Irish people in New York is nothing new. Sure. we’ve been flocking there since the dawn of time, haven’t we?
But what is life really like in the home of Broadway, bagels and limitless coffee-refills?
We spoke to 18 fantastic Irish women who have taken up roots in the Big Apple and have reported back on their experiences; the good, the bad and the bed bugs.
So without further adieu, here’s what it’s really like to live in New York.
When asked what people missed from home, everything from "clean air" and Coronation Street, to the simple practicality of "having a washing machine in your home" was mentioned. Alongside these details came the obvious 3 F’s: Friends, Family and –crucially – Food.
With regards food, Catherine Higgins-Moore (34, writer) misses proper sliced pan bread, good meat and Marks and Spencer. For Orlaith Moynihan (21, student at Iona College) it’s roast dinners and a morning fry; “I plan to move back home as soon as I graduate and I’m already looking forward to the fry-up on the way home from the airport” .
The Irish lilt is another thing that our expats pine for. In fact, so determined was Lydia Daly Morris (Senior Vice President at Viacom) to hear Irish accent in her day-to-day life that she downloaded an Irish radio app which she now listens to every day; “I love that I can tune in to any of the local stations back home and hear Irish accents and craic whenever I’m feeling homesick”.
On the upside, the proximity of Ireland to New York – alongside the continual drop of airline prices – means that many of the Irish expats can return home relatively frequently. Aisling Keogh (30, working in AdTech) gets home about 3-4 times a year; “I still have my parents house key on the same key chain as my NYC apartment!”
The issue of the visa
Visas are consistently one of the biggest sources of struggle for Irish immigrants. Getting granted one necessitates a long, lengthly process with many hurdles along the way. Even when you’ve been granted your visa and have been living in New York for years, renewing your visa can be equally as difficult.
“They worst part was when my first visa was coming to an end and not knowing how to approach getting another one. It’s like asking for a pay rise, it’s really daunting.” - Frances Mulraney (27, Editor at IrishCentral.com)
“Having an attorney is essential for any US visa because there is so much involved in the process and even then it can take 6-7 months of work to complete. It’s extremely costly and time-consuming, so you'd want to be sure that this is what you want, before you put yourself through it all.” - Stephanie O'Quigley (27, Beauty Publicist)
Many say how they’ll never forget the morning after Donald Trump’s election, recalling how the loud, brash streets of New York’s left-wing metropolis fell silent with people in pure disbelief, only for chaos to follow thereafter...
What are New Yorkers really like?
Whilst the international public’s impression of New Yorkers is usually that of abrasive, loud-mouthed divas, we have been assured that New Yorkers are “softies underneath it all, really”.
“New Yorkers give off a sense that we’re all in it together – whether it’s the subway getting delayed, or a crazy driver almost knocking you off your bike. Someone will always be willing to give you a helping hand or word of encouragement to keep going” - Anna Phelan (26, Editorial Program Manager for TED podcasts)
Many of the expats say how they’ll never forget the morning after Donald Trump’s election, recalling how the loud, brash streets of New York’s left-wing metropolis fell silent with people in pure disbelief, only for chaos to follow thereafter...
“Immediately after the election there was nothing but chaos. I was embarrassed to be living in a country that believed he was the right choice. However this election provoked resistance, the need for change, and unity.” – Hannah Whelan (25, Textile Designer)
On a more day-to-day level, Suzanne Cloonan (36, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry) refers to how the Trump administration has brought significant problems to her line of work; reducing the federal budget for biomedical research and refusing citizens from “muslim countries” to gain entry, many of whom are much-needed, highly skilled physicians and scientists.
On a positive note, Mr. Trumps presidency has also inadvertently inspired a new generation of political charge and advocacy amongst younge generations. Take Frances Mulraney for example, who is involved in a grassroots movement called “Irish Stand”. This group calls on Irish Americans to remember the discrimination Irish people once faced, and to support today’s immigrants who are now experiencing the same discrimination.
"I would consider bringing up a family in New York, purely on account of the opportunities it presents"
New York’s health system
Let it be known that when it comes to healthcare, Ireland has it good. At least, when compared to New York, that is. The costs there are so crippling (even when you have insurance) that many Irish will wait until they are travelling back to Ireland to book an appointment with a GP or dentist.
For Avril Nolan (30, Co-Owner of FORM Atelier) “the health system is one of the biggest reasons I question whether I want to live here forever. It’s such a broken system and can eat up a huge percentage of your pay check. It makes it really tough for freelancers or those like me who are running our own business.”
Days are spent enjoying picnics in Central Park; exhibitions at The Met; people watching in local cafes; and bagels. Lots of bagels.
Would you bring up a family here?
Despite the problematic politics, the pollution and the general cost of living, many of the women we spoke to said they would consider bringing up a family in New York, purely on account of the opportunities it presents.
“New York City is a great place to raise a family. I currently live in Manhattan with my husband and two teenage sons and we love the abundance of cultural and educational resources that are right at our doorstep.” – Margaret Molloy (Creator of WearingIrish)
Downtown is a brilliant place to live, right by the water with lots of green spaces and always something fun going on. I can’t think of anywhere I would rather raise a family. – Catherine Higgins-Moore
Best New York experiences
When answering this question, all of our expats mention the incredible amount of fun and excitement that New York presents, with many making reference to the celebrities they have met along the way. Breakfasts with Bill Clinton, conga lines with Bill Murray and cocktails with Liam Neeson are de rigour for some, it would seem…
Apart from celebrity sightings, other favourite New York moments include adventures “upstate”; with people packing their car and heading out to the Hamptons over the summer holidays, or simply going for a hike over the weekend. More day-to-day happenings are also mentioned, the kind we’d recognise from tv shows. These include picnics in Central Park; exhibitions at The Met; people watching in local cafes; and bagels. Lots of bagels.
