Irish of all backgrounds continue to come to New York as the recession at home continues to bite. MOLLY MULDOON speaks to some of the newest arrivals.
In a transient city like New York, the ebb and flow of the surroundings are shaped by the people who occupy the space. The eclectic groups leave their trademarks in disparate localities contained in the five burrows.
The Polish in Greenpoint; the Greeks in Astoria; the Asians in Flushing; the Mexicans in Spanish Harlem and the Irish in Woodlawn.
Seasoned New Yorkers look on in awe as their home turf is constantly invaded by outsiders, eager to experience life in fast lane in one of the world’s greatest cities.
The Irish have a historical connection to U.S. and have flocked here in droves for centuries. The new wave of immigration from the homeland has been described as a brain drain, a calamity and a yet another product of the failings of the former Irish government.
As countless Irish emigrants board planes destined for far-flung places around the world, they are collectively resigned to an element of uncertainty that clouds their future.
As the plane screeches off the runway I imagine few are thinking about corrupt bankers, or the Celtic Tiger. Their thoughts and concerns regard the future and the possibilities that lay ahead of them in a foreign place they hope to call home.
“Honestly, I didn’t look over my shoulder once as I was flying out of Dublin, not out of any sort of resentment towards Ireland and the state of the country, more to do with excitement as to what was ahead,” said one new arrival.
“I didn’t want to be constantly wishing I was back home or wishing for my old routine. It’s too easy. I said I might never get this opportunity ever again, so what’s the point in looking back.”
Mark O’Leary was dressed in a pair of summer shorts when I first met him on a mild Friday evening just days after St. Patrick’s Day. The Killarney, Co. Kerry man had just arrived in New York and was about to embark on a six month internship with the International Advocacy Program of Amnesty International’s United Nations.
Having never touched down in the Big Apple previous to relocating here, he was slowly assimilating.
“It’s bigger than I expected, far more multicultural than I imagined, but when I did arrive over I thought surely it will be great craic, and so far it hasn’t disappointed,” he told the Irish Voice.
Like the countless other Irish people are that are flocking to New York, O’Leary is highly educated.
His qualifications include a bachelor’s in anthropology and history, a master’s in anthropology and development studies and another master’s in international security and conflict studies.
But despite spending a large proportion of his twenties in Ireland’s premier universities, upon graduation O’Leary found that employment prospects in Ireland were slim.
“Ireland doesn’t have a lot going for it in terms of political science careers,” he reflected.
Not distracted by the big city and bright lights, the Kerry man was on the hunt for an apartment when the Irish Voice spoke to him, as he familiarized himself with the siege of finding suitable lodgings.
Recently introduced to the wonders of Craigslist, the 28-year-old was not overly impressed by his dealings so far, describing one bedroom is viewed as an extended hallway.
“What really got me was he had antique swords, guns, daggers all over the walls, plus this guy was covered in tattoos. We exchanged pleasantries, but it was not going to happen,” said O’Leary.
Kate O’Neill, 27, from Newbridge, Co. Kildare says that moving to New York City was her way of fulfilling a lifelong dream. She told the Irish Voice she was “absolutely delighted to be leaving Ireland,” adding,
“Ireland’s really not that far away, and with Skype you never feel too homesick.”
“I arrived in New York mid-January of this year,” she told the Irish Voice. “I’ve always dreamed of living in New York, so when I heard about the new J1 graduate visa I jumped at the opportunity of relocating here.
“Regardless of Ireland’s economic woes, I still would have moved here,” says the Brooklyn resident.
O’Neill says the biggest challenge of relocating to New York with a group of friends was finding work.
“It’s much more difficult to secure a job here. The market is very slow. It’s also a drawback having a one-year visa, as employers are very hesitant to hire you full-time when they think you’re going to be leaving in a year,” she says.
“It takes some time to become established, and it was challenging looking for accommodation and a job simultaneously. Contrary to what you hear about New Yorkers, they’re actually very friendly, really helpful, and exceptionally mannerly,” says O’Neill.
Chatting to the Irish Voice, 21-year-old Adrian from Co. Roscommon says he was out of work in Ireland for almost a year before he and his girlfriend emigrated to the U.S.
“My parents didn’t want me to go, they were worried,” said the Athleague man, who studied bar management in Ireland.
When his work dried up delivering milk in Ireland, Adrian found that there were few jobs available.
“There was no work. I used to work with my father during the summer, helping out with silage on the farm,” says Adrian.
Disillusioned by the state of the economy, Adrian and his girlfriend Carmel decided to relocate to New York last October, where Carmel’s brother has lived for the last 14 years.
“Carmel arrived two weeks before me. I stayed at home to finish the hurling season and then followed her,” said Adrian. “She had been here before, but this was my first trip.”
With only temporary tourist status, the couple found it difficult to find work.
“Trying to find work, you need a Social Security number for everything. There is always something,” he said.
Eventually they both found jobs, Adrian in construction and Carmel as a bartender. Earning money and settling into their new lives, the couple decided to overstay their temporary holiday visas.
After living with family in Westchester when they first arrived, the couple recently moved to Woodlawn in the Bronx, a Mecca for the Irish-American community.
A keen sports enthusiast, Adrian says that the Irish community in Woodlawn and playinghurling with Galway are two of his favorite things about his new life here. But he admits that Roscommon is never far from his thoughts.
“It’s a hard decision to make. I get lonely sometimes and she (Carmel) gets homesick,” he says.
Coming from different backgrounds and having different outlooks on their new lives here in New York, the newcomers are in agreement regarding their sentiment on returning to Ireland.
From the Bronx Adrian admits that he and Carmel intend to stay in New York at least “a couple of years.
“We are not sure how long,” he adds.
In Brooklyn Kate O’Neill says that returning to Ireland is not in her short term plans.
“I don’t see myself returning for the foreseeable future. I plan on staying here for a few years, granted I get sponsored,” she hopes.
With only a six month visa Mark O’Leary’s is conscious he will have to return to Ireland in October, but admits that if the opportunity arose he would love to stay in New York.
“I’ll go home without a job if I have to...but over here is where it all happens,” he reflected.
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