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Limerick City to be a Ghost City, (30 April 2006)

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Limerick along with the entire Munster province will come to a virtual standstill at 3pm this Sunday as the Munster rugby team bid for a place in this year's Heineken Cup final.

As over 20,000 passionate Munster fans transform the N7 route to Dublin into a red highway this weekend, thousands more ticketless supporters will desert the city's streets and roads to watch the semi-final against Leinster at Lansdowne Road on tv.

To win Europe's premier club rugby competition has long been seen as Munster's quest for the holy grail that has proved ever elusive since the competition's inception in 1995.

Appearances in two finals and three semi-finals have all proved fruitless for Munster and this weekend the red-clad team will toil blood, sweat and tears to secure a date with destiny next month in Cardiff.

City streets, shops, businesses and homes have been covered in red as talk of the game increases.

A win over Leinster will not only ensure a final berth but also bragging rights for Munster supporters and players over their close rivals.

Tickets for the game are hard to find and touts look set to make a killing from desperate supporters on Sunday.

Meanwhile back in Limerick,Stella, a portrait in the Limerick City Gallery of Art has attracted interest recently after rumours circulated that the painting is charmed.

This has led to people leaving notes and prayers at the foot of the painting as well as Munster memorabilia to entice Heineken Cup victory.

Paul O'Connell

While there is no documented evidence to support these rumours It seems that the myth has come out of thin air but is growing at pace.

Although Stella has been part of the gallery’s collection since 1948, offerings to the painting only started to appear shortly before opening of the EV A exhibition in March.

Unconfirmed reports that both a tuberculosis and cancer sufferer were healed by the work have abounded as well as talk of a Pery Square doctor’s assistant who supposedly sent patients to the painting back in the 1950s.

But while the curator of the gallery remains sceptical about the exhibit, even he cannot deny the impact it has had. "I suppose consciously or subconsciously you start associating the picture with these mysterious qualities. But I hope it works for the Leinster match”, he smiled.

Thought to have been painted by Irishman Charles Jarvis, Stella has also attracted the attention of rugby supporters. Hearsay indicates that an injured Munster player who is said to have visited the work in 1978 was cured a week before the All Black’s match, which Munster went on to win and a recent win over Perpignan will doubtlessly spur more tributes.

In the gallery, a spotlight falls on Stella giving an other worldly feel to what has become somewhat of a shrine. Flowers, cards and coins surround the portrait and a number of notes have been placed beneath it.

One card placed at the foot of the painting reads "Thank you so much Stella. I said a wee prayer to you and you have helped me no end. It has been difficult but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. Thank you again.”

The phenomenon of the portrait was ‘discovered’ by artists Pierre Coinde and Gary O’Dwyer of the Centre of Attention during their first visit to the gallery and the artists set about establishing the mystical importance of the work.
According to the artists; "Feelings of powerlessness can lead people to invest art with unverifiable qualities and extraordinary myths, hoping that it is not just a dead, inert thing.”