A number of Donegal construction companies are at the centre of a new BBC television series which follows an amazing project to rebuild London’s upmarket Mayfair Hotel while it remains open.
The Mayfair Hotel Megabuild is the basis for a new three-part documentary television series which began broadcasting on Monday night last.
Although it looks like business as usual at the five star Claridge’s beneath the surface of the exclusive hotel, filled with glamorous guests who enjoy the finer things in life, is a busy building site.
An extraordinary engineering project is underway, which seeks to add a five-story basement at the bottom and 72 new rooms and suites spread over three new floors at the top.
But the owners are insistent that the hotel must remain open throughout the build, with the guests oblivious to the noise surrounding them – leading the miners to tunnel by hand.
And amongst those amazing miners are teams of Donegal workers, hugely experienced in such work.
The mining operation was carried out around the clock, with teams working in 12-hour shifts.
“Ninety per cent of the boys here are from Donegal,” said pit boss Mick Lyons. “It’s just bred into them. They don’t know anything different than mining. They have worked all over the world.”
He said it is “difficult work”. “You’d burn off 3,000 or 4,000 calories no bother. You do sweat but the boys like to sweat, they’re used to it. If [somebody] comes out of there without a wet T-shirt, well, he’s probably asleep.”
Shovels were used instead of drills to dig vertically down just two metres under the guest lounge by the Irish miners, who previously worked on the Channel Tunnel and New York subway.
Tunnelling a few feet under an occupied building is a mission never previously attempted, according to the documentary.
To keep their high-profile guests from being disturbed above ground, the miners were tasked with digging out 45,000 tonnes of London clay the old-fashioned way — by hand.
In the documentary, Lyons said he hadn’t been through the doors of the hotel epitomising old-school glamour a few feet above him. “I haven’t ever been beyond this floor,” he said.
The five-storey 60,380-square metre space he was building was set to house a subterranean spa with two swimming pools. The Art Deco hotel has played host to royalty from Queen Victoria and Princess Margaret to Hollywood icons including Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, along with Jackie Onassis and the Rolling Stones.
Irish hotel boss Paddy McKillen, the mastermind behind the overhaul of the 19-century hotel, told the filmmakers most engineers felt the hotel had to be closed during the makeover.
The Mayfair Hotel Megabuild revealed that pioneering Ramleton engineer Jim Mackey was enticed out of retirement in rural Ireland by McKillen to carry out the renovation.
“I think he’d maybe been frustrated up to this point by a number of people who said it couldn’t be done,” said the Irish engineer, who worked alongside his daughter Michelle on the project.
Leading geotechnology specialist Dinesh Patel said Mackey’s technology for carrying out the works was revolutionary.
“I’d not heard of anything remotely like this anywhere in Europe or the world. There were no case studies. It’s a mining technique that you do on tunnels and cross passages but not underneath buildings. To dig out 22 metres of ground and remove all the support the hotel relied on was actually quite outlandish,” he said.
The series revealed the multimillion-pound expansion plan also involved dismantling the top two floors to make way for a four-storey, 14-bedroom Victorian-style roof extension.
The crowning glory is likely to be London’s most expensive penthouse with a swimming pool, gym, private lake and an 1,800 square foot grand salon at a rumoured £100,000 a night.
The next episode will be aired next Monday evening on BBC2.
It’s just over halfway through the seven-year renovation project, and the team have adopted unusual measures to make way for the next stage of the audacious build – a four-storey roof extension.
Meanwhile, below ground, the basement reaches its fifth and deepest level after overcoming the challenges of groundwater and an underground river.
But then disaster strikes, as world events intervene. The Covid-19 pandemic forces the hotel to close for the first time in over a century, as well as derailing plans to complete the building work on time.
Keep an ear out for those Donegal accents!