June 9, 2022, afternoon. It’s my first day in New York City – Canal Street, the Chinatown district – I’m with two friends, one from Louth and one from Mayo, and we’re wondering which direction we need to move in to find our hotel. Mobile data’s too expensive and open WiFi is proving surprisingly elusive, so we’re alone with our brains here.
It’s not the toughest to figure out – we’re in the 200s, we need to get to building number 125, and the numbers are descending as we ascend the street – but the adrenaline is pumping. This is exactly the kind of mild uncertainty I came for during my four-night holiday.
In my 29 years, I’ve been lost once. It was in Dingle Mart, I was only a toddler, and my father wasn’t that far away if I’d spent that minute looking rather than crying. To phrase things differently, I haven’t seen enough of the world to get lost in, or so I’m told by those who say I need to broaden my horizons.
And as I was reminded at the airport, no matter where I go in Ireland other than Dingle Mart, I’ll never be truly lost. My friends and I had sat down with a pint in Shannon for not five minutes when a woman from Feothanach came over and said hello to me.
That wasn’t the most adventurous start to my great adventure, but in Chinatown, things are already clearly different. I’ve never been asked to buy a counterfeit Rolex in Lios Póil, but it’s already happened twice here, and I’ve never felt so alive.
Still recovering from the buzz of being offered a cheap watch for a not-cheap price, I could have forgiven myself for walking past our hotel, but I’ve kept my wits about me. 125 Canal Street. The Leon. Around the corner from the Buddhist temple. My new home, 4,900 kilometres from Kerry.
As we settle at reception, my Louth travel companion points at a TV screen next to the check-in desk and says ‘Isn’t that Kerry?’. To his ‘sarcastic’ question, I sarcastically respond yes, but then I look up and realise that one of the recent Star Wars films is on screen.
It actually is Kerry. The first thing I’ve seen on a New York TV screen is Skellig Mhichíl.
That’s a coincidence.
June 9, 2022, evening time.
After briefly boarding a subway travelling away from Woodside in Queens, we’re now on a subway travelling towards our destination, that is to say Woodside in Queens.
Yes, in the spirit of American adventure, we’re going to an Irish pub, one owned by a Listowel man. My cousin. Jim O’Sullivan is proprietor of Seán Óg’s.
We’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours, “but we’re not even tired”, and even if we were, the sounds of a New York Rangers hockey game as we enter Seán Óg’s knock us into gear.
We take a seat, and the Louth man tells me he saw a Listowel signpost behind the bar. I didn’t see it, but I don’t care; this is hardly a Skellig Mhichíl moment given that a Listowel man runs this place.
Our waitress – from Monaghan – tells us Jim isn’t in, so there goes my plan to surprise him. It wasn’t a very well-planned plan, in hindsight. Never mind, we’ve ordered some food and a pint regardless, but from the moment of embracing our drinks, we realise we are tired after all. We leave as soon as we’ve been fed, though with some extra pep when we hear we got a round on the house. I don’t know Jim well, but I’ve always liked him.
June 10, 2022.
I’m at a New York Yankees game. They’re facing the Chicago Cubs in a sport known as baseball, which is exactly the kind of sport I would like. It’s tedious.
But when the PA blares ‘YMCA’ around the stadium, I lose interest. I’d planned on getting away from Kerry, but not this far. We leave before the game ends.
On our way to the heavily recommended Mean Fiddler, we stop in Connolly’s Bar on 47th Street for a post-match pint. We’re talking to the bar lady about Northern Ireland for some reason, and I make an intelligent point I’ve learned off about the protocol, but she tells me that she can’t understand my accent and has no hope of ever doing so. I apologise for being from Kerry. She laughs. We leave, but we took the pen we used to sign our receipt. We now have seven pens.
We get to the Mean Fiddler, and they have Taytos behind the bar. They also have a framed Kerry jersey; a 2004 vintage, I’d wager, going by its double-yellow sleeve.
We get talking to a few people from Monaghan, only to be told there’s a Beaufort girl in their group. This is getting weird.
June 11, 2022.
I need breakfast. We walk to a nice place in Little Italy, and on our way we pass ‘Kenmare Street’. This is getting weirder.
We’re at the Grey Dog, which does an all-day breakfast, merciful given that it’s past noon. A waiter asks me if I’m okay, which I’m not as I have not yet ordered food.
As we converse, I recognise that he has an Irish accent. We converse further, and I twig his accent is more familiar even than that. Mine is to him as well, it seems, as he asks me if I’m from Dingle.
I’m not of course – I’m Lios Póil – but he is.
His name is Cian O’Connor, and he has worked here for the past six months. He asks me if I know his sister, and I do. She was one year below me in school.
He’s a nice fella and gives me a Coke on the house. A free mineral goes down well as I come to terms with knowing I am and must always be surrounded by Kerry, even in Manhattan.
I leave a $5 service tip; $2.50 because Cian is an excellent waiter, $2.50 because he previously attended Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.
June 14, 2022.
I’m back in Kerry, feeling like I’d never left, albeit I have lots of ‘I Love NY’ gifts. And COVID.