For generations, Irish people have had a particular affinity with New York City. We've been emigrating there in droves since the famine, but these days, it's significantly more difficult to gain a working visa for the US than it was in recent times. However, there are still Irish folk making it in the city that never sleeps. And if you make it there, apparently you can make it anywhere... or so says Ol' Blue Eyes.
Journalist Orlaith Farrell took the leap herself a couple of years ago, moving from working in Dublin radio to life as a freelancer in the Big Apple, where she lives with her husband. Here, she meets fellow expats that call New York home, and ask them why they were so drawn to what many deem the most influential city in the world.
Katie van Buren
Born in the US but raised in Blanchardstown, Katie Van Buren always knew that she would end up in NYC. She arrived in Brooklyn in July of 2012 and "never looked back".
After graduating from DIT, Katie worked in RTE as a presenter of youth show, The Juice, but decided to capitalise on a summer break to spend some time in the US, sussing out the possibilities.
After a few weeks, and a chance conversation in a coffee shop led to meetings in MTV, Katie was hooked. Walking away from the "dream job" in RTE was tough, but the determined host set her mind to getting behind the mic at music channel, Fuse. "It was insane that it actually happened. I took a photo of the sign, 'I will work there, I will work there'. I knew I had to make it happen and then it did."
The Irish brogue hasn't hindered Katie. "They found it really strong here. I talk slower, that's a work in progress! I think it initially helped to get me in there, the charm of having an accent."
Wearing a band tee and sipping on pink tea, the 26-year-old seems totally at home in her new adopted neighbourhood, the ultra hip South Williamsburg. She's picking apples upstate this weekend but can usually be found around the area with friends, or on her bike.
So, is there anything that would lure Katie away from Brooklyn and back to Ireland? "I really love it here and I feel like it's my home. I'm very blessed with the career. I would definitely fly home for a show. I love moving around. I have no attachments and I'm very lucky at this stage in my life."
It's not about the bars or the nightlife, of Brooklyn though. The real magic of New York, for Katie, lies in the possibility it offers. "When I got here first, I would go across the Williamsburg Bridge and look at all the lights in all those buildings. I would think to myself, all you need is one of those people, in one of those buildings to give you a chance.
"I just need one. If that one says no, look at all the other lights."
He may own one of the coolest bars in Manhattan and have a litany of celebs on speed dial, but for James Morrissey, it’s business as usual.
The Dubliner owns The Late Late Bar on East Houston, a pub and club that has quickly become the downtown destination for trendy New Yorkers.
His entrepreneurial spirit was ignited while studying at UCD, when he set up his company, Signature Group, to operate and promote events in clubs around Ireland.
The company flourished, packing what had once been failing venues and attracting young people to their mailing lists in the thousands.
The natural progression, James admits, would have been to open a bar in Dublin, but he was deterred by an explosion of new venues and restaurants in a market where the “numbers going out were the same”.
In 2012, he set his eyes on New York and approached the bar scene like any other business venture. The 28-year-old was keen to move away from the Irish pub concept, insisting it’s fundamentally a “good product, but it needs to be tweaked”.
“We’ve gone against the grain in terms of an Irish-owned establishment. The Irish elements of the venue are very subtle but Irish people get it.”
You can expect to find Guinness in the Lower East Side local, but it’s served over ice with a sprig of mint in a crystal goblet (and it’s delicious). The music in the venue comes with an edge, thanks to the involvement of Dan Ackroyd, the lead guitarist of Florence and the Machine, who has an interest in the project.
Modestly admitting that he has “good contacts” when probed on the famous people flocking to the bar, James says Dan’s involvement plays a part. “We have attracted some interesting characters over the past few months, the fact that Rob is in the industry definitely helps that.”
One Direction’s Niall Horan was one of those characters, who delighted punters one Friday night recently when he took to the decks after an evening partying in the pub. A mecca for trendy young Irish and discerning locals in Manhattan is only the beginning for James, who is eyeing an American empire.
“Thankfully it’s going very well. My plan coming over here wasn’t to open one venue. I’m hoping to roll out a number of different concepts in the United States.”
A recent arrival to NYC, Samantha Barry's career has already reached heights as dizzying as the buildings she now inhabits. The Cork native is leading the social media revolution at one of the world's most established news networks, taking on the role of head of social news and senior director of strategy at CNN.
The path from Ballincollig to Columbus Circle has been a global one for Samantha, who, after stints in RTE and Newstalk, travelled the world working for ABC Australia and the US State Department, training young journalists.
In 2012, she started working with BBC World News in London where she had the chance to focus her skills as a social news producer. From relentless over-nights on the 2FM news desk, to directing CNN anchors on social media strategy, it was a stint in Papua New Guinea that changed Samantha's career trajectory. As the country was flooded with smartphones and Facebook quickly replaced radio, she understood the changing nature of information consumption.
Now she challenges millennials to consider where their career can take them, beyond the traditional aspirations of war reporting and becoming a TV anchor, and to encourage them to view how their peers get news. "If you can be the best reporter in your sphere, then you're going to kick ass."
It's not all business though, with Samantha hitting Irish headlines herself recently when she was papped at the star-studded wedding of her close friend Amal Alamuddin to George Clooney in Venice. From social news to social nights, getting to know New York is next on the agenda for Samantha. "Here's the thing, I went clubbing the other day, and I can't do it any more!
"A restaurant with good people-watching, good food and good wine - that's the perfect New York evening."
The charismatic Corkonian is already on top of the world as we chat overlooking Central Park, so what next? "I'd like to be at a dinner party in a year's time and for someone to not know what I do - and to have them turn around and say 'CNN are kicking ass on social. They are doing really cool things on social media'."
