WITH its homely, dive-bar atmosphere, and televisions blasting local sports shows, The Saloon Bar on New York's Long Island isn't exactly the kind of place you would expect a newly minted multi-millionairess to be hanging out.
But unbelievably, Patricia 'Trisha' Eisel, one of Long Beach's wealthiest residents, doesn't just socialise at this bar -- she works here. Despite recently winning $21.5m (€15.6m) in the New York State lottery, the 40-year-old Offaly woman is still on the bar's roster and when she gets back from a short holiday she will return to serve foamy pints to customers she could buy and sell for tips that should mean nothing to her.
At first this was billed as an example of Trisha's loyalty and indeed it was here that Trisha's colleagues and friends rallied around after her husband Jamie, with whom Trisha has three boys, left her last year. "She was extremely upset," one colleague tells the Sunday Independent. "She came here from Ireland to build a life for herself and it seemed to be falling in around her ears. He had been seeing another woman and he left her; he moved out. They were separated but they hadn't gone further, nothing was legal. Getting divorced is very expensive in New York. You need a lawyer. She was working a few different jobs, babysitting and waitressing to make ends meet. I don't think she could afford it."
All of this means there may also be another, less heartwarming reason for Trisha continuing to work at the bar, however, she might still need the money. In recent weeks her husband has begun divorce proceedings and, according to her lawyer, Dorothy Going, he has legally restrained her from spending any of the lottery cash until the distribution of the assets is decided.
Though the local press have revelled in the poetic justice of it being the "love rat's turn to cry", New York divorce law actually calls for the "equitable distribution" of assets between a man and wife. American lawyers have said that depending on how much he has supported the family since splitting from Trisha, Jamie could be entitled to a very substantial chunk of her winnings. Court documents reveal Jamie to be the subject of three legal claims totalling $8,000 (€5,800), meaning the thrice-married ironworker has a powerful incentive to go after her money. According to American legal experts, he could be entitled to half of the $21.5m. What could be "equitable" about splitting the lottery winnings with her husband is anyone's guess.
By the time Trisha swapped Tullamore for America in 1995, Jamie Eisel had already racked up two marriages.
He married his high school sweetheart Danielle in the late '80s but that union didn't last long. While working as a car salesman in the North Western US state of Oregon in the early '90s he met Leisa Anderson. He soon moved in with her and looked after the two children she had from a previous relationship. They were happy for a time. Within five years, however, their domestic bliss lay in tatters. Leisa began to suspect her husband was having an affair with one of her female relatives.
"We used to hang out at a dance club, and they'd be slow dancing all night," Leisa said. "That was a good portion of why we fell out of love.
"I told Jamie that I wanted a divorce, and when he went back to New York for a family funeral, I told him not to come back. Later I was told by another family member that he was having an affair with that relative." After Jamie moved back to New York, he met and married his third wife, Trisha and they had three boys together -- Cory aged nine, Ryan aged seven and Liam aged four.
Jamie remained in touch with the woman with whom Leisa suspected he was having the affair.
Leisa told a reporter that when she travelled to New York and met the couple she warned Trisha that she should keep a close eye on Jamie.
Leisa also said she wasn't surprised to hear Jamie had left the marriage, but had expected to be told he had left the Irishwoman for the same relative he'd previously been suspected of having an affair with. Instead, Jamie left Trisha for a woman he knew in a nearby Long Island town. This woman also has her own children and Jamie never moved in with her, preferring to rent nearby accommodation. Although Jamie and Trisha share custody of their three sons, the boys continue to live with Trisha, and she reportedly provided the majority of their financial support since the split.
And that was the way things still stood last December when Trisha was stranded in New York, a victim of the snowstorms that paralysed airports all across America's east coast, and much of Europe. She never did make it home for Christmas, but, on January 5, seeing how large the jackpot was, she played the lottery at a Sand Castle Fine Wines and Spirits.
Using $8 she had made earlier in tips, Eisel played a combination of six numbers that included her birthday: 4 -- 6 -- 11 -- 18 -- 20 -- 33. It was only later, when she was cleaning clothes at a local laundromat, that she decided to check her numbers. She checked and re-checked, convinced her mind was playing tricks on her.
"My heart was pumping so fast that I didn't know what to think," according to Eisel when she found that her numbers matched.
She rang a friend, left her clothes behind at the laundro mat, picked up her three young children, and two hours later remembered to pick up her laundry.
"Their laundry didn't get folded, it just got thrown in the bag," she laughed. She didn't phone Ireland to tell her mother, Margaret Daly, initially, she added, because she was afraid the shock would kill her. Trisha had wanted to keep the secret and jet back into Ireland to surprise everyone. However, the surprise was ruined by a blundering newspaper reporter.
Eisel eventually claimed her prize at the New York State Lottery's Customer Service Centre in Garden City on January 18, and she and several other lesser lottery winners displayed their oversized checks at the Garden City Hotel on January 27. Eisel opted for a one-time lump sum payment that, after withholdings, will net her $7.9m -- about €5.8m. "She's had to struggle monthly to support her children," said her lawyer, Dorothy Going. "So this is just a God send."
In the long tradition of new lottery winners, Trisha swore nothing would really change. "I'm going to be a full-time mom, but I don't want my customers to think I left because I done this," she said in her still heavy midlands accent. "There's enough people at the bar that need the shifts, too.
"I just want to do it to be close to family. Just to be there and see them."
She said she saw the amazing irony in the way she came to purchase the ticket.
"If I got out I wouldn't have bought the ticket," she said during a press conference. "I wouldn't have been home. It's karma." Her spending will be modest, she says.
"I will buy a home, not a house, in New York," she said. "Something very comfortable with a big, fenced-in yard that the boys can run around in.
"I know they'll be thrilled when I tell them we'll also buy a dog to run around the yard with them."
Whether her good humour remains through her negotiations with Jamie remains to be seen.
The freeze on her winnings has meant that all of the usual post lottery spending has had to be curtailed -- she even flew home on an economy flight after the win.
This week the father of three was seen outside his rented home in Island Park, Long Island and is understood to have picked up mail from his Irish wife's home.
He did not respond to an email requesting an interview. "Whatever happens with him, I don't think she's too worried," an American friend told the Sunday Independent.
"If she's allowed spend the money she's going to take her three boys to Disneyland, that's her priority.
"She'll see about him when she gets back."