Tuesday 24 July 2012

Iconic Irish centre starts to take shape in Manchester

Yesterday I had a rare opportunity to mix a little genealogy/heritage interest in with my day job when I visited the emerging Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester.

After more than a decade on the drawing board, the new £7.6million development – just a stone's throw from the existing centre in the Cheetham Hill area – is taking shape.

There's still another four months of the building programme to go, but an important milestone was reached last week when stonemasons started cladding the exterior, and I'd been sent along to to find out more by a construction industry magazine that specialises in natural stone architecture.

The design of the new centre echoes that of an ancient Irish ring fort, with a large walled enclosure creating a unique outdoor public space, as you can see from the CGI, left.

In reality, there's little sign of the landscaped ring just yet, with only a water logged pitch out the back, but the external envelope of the curved main building is certainly beginning to resemble the planned new centre.

This exterior will be clad in timber and stone, the latter a lively mix of gold and silver quartzite from quarries that overlook the Atlantic Ocean in Co Donegal. It's being laid in random lengths by a team of experienced stonemasons that were also shipped in from Ireland.

Sean Nolan, who heads up the stonemasonry team, told me his specialists will be on site for three to four months. So it's as well the sun has decided to put in a belated appearance because you can't lay stone in wet weather.

Providing all goes to plan, the Irish World Heritage Centre will move into its new premises at the tail end of this year. With a purpose-designed theatre, a bar and restaurant and dedicated business and education spaces for workshops and lectures, it will soon become a popular attraction and landmark destination for cultural audiences, school visits, the local Irish community and the Diaspora.

There will also be a museum and exhibition gallery focussing on the story of the Irish Diaspora, as Margot Power, IWHC's Culture and Education Officer, explains: 'Our aspiration is to run an accredited museum which will serve as a significant visitor attraction in Manchester, and which will comprehensively tell the story of the experiences and achievements of the Irish Diaspora worldwide.'

'In order to do this we need to raise funds and to strengthen our collections considerably. We are in the process of identifying collections held by other organisations, museums and archives around the world which relate to our theme.'

So the call is out to other museums and repositories. Do you have any artefacts/archives relating to Irish migration and the Irish Diaspora that you're unable to exhibit? Would you consider loaning or donating them?

If so, there's a purpose built and iconic new home waiting to show them off in Manchester!

Margot can be contacted on 0161 202 1200 or by email.