A 16-acre site the redevelopment of Ground Zero is visibly progressing as the rebirth of Lower Manhattan takes form. MOLLY MULDOON talks to some Irish workers who are helping shape the future of the New York skyline.
Patrick O’Shea was only 11 when the planes hit the World Trade Center September 11, 2001.
“I was at school and everyone started getting phone calls. My mom came and collected us, we went to a church to say a couple of prayers and waited for my father to come home,” O’Shea says.
In Midtown Manhattan, Patrick’s father John, originally from Molls Gap in Co. Kerry was sheet rocking on the job when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
“Looking south from Herald Square I could see the towers on fire,” O’Shea recalls.
“An hour later one of the towers was gone. There was an eerie feeling. We knew we were under attack and that we had to get out of the city, that anything could happen at any time.
“I got a cab up to the George Washington Bridge and took the dollar bus home to New Jersey to be with my family.”
A decade on, John and his son Patrick are now working on the new Four World Trade Center on the site of Ground Zero, a job they both describe as very special.
“People paid the ultimate price and we are privileged to be working here,” John told the Irish Voice.
“We consider it a very special place to working here. It’s 10 years ago almost to the day, and it’s our duty to try and bring this place back to bigger and better than before.”
O’Shea, who emigrated from Kerry in 1982, works as a foreman with Eurotech Construction and specializes in safety protection.
Speaking to the Irish Voice from the second floor Four World Trade, John O’Shea’s busy day is already well underway.
“We are in charge of keeping all the building and the workers safe,” he said.
“Our goal is zero accidents and zero fatalities and so far we have not had one serious accident, only minor cuts and bruises.”
The grueling work routine consists of six-day weeks, a minimum of eight hours a day commencing at 7 a.m. Up against the elements of the harsh New York climate, the weather can have an adverse affect on site progress.
“Now we are making great progress. Last winter we lost time with the weather. When the wind and rain gets excessive we need to stop, but the summer temperatures mean we are ahead of schedule.” John said.
According to John, the enormity of the task at hand, coupled with the significance of the development has resulted in a real sense of unity among workers on site.
“This is a special job and people seem to pull together a lot better town here, there is not that much bickering,” he said.
With more than 3,000 workers on the 16-acre site daily, the Kerry man says there are several Irish tradesmen involved.
“Historically the Irish have been more into construction than other nationalities. We are known for our construction background and we are all pulling together to bring the site back to its former glory,” he said.
Patrick O’Shea told the Irish Voice it was a great experience to be working alongside his father on such a major job.
“I thought it would be a great thing to be a part to be of,” the third year apprentice carpenter said.
“When people ask what you do for living, it‘s great to say you’re working on the rebuild of the World Trade Center.
“The hours are long, early mornings and late nights, it can be exhausting but it’s just the fact of being part of something historical. It means a lot.”
Opening this coming weekend, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is complete and looks impressive from the elevated view of Tower Four.
“The memorial is a big reminder. Those are the footprints of the original Twin Towers the fountains are on and we have a nice view of them,” Patrick said. “It’s great to watch everything come together.”
Another Kerry native, Denis Delahunty, said when the opportunity arose he volunteered to work on Ground Zero.
“I was working on a Port Authority job when word has come down that they needed people for Ground Zero,” the iron worker recalls.
“A lot of people just wanted to be part of it. People by nature want to be on bigger jobs but a lot are native New Yorkers who have an emotional attachment to the job,” he told the Irish Voice.
Delahunty recalls his mother bringing him to the World Trade Center site as a child, standing in the square between the Twin Towers. He still vividly remembers their enormity and scale.
Decades later, when he first began working on the reconstruction in October 2009, he admits the site was ghostly at times. Delahunty worked on several of the buildings that make up the site.
“If you go down to the PATH station hub into the sub, sub basements, you can still see the occasional relic from the initial towers...a sign perhaps, something that was hanging or scraps that were left over.
“All the way down in the hold it can be eerie at night when there is no one else around,” he said.
Despite the site initially being hampered by delays, Delahunty says it is great to see so many jobs being produced.
“When they started they were happy things were finally going as it coincided with the general downturn in the economy, otherwise thousands tradesmen would be out of work,” he told the Irish Voice.
Ground Zero remains a popular tourist destination, with thousands descending on Lower Manhattan each day to catch a glimpse of the redevelopment.
“You can be conscious of the fact you are being watched all the time. It was definitely strange seeing the flashbulbs go off all around the perimeter of the site,” he said.
Despite being a source of concern for some relatives, the Westchester resident admits that he that his involvement with the rebuild will be something he will always cherish.
“My family thought it was great, but there was a certain amount of worry as some people felt that if they decided to go again it would be a target,” Delahunty said.
“But on the same token it’s great because you can always tell people years from now that you were part of history.”