THE Deputy First Minister was in West Belfast today to cut the first sod at what will be the new Roddy McCorley Heritage Centre.
Funded by Belfast City Council, the £1.35million project will see the creation of museum and interpretive centre, heritage trail, additional events space, a roof garden and terrace, and an expansive restaurant. It is also expected to create up to 25 jobs for the area.
The museum at Roddy's currently hosts one of the most unique collections of artefacts and memorabilia associated with the past 100 years of republican history and conflict in Ireland.
Work on the soon to be expanded Roddy's building has been ongoing for a number of weeks, but official ceremonies to mark the occasion were put on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions.
This afternoon, Michelle O'Neill met with key stakeholders from the Roddy McCorley Society and Fáilte Feirste Thiar who will oversee the completed Heritage Centre.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News after officially cutting the first sod, Ms O'Neill stressed the importance of documenting "all sides" of history.
"People have loved to come here and visit the museum down through the years and this is really going to enhance what's already there," she said.
"West Belfast offers such great tourism potential and this is just another great addition to that. It's creating jobs, it's revitalising the local economy, and the historical context to it all – I think it's absolutely amazing. All credit to those who have worked really hard as part of the association to get to this point."
Looking to next year's museum opening, Ms O'Neill added: "We're all trying to rebuild and a lot of people have lost their jobs so the fact that 25 people can be employed here is really, really important. It just gives that wee bit of a boost to the area and its post-Covid world it's something to look forward to."
Roddy McCorley Society Chairman, David McGivern, described the official sod-cutting as a "fantastic day" in the history of the club.
"It's amazing that next year when this opens it will be the 50th anniversary of the Society, and so from very humble beginnings to have something like this on our doorstep is just brilliant," he said.
The new Roddy McCorley Heritage Centre will be designed by award winning architects @McGurkArch— failtefeirste (@FailteFeirste) May 5, 2021
The fantastic new centre will enhance the Belfast story and become another wonderful visitor attraction for west Belfast tourism offering.@moneillsf @daviemcgivern @RoddyMcCorleys pic.twitter.com/3cNaLt6jXw
Mr McGivern thanked Belfast City Council and the Society's project partners, and paid tribute to the Society's members for their "vision" in realising the "flagship tourism attraction".
West Belfast MP and Fáilte Feirste Thiar Chairperson, Paul Maskey, said he was "delighted" to see work get underway.
"It's ironic that this is the 5th of May, which is the 40th anniversary of Bobby Sands' death," he reflected.
"I think if you're looking back I think many people in West Belfast will absolutely be proud of what Bobby Sands did in 1981, but they'll also be very proud of what the Roddy's are doing now in 2021 with regards to this development.
"This is about leaving a legacy for future generations, so that has to be commended."
Harry Connolly, Director Fáilte Feirste Thiar, stated: "The new Heritage Centre will enhance, compliment and grow our local tourism offering. It will attract visitors from across the globe especially those culturally curious visitors keen to explore and uncover the Belfast story.
"The development ensures that neighbourhood tourism is central to Belfast’s recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.”
Councillor Christina Black, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee said: “I am delighted to see work getting underway on this fantastic new heritage centre.
"Not only will it attract visitors who want to hear more about West Belfast’s fascinating history and heritage, but it will also provide a welcome boost to the local economy by creating jobs and generating spend."
She concluded: "I have no doubt that the centre will be very successful, providing a fascinating insight into our recent history while complementing the city’s established world class visitor attractions.”
The Roddy McCorley Heritage Centre is due to open in February 2022.