Recent exiles make the best of festive fare in Big Apple


UNITED STATES:IN A TINY pub called The Dugout on a Sunday afternoon before Christmas in Woodside, Queens, Andrew Gillick, from Navan, orders a pint of lager from his friend Martin Harkin, who works behind the bar. He recently returned to New York after a year at home, where he had hoped that business would improve.

But in Ireland employment was sporadic, while in New York, there is always something that needs to be maintained.

“I’d love to be able to go home for Christmas,” says Gillick, who is 25 and works as a painter. Instead he will join about 30 other Irish people for a party at McCormack’s pub in Manhattan.

Gillick was a financial adviser in Ireland before becoming a painter; he owns a house but has rented it out for a year. Unlike many Irish emigrants in the US, he has American citizenship. He was born in the US during the 1980s, when his parents lived just around the corner from The Dugout.

In areas like Woodside or Woodlawn and Yonkers in the Bronx, young Irish emigrants are replenishing the GAA teams and keeping immigration centres busy. Some have J1 status, others come out on three-month tourist visas hoping to try their luck. For many, spending the holiday away from home is not a hardship.

“It’s kind of a novelty for them, to be spending Christmas in New York,” says Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers. “It just doesn’t have that same sadness as it would for people who have been here for so many years and can’t go home.”

Brothers, cousins and friends are the port of call over Christmas. Jonathan Campbell (26), from Tattyreagh outside Omagh, has been in New York for five weeks.

At Christmas he will visit the friend of a distant relative, who let him and Harkin stay in her house when they arrived until they found an apartment. “

It made the transition so much smoother,” says Campbell, adding that he was “blown away” by the welcome from New York’s Irish community.

Campbell’s degree is in business management and information, but he is working in a bar for now. There are staff in New York’s Irish pubs with degrees in nutrition, finance and journalism. Bars though are unlikely to sponsor employees for a longer stay; individuals on a J1 may be breaking the terms of their visas, which stipulate that they are meant to get jobs in their field of study.

With the city’s unemployment rate touching 9 per cent, the job market is competitive.

“When you don’t have a green card or you’re not a citizen, they don’t want anything to do with you,” says Brian Devenney (23) from Limerick. He hopes to turn his degree in business and finance into a job in a bank or a hedge fund, but so far has had little success.

A flight home is outside Devenney’s budget for Christmas so he will celebrate at a friend’s apartment. “There’s a gang of us. We’re going to have a secret Santa and hopefully make a good day of it.”

He loves the city but will miss being at home for Christmas. “I think I’d be fine if I had a full-time job. Not knowing whether I’ll get something in the new year is preying at the back of my mind. I will be a little bit homesick.”