WHEN MICHAEL Forde became involved with the Manchester Irish community, it was to “give something back” to a group of people who never tired of looking out for one another.
As he collected an Irish Post Community Award at the Hilton hotel in Park Lane this week, the Mayo man claimed it was the city’s vibrant Irish community that inspired him to serve the people of Manchester for more than 30 years.
“I saw the Irish in Manchester working hard and looking after each other and that inspired me,” he said.
Having arrived in Manchester in 1961, Forde followed his father and uncles into the construction industry and took up digs in Queens Road in Cheetham Hill.
Twenty-five years later the area would become the home of the Irish World Heritage Centre, which he founded in 1986.
“I realised around that time that there was no centre for the Irish in Manchester, although they existed in London, Liverpool and Birmingham and other places across the country,” he explained.
“I wanted a place for the Irish and our children to come together and enjoy their culture and traditions.”
Already heavily involved in the formation of the Mayo Manchester Association and the Irish Community Care Manchester charity, Forde spent nine months looking for the appropriate building to house the centre.
It ended up being two buildings — one which formerly housed a British Legion club, and the other which had been an Irish dance hall in the ’60s and a Caribbean venue in later years.
In 1986 the two spaces were joined to provide a Manchester Irish centre, which operated under the Irish World Heritage Centre title.
With its immediate popularity, Forde soon realised the venue was more than a centre for the Irish in Manchester, it was a centre for the Irish who had left Ireland and emigrated worldwide.
“I felt very strongly that we needed something that truly represented the Irish story worldwide,” he claims.
His vision for a bigger, state of the art centre began to form and in 1998 the Irish Government pledged £2million from their Millennium Fund to support the Manchester project.
With further backing from Manchester City Council, and despite recessionary periods which have stalled progress over the years, Michael’s drive, commitment and vision for the project have never wavered.
In 2011 his vision finally became a reality, when the foundations were put down for the new Irish World Heritage Centre on Irish Town Way in Cheetham Hill.
On January 1, 2013 the first phase of the £10million project opened its doors to the public.
“The drawings had come to life,” said Michael, who is now committed to seeing phase two of the mammoth project through to completion over the coming years.