‘Emigration has scattered everyone I know from home’

‘Ireland and Me’: Sean Rooney, Syracuse, US

Working in an Irish pub and restarting the local GAA club has helped Sean Rooney feel connected to Ireland in Syracuse in the US.

Working in an Irish pub and restarting the local GAA club has helped Sean Rooney feel connected to Ireland in Syracuse in the US.

 

I left Ireland for America in January 2006 before the recession hit. Instead of going down under like everyone else I knew going abroad, I went west to the US, where I had spent my J1 a few years previously.

Through an American friend who I had played basketball with at NUI Galway, I got put in contact with the owner of a bar in upstate New York. The rest as they say is history. David Hoyne, a Kilkenny native, offered me a job working in his pub Kitty Hoynes in a city called Syracuse, about four hours north of New York City.

About the size of Galway in population, the snowiest city in America has strong Irish connections. Before the steam engine crisscrossed the country, we settled here by the thousands in the early 1800s to help make the Erie Canal which stretched all the way from Buffalo to Albany.

Descendents of these canal builders and other Irish immigrants would come down to the pub every day of the week to have a drink, something to eat, or more importantly just for the chat. For them, talking with someone Irish was a way of connecting to home.

Ironically enough it was a way for me to keep a foot in the auld sod as well. On a daily basis I would find myself in conversation with people with direct or indirect Irish connections, people who claim Irish ancestry, people that think they might be Irish through a mathematical equation and people that expressed even the vaguest interest in someday visiting the country.

The pub was such a safety blanket that I would often forget that I was thousands of miles away from home until a slip of the tongue using a turn of phrase or a different adjective or noun and I would quickly come back to reality looking at a puzzled American face in front of me.

Wanting to show people a different side to our culture other than the social one, I restarted the Gaelic football team here in 2009. There has been a team in the city on and off since the 1920s, playing in a division with Buffalo, Rochester and Albany.

The fact that I hadn’t kicked a Gaelic football since I was 13 didn’t deter me. Initially composed of a few Irish lads, a guy from Bristol, an Australian, a Canadian and Americans, the team has had its ups and downs like any club. Most of the downs are caused by the same economic factors that forced many to leave home. But the club still helps settle myself and the other Paddies around the city.

Because of work I only make it home every year or two, which I know is a lot more than some people can manage because of their immigration status. Sometimes I think things might be the same at home as they were when I was in college, that I am missing a mad session, that unreal craic was had at one of the lads’ houses last weekend… but in reality, migration and emigration has scattered everyone I know to all the corners of Ireland, and the globe.

This article was submitted as an entry to the Generation Emigration ‘Ireland and Me’ competition, which is now closed. For more ‘Ireland and Me’ stories, click here.

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