Meath man Karl O’Reilly is playing a pivotal role in the rebuild of Ground Zero. Originally from Kells, the 31-year-old is working as the project manager with Atlantic Hoisting and Scaffolding.
The company provides hoist cars or construction elevators for workers and materials that are being used to rebuild the site that the Twin Towers once occupied.
Atlantic Hoisting & Scaffolding was founded by the Breslin brothers, John and Michael, who also hail from Kells.
O’Reilly first came to New York ten years ago and was working close by the Twin Towers when tragedy hit on 9-11.
With the tenth anniversary of 9-11 just months away, there is a big push to complete the memorial in time for the commemoration.
O’Reilly has vivid memories of that September day when two planes crashed into New York’s tallest buildings and irreversibly changed America.
“I was on a building up on 17th Street that morning, so I wasn’t that far away, probably about half-a-mile or thereabouts,” he told the Meath Chronicle.
“I remember being in my boss’s van at the time, we were just down having coffee, and we heard these snippets of news coming over the airwaves.
“Initially, we thought it was a joke, because we were down on the ground so you couldn’t actually see the towers, but we soon could see the smoke streaming out of the buildings.
“The one thing I will never forget from that day was probably the mass panic by everybody, nobody knew what was going on, that was the big thing. It was a pretty frightening event. We were well safe where we were but because nobody knew what was going on - we were in the middle between the World Trade Centre and the Empire State - and you didn’t know whether the Empire State Building was going to be next; we just didn’t know what could happen next,” he recalls.
“It was panic. We could hear the rumbles in the distance. After the second tower fell, the whole city was on lockdown. No movement in or out of tunnels or subways, or anything.”
Soon after the Meath man travelled home to a booming Ireland, but despite the plentiful opportunities he was once again lured back to the city that new sleeps.
In 2007 he returned to New York with his girlfriend, Geraldine Fox. Who works as a handbag designer.
“When it comes to fashion, there is London, Paris, Milan or New York. I don’t speak Italian or French too well, London was too close so we said we would give New York a shot. It was more coincidence that I was offered the chance to work in America sometime before that and I took it.
We always knew we were going to move away and give it a shot. We left, even though the Celtic Tiger was going strong in Ireland,” he recalls.
According to O’Reilly there are “a lot of Irish guys” employed at Ground Zero currently.
“That has been quite an eye-opener for me because I had been working outside the city where I wasn’t coming into contact with many Irish people and then when I went in on this job, and you meet so many. Even in our own company, there are a lot of Irish. A lot of the foremen are Irish. Basically, all the contractors that are there have a lot of Irish, which is good to see.”
New York life suits O’Reilly for the time being, and he admits that there is little right now to tempt him to return to Ireland.
“You’re not going to work on a 105-storey building at home, they don’t exist. Over here, you’ll meet every walk of life, it’s such a diverse city,” he says. “Anyway, a lot of our friends who lived in Ireland have now gone elsewhere looking for work.”
Originally published January 2011.