Liam Galbraith, the principal of Buncrana Technology College in County Donegal, flew to New York with his wife Mary, also an educator, and their three grown kids last weekend for their first ever highly anticipated New York holiday.
What they did not anticipate was being hunkered up at Fitzpatrick’s Hotel on 57 Street from the moment they arrived, due to Hurricane Sandy. It had begun so well. Mary Galbraith celebrated her birthday last Sunday, and to mark the occasion her husband decided it to travel to New York City for the first time to celebrate the special occasion.
The couple’s children Julie and David, plus Julie's boyfriend John Quigley had all travelled to the Big Apple to celebrate the special occasion too. They heard, they said, no word that a hurricane was brewing until sometime late on Friday, when some of their children’s pals asked them what they thought of Sandy? She looked good in Grease, was Galbraith’s unconcerned answer.
Attitudes changed by Monday afternoon when the city was under a severe weather lockdown that saw subway travel suspended and a record breaking storm and surge altering the map of the five boroughs.
What had begun with some witty banter about Sandy had become something far more serious. But the Galbraith’s already had some things on their side, their famed Irish venue for one.
“At Fitzpatrick’s they were so helpful and a real sense of looking after people permeates the hotel,” Galbraith told the Irish Voice. “They took people in, even though the place was already over booked, anything to help New Yorkers out in a crisis. There is a feeling of looking after people rather than trying to take advantage of people's misfortune. That’s a real good Irish quality.”
Coming from Ireland’s most northerly county, where strong winds are common in winter, Galbraith was philosophical about Sandy. “The storm was obviously very damaging and disastrous for so many people but to be honest apart from strong winds on Monday evening we never really felt that it was any worse than a stormy day at Malin Head (Ireland’s most northerly point).”
Galbraith said he thought the media here focused exclusively on the most sensational aspects of the storm, creating an unhelpful climate of hysteria. “I think the Irish are used to wind and rain and just tend to get on with it. The media really built this up, so everyone just wanted to go home by 5 P.M. on Sunday, even though it was a calm, quiet evening. The TV crews are really looking for drama, creating a story and that wouldn't happen in Ireland to the same extent.
“If you lived in Kerry, Clare, Galway, Mayo or Donegal the TV companies wouldn't have time to worry about how you cope with a big wind. I suppose it’s different in New York.
We all got dozens of text queries from family and friends thinking that we were going under in Manhattan - that's the power of the media and sometimes there needs to be more balance in their reporting. On Monday morning, the city was deserted it was like a scene from I Am Legend and I was thinking I've played golf on worse days than this.
The lesson for New York City and the five boroughs is that it needs to address it’s crumbling infrastructure, the better to contend with the new era of extreme weather we’re headed into, Galbraith said.
“There should be more thoughtful analysis of how to deal with this event, what do we learn about dealing with flooding and infra structure, how come everything gets flooded even though the rain wasn’t that bad, because this is going to happen again. The people who live here deserve a proper response from the authorities.”
Although they had a windy introduction to the city, the Galbraith's still fell under its spell and had a truly memorable visit. Not even Hurricane Sandy could put them off the Big Apple and they’re certain to return, they said.
“We have no regrets about coming here. We had cabin fever on Monday and Tuesday but apart from that, any inconveniences we had were insignificant and don’t compare with any personal tragedies or deaths that happened during the storm. We had great evenings of good food and good company, why would you complain?”