The Irish Homecoming - Proud of New Yorkers for stepping up and tough out Sandy devastation


April Drew has been keeping up with the Irish American reaction to Hurricane Sandy and is proud that so many of her old friends are stepping up to the plate.  And it’s the simple things in life that will make us all happy at the end of the day, she says.

Hello, New York. You have been battered and bruised since we last spoke. Little did we know what was about to take place.

Like you always do New York, you rose to the occasion, you saved thousands of lives by having excellent evacuation procedures in place and now during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy you are proving how wonderful your people are.

I’m hearing and reading that there are hundreds if not thousands of volunteers, young and old, digging through rubble and dust to help homeowners find their last remaining possessions. I hear your people are out early in the morning until dark removing debris from disaster sites.

Some volunteers have opened up their homes to strangers who have nowhere else to go. Your citizens are providing those misfortunes with necessary food and shelter (the basic needs in life), and above all you are showing them that behind all the material things we say we need to make us happy, you are a kind-hearted city that knows the importance of giving back in times of need.  

Although I’m 3,000 miles away in rainy Ireland words can’t describe how proud I am of the Irish in New York who are volunteering their time to help the misfortunate.  A friend in Woodlawn casually uttered these words to me last week after spending a few days collecting clothing and food to send out to the hardest hit areas of the city.  

“New York looked after us when we needed it, it gave us a job and hope and a future, so helping our neighbors (who aren’t Irish) is the least we can do,” this person said.

Every night before bed I check in with the Irish immigration centers in New York on Facebook to see their updates on what amazing work they did that day.

Between the Aisling Center in Yonkers, the New York Irish Center and Emerald Isle in Queens and the other immigration centers throughout New York, an army of good-hearted people have been deployed to the worst hit areas of the city, especially along the coast.

Every day without fail the Irish in Woodlawn, Queens and further afield take time off work, organize babysitters or give up a few hours (and in some cases a few days) to do something for others. You are all truly great.

If we all did our bit on a daily basis during normal times we would have a much more harmonious world. That would be nice.

It wasn’t just the immigration centers that took the initiative to get people helping out. Dozens of wonderful Irish bars in the tri-state area have either organized volunteers for the clean-up, hosted, or plan to host, a fundraiser and welcomed those who needed hot food into their establishments. The Irish restaurants, businesses, construction companies and county associations are also doing their bit to help out.

There isn’t an Irish person or organization that has sat idly by with their arms folded in this horrific time.  There was even an Irish guy vacationing in New York last week that took a day out of his sightseeing to lend a hand.  Now that’s what I call team spirit.  

All these good deeds got me thinking about a conversation I had during the week about the looming recession in Ireland.  The discussion started with how people became dependent on material happiness and forgot about the day to day simple things that used to make us happy.

A guy I know from Limerick was very candid in a recent chat we had.

“I’m not going to lie, I got caught up with all that rubbish too,” he said referring to his five-bedroom house that is now worth $120,000 less than what he purchased it for in 2008.

“I only have one kid and that’s probably it, so what was I thinking buying a five-bedroom house?”

He is lucky to still have a stable job with a decent income, but he admitted during the height of the Celtic Tiger he was spending more than he was earning.

“There wasn’t a month that went by that I wasn’t overdrawn by ****1,000 euro. I was living a lifestyle that wasn’t for me, and if I’m being honest the more I spent the more I was miserable.”

This guy’s story is one that resonates with a lot of people.

Irene Power, a Sligo woman I know living in Dublin, bought her husband a brand new car for their 10-year wedding anniversary. That was five years ago and she still has another year left in repayments.

“I remember his face when I gave him the keys in a fancy box the morning of our anniversary. It wasn’t the reaction I expected,” shared Power.

Her husband asked how much she paid for it and how she was going to afford the repayments. Although he agreed to keep it after she put up a bit of a fight, he wanted to know how much they would be down every month as a family.