Worst New York experiences
“Bedbugs and rats – neither are a joke.” says Claire McGirr (29, working in film production)
Other less favourable features of NYC include the subway (cramped carriages and frequent delays), looking for accommodation (“it’s even tougher than that of Dublin”), rising homelessness throughout the city, and losing friends to visa expirations or complications.
“My least favorite experience in New York was probably my apartment flooding. I used to have a basement bedroom, which was cool because I had a little recording studio there, but we don’t have basements in Ireland and it never crossed my mind it would cause problems if it the rain got heavy. Everything got ruined and I still get flashbacks.” - Lydia Ford (24, Musician)
“Most people don’t know that close to 800 Irish companies have operations in the US, employing more than 100,000 Americans - this narrative is often overlooked.”
When living in a certain place, it’s only natural that you’ll pick up some of the local habits and traits. This has definitely happened with our Irish-NYC expats, many of whom have adopted the incredible work ethic that New Yorkers are so well known for, often referring to their main income source not as their “job”, but as their “passion project”.
Many of the women we spoke to are also embracing new hobbies and interests around the city, including long-distance running (Sophie Colgan is running the NYC Marathon in November); moonlight yoga; urban gardening; public speaking; roller derby; calligraphy; reading books in New York’s many gorgeous parks and of course, Soul Cycle.
“When I first moved to New York I started sewing and now I’m at the point where I make many of my clothes. I also took up boxing which I love (for fitness only!) and intend to do forever.” - Catherine Sikora (Saxophonist/ Composer)
“I’m addicted to Soul Cycle. When I first attended a class in New York I couldn’t handle all the high fiving and whooping, but you get used to it. Everybody is so enthusiastic and I guess that can be infectious.” - Lydia Daly Morris
Irish culture in NYC
For centuries the Irish experience has been intertwined with New York’s history, and in many New York sectors today, Irish business owners and entrepreneurial minds continue to lead the way. As Eva Murphy Ryan (23, Trade Development Executive for Enterprise Ireland) highlights “Most people don’t know that close to 800 Irish companies have operations in the US, employing more than 100,000 Americans - this narrative is often overlooked.”
The Irish expat community is very strong in New York, with Irish-inspired groups supporting and embracing all manner of interests, including Digital Irish, Irish American Writers and Artists (IAMWA), Irish Network New York (IN-NYC) and many Gaelic clubs and Irish-speaking societies too. Simple things, like seeing the Irish comedian Maeve Higgins regularly writing columns for the New York Times, also brings a palpable sense of pride to the community.
There’s also the obvious presence of Irish bars throughout the city, although Sophie Colgan (26, Events and Marketing Coordinator for the American Irish Historical Society) assures us that they’re not restricted to diddlyee-eye tourist traps. In fact, The Dead Rabbit cocktail bar in lower Manhattan (owned by Belfast natives Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry) was selected in 2016 as ‘The Worlds Best Bar’ , whilst The Long Hall (run by Dublin’s Johnathan Kennedy) has been said to pour a Guinness that could rival any pub in Ireland.
More or less “Irish” since leaving Ireland?
Overall, these women seem to have become more patriotic since leaving the homeland. Some pay homage to their Irishness by joining Irish societies and clubs, others simply by always picking the Irish whiskey in a bar. Indeed one woman we spoke to is getting an Irish-inspired tattoo as her way of paying tribute to her birthplace.
“Besides losing my accent a bit, no, I’m still very much a proud Irish women. I attend Irish shows, see bands from home and attend events at the Irish Consulate just to stay in touch with the community.” - Aisling Keogh
“The Irish parts of myself seem more highlighted by contrast in America, but then when I go home, I feel Americanised – spelling things wrong, and apparently having an American accent, etc” - Anna Phelan
“The pace of life is very fast here; I enjoy the lifestyle at home too much to stay.”
New York City has a reputation for high crime rates, however things aren’t always as they seem. Between the sheer level of crowds on the streets and the near constant presence of police on duty, the city has become a place in which most locals feel very safe – “so long as you have your wits about you, and walk with purpose”, that is.
“I feel totally safe in Manhattan, there are so many people around all of the time that makes me feel at ease. When I am visiting other cities, I feel less safe because they aren’t as busy as Manhattan is.” – Stephanie O’Quigley
However, this is not to say that the city is without its problems and instances of crime, as Carmel McMahon’s (45, Irish Studies Writer-in-Residence at Queens College) experience shows:
“I got mugged once, in 2002. A young man approached me in my Red Hook neighbourhood. He was carrying a big stick. “Give me all your money!” He said. I gave him everything I had on me (about $12). He seemed so nervous, I asked him, “Is this your first time mugging someone?” He nodded. As I emptied my change-purse into his cupped hands he said, “Thank you.”
Would you ever consider staying in New York forever?
“Ask me in the summer and I’d probably say yes. Ask me in the winter and I’ll definitely say no!” – Avril Nolan
I’m committed to making New York City my home. – Margaret Molloy
“The pace of life is very fast here; I enjoy the lifestyle at home too much to stay.” – Orlaith Mulraney