Long winding road through North America (Part 1)
By Terry Reilly (c)
We have just returned from a very enjoyable trip to the US of A, taking in New York, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Boston during a hectic three weeks, so this month’s article is definitely not about life down an Irish lane!
Landing at Kennedy having cleared emigration at Dublin Airport makes arrival in the Big Apple a much more pleasurable experience these days, and we were quickly downtown and amongst the hurly burly of the bustling streets and avenues.
Firmly on the agenda was a visit to Ground Zero, to see how the Freedom Tower project was coming along since our last visit three years ago. The new building is rising impressively from the ground, with the steel erectors poking their way into the sky to build a landmark memorial to all those who died in 9/11.
We had a very particular interest in Ground Zero, for a nephew of the better half, Jim Dufficy, works there as foreman of the Iron Workers Local 40 union employed on the site. He was amongst the first volunteer iron workers on the 9/11 site the evening it was attacked, and he helped clear up some of the steel work his father, Pat, also a member of Local 40, had helped to erect years earlier. Pat, a native of County Roscommon, and his wife Nora, from County Tipperary, accompanied us to the bustling site, and took great pride in the progress being made, and in the part their son and his colleagues are playing in a project so dear to so many. Incidentally, Jim Dufficy is one of five men on the Local 40 Executive Board, which has a very proud Irish –rooted officer cadre with names like Robert Walsh, Kevin O’Rourke, Daniel Doyle, John Costello, Steven Kennedy, Barry Collins, Gerard Costello, Kevin Kelly, Gene Flood and others amongst its leaders.
When this local union was formed early in the last century, the minimum wage and an 8-hour work day did not exist. In fact, unions were not even legal until 1936 and in the early 1900s the government sought to break up unions as violators on the anti-trust laws. And the job was extremely dangerous as erectors then routinely walked the iron beams way up in the sky.
Now an Iron worker is safer on the job than ever before. Wages and benefits have improved.
The Tower, which will stand 1,776 feet tall on the site of the former World Trade Center, will serve as a beacon of freedom, and by 2013 the building will be ready for occupancy – twelve years after the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorist attacks.
The site will also feature the Reflecting Absence memorial, which will honor the 2,986 men and women who died in the attack.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
With so many sights asking to be seen in New York, the choice is endless but no trip is ever complete without a visit to the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue, built by the pennies of the emigrant Irish with help from other Catholic emigrants.
The Irish made a powerful statement when they chose the 5th Avenue location for their church. During the week, most of them had come to the neighborhood to work for the wealthy. But on Sunday, at least, they could claim a prestigious spot for themselves. When we visited, mass was being celebrated every half hour and large crowds of people were coming and going through the large doors that have witnessed a tide of devotion since this wonderful Cathedral was consecrated in 1879.
Just across the road, at the Rockefeller Center, the weekend throng was whizzing about on the outdoor ice rink, young and old weaving intricate –and uncertain- patterns on their skates in a show of great abandon so typical of life in this amazing city so revered by Frank Sinatra that he named it twice!
Great days recalled
A trip around to Eugene Rooney’s Irish Pub and adjacent restaurant, the Oldcastle, located on 54th St near 7th Ave, which has been open since June of 2000, is always a must. Numerous plasma and flat-screen TV’s beam in all the GAA games and the top English Premiership ties.
Eugene, a native of Kiltimagh in Mayo, played between the posts for Mayo for many years, winning an All-Ireland minor medal in 1966 and a National Football League title in 1970. I have know Eugene since his minor football days, which is well over forty years now, and I cut my journalistic teeth in sport following the 1966 Mayo minor team, a team of all the talents led by Seamus O’Dowd of Ballina.
Eugene always took kindly to me not berating him for what looked like his concession of a very soft goal against Galway in the Connacht Senior football championship of 1968 in Castlebar. At the time, before freeze frame replays I might add, the ball came dropping in from a John Keenan free and Eugene appeared to have it covered, but all of a sudden it was in the back of the Mayo net. In the intervening years the Kiltimagh man has been ribbed for his uncharacteristic ‘soft’ concession, not many realising that the legendary Mattie McDonagh had managed to deflect the ball as the Mayo ’keeper was about to deal with the threat. The two often joked afterwards about the incident; McDonagh claiming he never got credit for his magnificent sleight of hand, while Rooney unjustly got blamed for letting in an easy one in a tight game.
Incidentally, Eugene Rooney is brother of Mary Davis, the woman who ran the show when Ireland hosted the Special Olympics in 2003: she now heads up the Special Olympics movement in Europe/Eurasia. She has responsibility for the development of the 58 Special Olympics programmes across Europe/Eurasia, stretching from Iceland to Kazakhastan.
The world is an increasingly smaller place and even in New York it is possible to bump into people who know the same people as you do. Waiting to get the New Jersey transit bus from the Port Authority to Tom’s River one evening we bumped into an American-born teacher who had taught in Dublin early in her career. As matters transpired, she has relations in the wonderful Barony of Erris in County Mayo, people we know, in fact, and the conversation led down many avenues as we waited for the same bus. Time flew as the conversation developed, and before long others were joining in a jovial discussion as it twisted through many strands, from genealogy to crime to teaching to Barack Obama and his health insurance campaign and onto the world economy. That’s another great thing about New York: the ease at which its citizens drop into friendly conversation when they hear a strange accent, in our case a soft Irish brogue!
Broadway is very representative of New York’s vitality and razzmatazz and after several unsuccessful attempts to see the Lion King in the West End of London and on Broadway over the years, we finally got to see the story of Simba, a lion cub who becomes king of the beasts after an uncertain journey of self discovery and redemption.
Time Magazine called the musical “awe-inspiring! A gorgeous, gasp-inducing spectacle!” And it lives up to the lofty billing, with over 50 million people around the world attending the show since its premiere in the late 1990s.
The entire African savannah comes to life as giraffes strut, birds swoop, gazelles leap on a tapestry of fabulous imagination, and, on the night we attended, the 5,000th performance in New York was about to be clocked up. No wonder what colour, what vitality, what imagination!
My, how time flies when you are having fun! My word counter it telling me I am reaching the limit set by editor John O’Brien, so this column will have to hold over the second part of our American odyssey story, taking in Las Vegas and Boston, until next month.
In the meanwhile, take care of yourselves.
*Article published in Irish American News Ohio (www.ianohio.com)