From the Manchester Ship canal, built thanks largely to Irish ‘navvies’ in the 19th century, to the thousands of Irish fans who throng to Manchester at the weekends to watch Premier League games, the cultural, economic and sporting contribution of the Irish to the city has been immense. From McAlpine’s Fuesiliers to the Busby Babes, the Gallagher brothers and the GAA, the Irish have helped make Manchester the city it is today.
So, cead mile failte (one hundred thousand welcomes) to everyone enjoying Manchester’s 19th Annual Irish Festival. The 11 day event started last Friday and runs until St Patrick ’s Day on Monday 17 March and stands as one of Europe’s largest Irish festivals. With over 200 events, most of which take place in south Manchester, it is a time for Manchester to celebrate its connections with the Emerald Isle. Last year I was delighted to be invited in my role as Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Culture to take part in the Manchester-Mayo Gathering and help them launch the event in Parliament.
The nine day event in the west of Ireland was the biggest tourism event that anyone in the UK had ever staged. It was a great advert for what Manchester's Irish community can achieve and I was delighted to be part of it. One of my local Irish pubs “The Farmers Arms” in Burnage is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its independent pub company owners - The Levenshulme Pub Company and I hope to pop in to raise a glass of the black stuff to celebrate its anniversary.
The Festival is one of many cultural events Manchester has all year round and one of Manchester’s key strengths is its rich diversity. Manchester Councillors Victor Chamberlain and James Hennigan are hoping to build on this by pushing for Manchester to be nominated as Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2023. If successful, it would boost tourism bringing millions of people into Manchester celebrating everything it has to offer including the brilliant events like the Didsbury & Chorlton Art Festivals, Rusholme’s Mega Mela, Moss Side’s Caribbean Carnival and the Levenshulme Festival & FAD Fest.
There is something for everyone in the Irish Festival this year and I hope everyone enjoys all the Irish events and remember that you don't have to be Irish to join in the party. For a full line up of the events visit the official website at www.manchesteririshfestival.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @mancirishfest. Most of the events are free of charge and there is everything from learning how to speak Gaelic to the best of Irish Comedy.