Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

‘Emigrants are Ireland’s frontline ambassadors abroad’

Working in New York real estate has given a Wexford native opportunities to present Ireland in a positive light

Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 22:00


Larry Carroll

Despite not being adept at handling the humidity of the New York summer which has arrived with a vengeance in the last few days, being Irish is a great asset in the Big Apple. Modern Irish immigrants to New York are very well received, and Americans are always very eager to discuss for what many of them is the “goings on back in the Old Country”.

Most Irish people here are extremely proud to be Irish. We tend to tell strangers very little initially, but one thing we are not shy about offering up almost immediately is our nationality. In recent years this has become more important than ever, and the emigrant is often the single biggest advocate of Ireland – more crucial and effective than any glossy advertising campaign that Board Fáilte or IDA could ever to undertake. In so many ways, we are the frontline ambassadors.

During the course of my work as a commercial real estate broker for the Vortex Group in Midtown Manhattan, I have lost count of the amount of times I have been asked about the peace process, the Irish economy, the property collapse and the recent tax haven controversy. Americans generally want to “believe” in Ireland and the onus is on us to convey the message that the country is young, educated, hardworking, in recovery mode and, as our Taoiseach likes to say, “open for business”.

I was on a crowded downtown subway train the Monday morning after it was announced  the IMF was in Dublin to negotiate the impending bailout. The story made front page news on this side of the Atlantic, and an Irish man was standing beside me on the train. He had struck up a conversation about Ireland with a fellow passenger, an American, and retorted: “that country is finished, a dump and I could care less.”

I decided there and then that it was alright to be honest and open about the problems and failings at home, but the positives must also be accentuated. Americans love a good comeback story, and we need to promote the story that the Irish at home will now demonstrate the resilience our forefathers showed on these shores. “The Celtic Comeback” has a nice ring to it that Americans will love too.

Sometimes, while showing a client a prospective office space in one of the many spectacular Manhattan office towers, or taking a walk down Park Avenue, I have to remind myself that it was our forefathers who did the heavy lifting for us Irish who came after them, helping them to feel welcome in this great city. They broke down the social and religious barriers of entry which enabled us to take hold of the opportunities on offer today. That’s one of the greatest things about New York – put the effort in and doors will open.

New York can be very daunting for newcomers to navigate but for a corporate entity it’s a logistical and legal minefield. It’s my job to guide a tenant through the pitfalls and offer them maximum flexibility in their office space leasing requirements, and try to predict what their future needs will be. Securing the most advantageous deal for them and you will win repeat business. Its an ultra competitive industry and it is quintessentially New York. My job is to build connections and relationships, which brings me many opportunities to sell myself and Ireland in a positive and professional light.

I am more conscious of being “European” since moving to New York, and am proud to be from that continent. I guess the emigrant clings to anything that distinguishes them as different in a highly competitive city and helps us stay connected.

My mentor in the commercial real estate industry here always told me that to be successful one has to focus on a certain sector of the industry, and early on, mine became European firms looking to establish a New York presence or existing ones who need real estate transaction assistance; a huge part of this decision was to allow me to maintain my links with home. I sometimes feel an emigrant’s life is one of constant turmoil between changing to adapt to your surroundings and trying to maintain what you defines you at home.

So what advice would I give to a budding graduate in Ireland, thinking of coming to New York? I would say you need to be focused, patient and resilient. New York sidewalks are not paved with gold, but the opportunities are here to work hard and make the connections to get far. Carry yourself with confidence and dignity in all that you do. Perhaps I am biased but being Irish you already ahead of the pack. Go for it.

Larry Carroll (31) left Enniscorthy in Co Wexford for New York in 2007. He is an active member of the Irish-American community in his adoptive city, is married to a native New Yorker, and works as a real estate broker focusing on European and Irish companies for the Vortex Group.