The story of Ireland told to the world from Manchester
Supportive but concerned, the council brought in Paul Stannion, the project manager who planned the city’s Commonwealth Games, to drive it to completion.
Stannion’s solution was to split the construction project in half. The first half is nearly complete, while the foundations and other works necessary for the rest – once £3 million more can be found – are in place.
Investors who had been wary about financing the hotel – the key to the project’s financing – are displaying ever more interest as the Cheetham Hill construction grows, particularly as it will soon have its own tram stop.
More than 30 million people live within 90 minutes’ travel of the centre, its backers point out, but the ambitions extend globally, particularly if they can link schools in the United States and Ireland.
“We’ll link them with the schools where their ancestors went, if they went to school at all. In time, US kids will go to Ireland and see a totally different Ireland to the one that they have been told about,” says Forde.
An interactive exhibition – the key element to the plan’s second phase – prepared by Events Ltd, which designed the Titanic display in Belfast, is being prepared.
Besides the stories of the usual subjects, US presidents and Henry Ford among them, the centre will tell the stories of men such as Hans Sloane, who invented milk chocolate, and James Drumm, the designer of the rechargeable nickel-zinc battery.
“We’re glad, in a way, that we didn’t get going when we had wanted to do so, because the technology has moved on so far in the last few years. We will have the chance of telling it so much better now,” says Forde.
He is certain it is a story that should be told outside of Ireland, rather than at home. “There are five million Irish at home and 70 million abroad, so it should be told abroad,” he says.
A ring fort built in stone forms the site’s centrepiece – one that will see every Irish surname carved into paving slabs. “It’s done in such a way that one can be taken out if we forget a name,” says Forde.
Within months, it will house marquees for weddings and other celebrations, offering a spectacular night-time view of the Manchester skyline. “We’ve three couples who held off on their date to use it,” he says.