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Haitian Winter, Part Six: Soaring into the Sun - the Grand New Iron Market

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- by Mac
A minaret of the resurrected Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. (Photo by Mac McKinney -all photos to follow are by Mac McKinney except those attributed to other sources.)

For Haiti, the rebuilding of this famed edifice has been yet another symbolic Phoenix-rising moment in its long history of struggle, suffering, defeat and victory:



In early May of 2010, I visited the famous Iron Market, and this is what I saw:

- by Mac
The collapsed south wing or hall of the Iron Market.

The Iron Market stood, badly damaged, amidst a sea of rubble in the area:

- by Mac

And this is what I wrote, eventually, for

In Part 15 Andre and I began our final tour of ravaged downtown Haiti, Andre getting me all the way to the heavily damaged banking district on Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines. But just up the street beyond this now barely functioning center of financial wealth in Port-au-Prince, lies one of the city's historical icons, Haiti's famous Iron Market (Marche de Fer in French) also known as Le Marche Hyppolite or the Hyppolite Iron Market. The Iron Market actually refers to two things: The building and courtyard of said name, as well as the giant open-air marketplace that blossomed out of this fascinating iron edifice erected in the 1890's under the administration of the 15th president of Haiti, General Florvil Hyppolite.

The building, interestingly, has a distinctive Islamic architectural influence. That is because the structure includes four French-built minarets that were actually destined for a train station in Cairo, Egypt, until the deal collapsed. President Hyppolite, eager to modernize Port-au-Prince and catching wind of the failed business deal, bought the minarets himself and had what became known as the Iron Market erected in the capital. Over time, a sprawling open market developed that would serve the daily needs of countless Haitians.

The Iron Market's imposing presence loomed over downtown Port-au-Prince for over a hundred years until fire badly damaged one side in 2008. The building suffered further heavy damage from the great earthquake of January 12th, as you can see in my following photos. Plans are afoot, I have happily read, to eventually restore this venerated landmark, signifying a reinvestment in the cultural treasures of the past. Restoration would also be paying homage to the indomitable spirit of the Haitian people, who have been able to carry on with iron will against all odds over the centuries, be it slavery, revolution, civil war, invasion, dictatorship, starvation, earthquake, destitution, or now, even cholera. (source)


Little did I know that the Irish still believe in Fairies, Leprechauns and Magic, because that has got to have been the driving force behind what happened next to make my previous paragraph's implicit wish come true.


Enter Denis O'Brien, Irish Wizard

There was this fellow from County Cork, Ireland with big dreams and a big heart who applied and applied himself in the world of business, even taking on the high tech, digital communications end of things, until eventually he became the owner (chairman) of Digicel, the leading mobile phone service provider in Haiti, not to mention the Caribbean, with offices now spreading around the world.

Denis O'Brien, head of Digicel Group and giant philanthropist toward Haiti, as well as other Third World countries.

O'Brien, in typically Irish heart-felt fashion and passion for the underdog, has always had a special admiration for and desire to help the hard-luck Haitian people, so when the giant earthquake of January 12th, 2010 struck, he went into action with lightning speed, as Forbes Magazine noted in a recent article:

In many ways O'Brien personifies the Forbes ethos at its finest. He's a gutsy and shrewd businessman. An iconoclast who goes where few rivals dare to tread, who shuns a public listing and stays focused on building his company according to his own long-term vision.

As Forbes has previously written, O'Brien is an activist who gives back to the communities where he has a presence. He's made 20 trips to Haiti since it was devastated by an earthquake early last year and is building 50 schools in that impoverished nation. A separate pet cause involves supporting human rights activists around the world. (source)

- by Mac
Digicel in Haiti. Its name-brand is all over the place in Port-au-Prince.

But above and beyond building new schools, O'Brien's attention was immediately riveted on the wreaked Iron Market. Indeed, it had already seriously caught his eye, as noted from this NY Times article by Pooja Batia on Denis and the Iron Market.

Like so much of Haiti's architectural heritage, the Iron Market was in bad shape long before the earthquake. It had suffered for decades from lack of maintenance, and in May 2008, a fire devastated the north hall. A year and a half later, that section was still a jumble of detritus, barely shielded from scavengers by a brick wall. By then, it had attracted the attention of Mr. O'Brien and a London-based architect, John McAslan, who together had been batting around ideas for renovation projects with Haiti's historical preservation institution.

The earthquake came two months later. A concrete deck that had been added to the market years ago collapsed, killing several vendors. The force of the canopy's collapse also pulled down part of the southern hall and wrenched the tower and minarets over, as though they were prostrating themselves to the street.

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I am a student of history, religion, exoteric and esoteric, the Humanities in general and a tempered advocate for the ultimate manifestation of peace, justice and the unity of humankind through self-realization and mutual respect, although I am not (more...)

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Wow,what an inspiration! Thanks for a great articl... by Meryl Ann Butler on Friday, Mar 25, 2011 at 9:12:34 AM
Great pictures. It's very heart warming to see thi... by Chantal Laurent on Friday, Mar 25, 2011 at 2:30:40 PM