“Look, there’s New York,” John Duddy is on FaceTime to his mother as I arrive to meet him on a street in Queens. It’s a beautiful sunny day and he’s on his way to rehearsals. He slowly pans the phone across the Manhattan skyline. “Right mam, I have to go”, but he promises to Skype again soon.
The former middleweight champion boxer may have terrified opponents under the moniker of “The Derry Destroyer” during his career, but in person, he’s utterly charming, admits to crying at Kleenex ads and peppers every conversation with references to his family, particularly his teenage sweetheart turned wife, Grainne. The 35-year-old shocked the boxing community (“well those who didn’t know me”) when he retired in 2011, but has since embarked on an acting career that is on the cusp of making him not just a sporting hero, but a household name.
Art will imitate life when fans get to see Duddy back in the ring next year, but on the big screen in a potentially career-making role as Scottish boxer Ken Buchanan in Robert De Niro’s new movie, Hands of Stone. He describes his wife’s jaw dropping when he answered the phone on speaker in the car one day, to the unmistakable drawl of the Raging Bull star: “Hey John. It’s Bobby.”
The Derry native decided to try his hand on stage after the instinct to fight dwindled. He admits both fighting and acting are similar. “There’s no safety net”. Working odd jobs to pay the bills alongside late-night rehearsals are starting to pay off. He recently starred in the video for the new Bon Jovi single and has just finished a run of sold-out performances in a new play at the New York Fringe Festival.
As someone who retired at the top of his game in one arena, John doesn’t give too much consideration to being the next big thing. He’s not acting for the fame.
“I didn’t box to be famous, I boxed to be successful. To get paid for doing what I loved doing. I’m getting paid now by odd jobs here and there, but I can act. If something happens, happy days. If not, I’m still working and putting bread on the table.”
Despite celebrating his ninth year in New York this month, Aidan Keogh still describes himself as “Aidan from Cabra”. The make-up artist has helped some of the city’s most well-known faces get red carpet ready, but before working with A-listers like Kim Kardashian, Diane Von Fursterberg and every model you can think of, his career began in MAC in Brown Thomas.
Under the tutorage of Paula Callan, Aidan became an educator in the group but got the “golden ticket” when the company sponsored him to train other aspiring artists in the US. Soon, his editorial and private work started to outstrip his full-time salary — it was time to go out on his own. As well as editorial and fashion, Aidan now works with a very specific set of women, New York’s society ladies. “I feel like I have lucked out, I have found my niche. I do really well with the ‘one per centers’.”
Tactile and witty, it’s not hard to imagine him charming the socks off every woman he meets. A “good personality” is important in this line of work. “I make people look beautiful but I need to make connections with people so they ultimately feel beautiful. You’re selling an experience. Make-up washes away, but the experience lasts a lifetime. If someone can relate to you, they’ll want to have you around.”
He’s now laying the foundations for ultimately his own product line, which has already been patented and trademarked. The beauty essentials range, inspired in part by his mum, won’t be aimed at the Park Avenue set but will “appeal to the masses, to live with the classes”.
One of seven, he inherits his steely determination from his mother, which has given him the work ethic to succeed in the often brutal world of NYC. “I have seen the world twice over, I get to spend time with my family. I feel very grateful and fortunate to do what I do.”
What do you need to make it in this city? “Come with an open mind and coin in the bank,” he jokes.
New York has sunk her hooks into this Dubliner, who says he belongs here. It feels right, it has since the moment he stepped off the plane. “This might not be everyone else’s dream, but it’s my dream.”
Tenacious and talented, at 15 years of age Dean Quinn called Zandra Rhodes in London to ask for a job. He left Enniskillen the following Easter to intern with the designer — a stint that was just the beginning of a stellar career in fashion.
Recognising his unique flair, colleagues there suggested he study design at Central St Martin’s College. “I don’t know what that is, where is that? Is it a religious college?” he jokes.
He may not have initially known about the prestigious design school, whose alumni includes Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, but he was accepted and “it changed my life”.
His “love/hate relationship” with New York began on his placement year when he took an overdraft and arrived in Manhattan to search for a job. “I was 21, and my mum was freaking out!”
After seven months interning at 3S4, Dean was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: an internship at Vogue. However, he was dealt a cruel immigration card when his visa was declined, sending him deflated back to London for the final year of college.
“It was the best thing, I was on my way towards styling but I went back to St Martins with a new focus.”
Awards and a spot at London Fashion Week followed, where Donatella Versace spotted one of his dresses and summoned him to Milan. After killing time with a suitcase of his designs in a local park, he thought a meeting with a junior designer was in store, but it was Donatella herself who flicked through the gowns, saying, “This is Gianni!” and offered him a job on the spot.
Following Versace, he went to work for Prada before designing his own range. Work has been bringing the Enniskillen man to New York, on and off, for six years now.
Like all New Yorkers, he suffers brief but fleeting flashes of desire to leave. “I have gone to Paris for an interview, and thought get me back to New York right now!”
Passionate about art, the 29-year-old can be found most evenings and weekends in one of the city’s museums or galleries. The appeal of NYC lies in its possibility for the designer. “Here, people are willing to take a risk on someone. If someone sees something in you, they will invest in you. They’re not hung up on age and status.”
"New York is like a big ship... and the water's on fire." Tom Waits offered that colourful description during one of his many memorable visits to David Letterman on Broadway. It was as accurate as any, and in 100 years of movies, filmmakers have been drawn to the city's streets.