Atha Cliath has already started work on plans for both the actual night and for the millennium as a whole. At the dot of midnight on December 31st 1999, there will be a grand lighting up ceremony called the Liffey of Lights whereby the new floodlights on all the Liffey bridges from Islandbridge to the sea will be turned on simultaneously. Other Mile Atha Cliath projects include the Liffey board walk running alongside the river from O'Connell Bridge to Grattan Bridge and the millennium footbridge linking Eustace St to Ormond Quay, which are both to be finished in late 1999, while a new book market on Grattan Bridge; a millennium cycle track running alongside the Grand Canal; the floodlighting of Temple Bar, and a large public art project called Kaleidoscope are all planned for the year 2000.

Down at the Point Theatre, which is usually a mecca for those odd folk who like to see the new year in with a tribute band, there is a huge Millennium Project planned. The final details are still being thrashed out (it is still a year away, after all) but the evening will centre on a millennium awards ceremony - a kind of Nobel/Rose of Tralee/Mastermind hybrid - paying tribute to people outstanding in their field. What with the Point itself and the many marquees outside, it is estimated that approximately 3,000 people would attend, each paying somewhere in the region of £1,500 for a ticket. Live coverage by RTE and link-ups with the revelling Irish around the globe are also being suggested.

OF course, the Irish plans for the millennium, and in particular the turn of the year party, pall a little compared with the celebration plans around the globe. Marvellous stories of meticulous plans and tales of decadent excess abound. There is the party of English business men who many years ago formed a club, booked a large hotel on the Isle of Wight and hold annual AGMs where they thrash out plans for their hedonist party to end all parties. Then there is the group of Americans who, failing to find accommodation in New Zealand bought an entire mountain outside Wellington. Of course New Zealand is particularly popular with people wanting to travel abroad for the new year. It is one of the first countries to see the new millennium and even has its own officially designated "First City in the World", Gisborne, which will be the first to catch the dawning of the year 2000. Accommodation in or near Gisborne is almost impossible to get hold of, but if you do manage to make it there you can be assured of a massive street party and a 24hour long light and sound spectacular. One interesting way to go there might be to take part in the Greatest Bike Ride in 1,000 years, called 2000 First to the Sun. This is a 10stage cycle over three weeks through New Zealand, that will take in swimming with dolphins, tandem sky dives and forays into the bush, before arriving in Gisborne to witness "The First Official Sunset on the Third Millennium". Further information from 0044 1625 575755 or tasmanmacc@aol.com

Of course it's a little cheeky to call this the first official sunset as this has been a matter of debate among the islands of the Pacific for some time. The New Zealand government had to commission a special survey of sunrise times to settle the dispute. The results showed that Pitt Island got there first at a few seconds after 5 a.m. with the Chatham Islands less than a minute later at 5.02 a.m. Both are expecting an avalanche of people and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get onto the islands. Other popular millennium locations are Copacabana beach in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro (dare I say it, the real Party Capital of the World); Times Square in New York where giant video screens will be showing footage of celebrations taking place around the world and of course Scotland, where Hogmanay celebrations are a long-standing tradition. The streets of Edinburgh are blocked off for the night and the celebrations are a free but ticketed affair - the plan is to increase the size of the enclosed area substantially but tickets to the street party and accommodation in the surrounding area are still at a premium. The current style bible, Wallpaper*, has decided that the Four Seasons in Bali is undoubtedly the chicest place to see in the millennium new year. As each personal villa has not one but two swimming pools, plus beach buggies and staff, this is quite probably true but useless information as it is all booked up. No doubt many Irish high flyers will be heading over to Barbados and the grand re-opening of Dermot Desmond's place, Sandy Lane, which is being re-vamped with no expense spared. For some people, Paris will be the only place to be. There is a giant digital clock counting down to the millennium posted outside the Eiffel Tower (the Parisians knew better than to put their clock in the murky waters of the Seine) and at the stroke of midnight a giant egg will descend, crack open and reveal giant video screens showing the celebrations globally - at this rate all the video screens around the world will be showing is footage of other people looking at video screens. Unquestionably more tasteful is a huge millennium ball at Versailles. The 1998 ball was the first one since 1788 before the French Revolution and offered guests the chance to celebrate in the style of Louis XIV - from champagne in the Salle du Sacre to tours of the queen's chambers. This year's ball will be even bigger and while dancing is not allowed in the chateau, a special glass globe is being constructed for the grounds.

While the rest of the world appears to have gone slightly millennium mad, the Irish are being very laissez-faire about the whole thing. Designer Marc O'Neill speaks for many when he says "I want to be with the people that are important to me at that time and that's my only plan. I'll probably get round to actually arranging something two days beforehand". Casting agent, Ros Hubbard, mused "I'm surprised by how un-gimmicky myself and all my friends are being. Flying from one time-zone to the next or something has no appeal. I want to be with family and friends."

There are some definite plans though. PR woman, Joanne Byrne, reckons she'll either be helping her pal Caroline Downey Desmond with the Millennium Project at the Point or she'll be heading over to join a group of friends who snaffled one of the last villas in Chris Blackwell's Jamaican resort, The Golden Eye Ranch. Claire O'Reilly, who is the general manager of The Clarence, will be doing "something completely unrelated to hotels" and will ideally be in west Cork with a few bottles of wine attempting to ignore the whole thing all together.

Morag Prunty, the editor of IT magazine, claims she's not a fan of new year anyway and will decide what to do at 7.30 on the night: "I'll probably stay in and worry about the Millennium Bug actually," she laughs. Members of the Royal Cork yacht club can rest assured that there's a party planned and - get this for organisation - the taxis home are already booked. Similarly the many friends of Margaret Warren, who owns the Boathouse Gallery in Castletownshend, Co Cork, can count on a good bash at her place. Ideally, 86-year-old Margaret who is an aviatrix and contemporary of Amelia Earhart, would like to hire a plane and fly over Ireland looking at the lights, but either way she's going to hold a party with musicians playing from a boat on the river.

Wherever you are for the millennium's turn and whatever you decide to do, you can rest assured that somebody somewhere will be having a better time than you anyway. By the sounds of it the best idea might be to take all your money out of the bank in case the computer systems go down, gather a few friends and crack open plenty of bottles of champagne. By the way, of all the stories circulating, the "shortage of champagne" scaremongering is the biggest myth of all. According to Keith McCarthy Morrogh of Findlaters there will be no problem getting champagne for New Year's Eve 1999. However, if you want a particular vintage it is worth stocking up in the first half of this year. Sure isn't there always a catch?