No place to call home for Irish students in New York this summer


While the sun was fighting its way through dark clouds last Wednesday, June 10, dozens of young pale looking Irish men and women pounded the pavements, newspapers tucked neatly under their arms, backpacks on their backs, bottles of water in one hand and a pen and paper in the other.

This has become a regular site on McLean Avenue in Yonkers and Woodlawn in the Bronx the past few weeks. These young men and women, most of whom are in possession of a J-1 student visa which allows them to live and work the U.S. for four months, are all between the ages of 18 and 23.

They came to New York in droves late May, early June in the hope of earning their own piece of the American Dream, at least for four months. However, dreams are far from the reality these young children of Ireland are encountering.

 “Not yet Mom, it’s really hard,” shouted Darren Quillinan into his newly purchased cell phone on Wednesday while sitting outside a local store in Woodlawn.

While two of his friends, both donned in knee length shorts and Abercrombie t-shirts, turned pages in the newspaper looking for jobs, Quillinan continued to explain to his Co. Cork mother 3,000 miles away that finding a job in New York wasn’t as easy as he anticipated.

Quillinan, 20, and his buddies, Liam Blennerhassett, 19, and Jamie Dolan, 20, all from Cork, told the Irish Voice that they arrived in New York on May 27 with big hopes.

“None of us have been here before so we decided to give New York a shot and apply for the J-1 visas,” shared Blennerhassett.

“Ya, but sure if we don’t get a job in the next week we are going to have to go home and there are no jobs either there,” said Dolan gloomily. 

The three boys, all students in different colleges in Ireland, said they are “fed up” at the lack of jobs in New York.

The trio, albeit together, claim they have gone into every bar and restaurant in the city, including McDonald’s, and they are still jobless.

The Cork boys, who are all sleeping on blow up airbeds in the basement of a friend’s home, are running out of money and energy.

“I have had friends who came over here last year and they all got jobs no problem, so I don’t understand why we are having no luck,” said Quillinan.

They each came with approximately $2,000 in their back pockets and admitted that they spent at least half of the money partying the first week they arrived.

“Sure if we knew that it would be this hard to get a job we wouldn’t have gone out as much,” added Dolan.

For now the future remains dim for the Cork boys. They have applied for several jobs and have been told there is no work available.

 “Three or four places all right told us they would give us a call, but we haven’t heard anything yet,” added Blennerhassett.

In the meantime the lads plan to continue buying a subway card every day, boarding the trains bound for Manhattan and continuing on their path to employment.

“We’ll get something,” said Quillinan positively to his friends.

Dolan and Blennerhassett laugh nervously.

Although Brian Walkins, Sandra Nolan and Michael Dwane, all from Co. Offaly, are not students, they are in the same predicament as the J-1 students. The trio are planning on spending the summer in New York working and having fun.

Both Walkins and Dwane are here to play hurling for the New York Offaly team. Nolan, who is Dwane’s girlfriend, lost her office job in Ireland a few months ago so she decided to join her boyfriend, a welder who also lost his job in Ireland.

Walkins, when he spoke with the Irish Voice, was just off a plane from Australia, where he spent six months traveling around. On Thursday he was expecting his Irish girlfriend to join him for the summer.

But on Wednesday the friends were walking the streets of Woodlawn and McLean Avenue looking at notice boards for jobs and accommodation.

 Meanwhile, trailing through websites at the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers were another three young men, Sean Condron, 20, Fergal Lawlor, 22, and James Hook, 22.

The three young lads hail from Co. Clare and have the opposite problem to the Cork boys. They have jobs, but their accommodation issue is causing them great distress.

Condron, a civil engineer student at Limerick Institute of Technology, and his friends have been in New York since May 24. After spending a few nights lodging at an aunt’s house they found a floor to sleep on with some Mayo friends.

However, the apartment where they put their head down at night is on 120th Street in Harlem. 

“This is just something temporary but we want out of there straight away,” Condron tells the Irish Voice.

“It’s just really dodgy,” adds Lawlor, a third year construction student at Limerick Institute of Technology. 

“Plus,” said Hoot, “there are eight of us in a two bedroom apartment that is so small so there are four of us sleeping in the living room.”