Monday, December 12, 2011

New York: 20 months, scores of adventures

At the end of this week I will be returning to Ireland after 20 months living in New York City.  I've also decided to retire this blog, which really is a collection (not comprehensive) of some of the journalism work I've done during my time in the Big Apple.

But before I finish, I've decided to list 75 interesting things that I've done in New York while I've been here. Some are big momentous events, others are small things that I derived pleasure from. It's by no means everything I've done, and it's not in any particular order! Enjoy!

1.        Reported live from the celebrations at Ground Zero on the night that Osama Bin Laden was killed by US Forces

2.       Saw Kelsey Grammar (Frasier) in La Cage Aux Folles, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) in How to Succeed in Business, and indulged my Broadway addiction further by attending Chicago, Avenue Q, Catch Me If You Can, Follies, The Adams Family, Spiderman, and the brilliant Next to Normal.

3.         Been on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street for opening bell during a visit by then Taoiseach Brian Cowen

4.        Attended a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart twice

5.       Was giving a personal tour of the redevelopment at Ground Zero, including signing my name on the steel girders of the new Tower One

6.        Saw at chair being sold for $2m at Christie’s Auction House and attended other high-value auctions - strange experiences!

7.        Watched the Thanksgiving Day Macy’s parade and indulged in turkey dinners, corn bread and all the trimmings!

8.        Cheered on participants, including friends, in the New York Marathon

9.     Attended the recording of New York auditions for America's Got Talent   (concluded it doesn't!)

10.        Met former Irish president Mary Robinson at a UN report launch

11.        Played roulette in the casinos at Atlantic City

12.        Watched New York Rangers play an ice hockey game at Madison Square Garden

13.        Relaxed with a blanket, a book and an ipod on Chelsea Piers on sunny summer afternoons

14.        Attended free lunchtime Broadway performances at Bryant Park during summer months

15.         Brunch at Garage in Greenwich Village with a live jazz band on a Sunday - nice

16.        Took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty about 40 times

17.        Checked out the Dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum

18.        Watched the Fourth of July fireworks from my apartment balcony

19.        Frozen Margheritas and the best Mexican food ever at Baby Bo's (34th and 2nd)

20.        Took in free outdoor concerts in Madison Square Park on summer evenings

21.        Walked through Central Park as it changed colours through the year, especially beautiful in October and November

22.       Oysters and champagne lunch at the famous Balthazars restaurant in Soho  

23.        Dressed as a Smurf for Halloween and took part in the one million strong Fancy Dress Parade through the Village

24.        Viewed works by Picasso, Van Gogh and Metisse at the MoMa (Museum of Modern Art)

25.        Walked through the grounds of Harvard University during a trip to Boston

26.        Ate at Mao, an amazing uber-trendy Chinese restaurant that thinks it’s a nightclub. Those who know these kind of things tell me it was in Sex and the City

27.        Attended art exhibition openings at different galleries in Chelsea

28.        Saw Bell X1 play an acoustic gig at La Poussin Rouge in the Village, and six months later rock it out at the Bowery Ballroom

29.        Cheered on the New York Gay Pride parade

30.        Walked the Brooklyn Bridge regularly

31.        Enjoyed receptions at the spectacular residence of the Irish Consul, which used to be owned by singer Luther Vandross.

32.        Relaxed on the beach at Asbury Park, New Jersey

33.        Sang along at a Sound of Music Singalong screening in Chelsea Cinema complete with drag nuns!

34.        Played Ping Pong at an outdoor Sunday market in Chinatown

35.     Relaxed on the High Line Park in Chelsea

36.     Looked out at the city from the Top of the Rock at Rockafeller Plaza

37.     Eaten many Buttermilk fried chicken or tasty burgers at Vinyl in Hell's Kitchen (51 and 9)

38.     Went to see comedienne Lisa Lampanelli at the beautiful Beacon Theatre

39.     Walked Boston's freedom trail during a second visit to the original Tea Party city

40.     Visited American's oldest lighthouse at Sandy Hook beach, New Jersey

41.     Partied at Rockit, Bartini, Industry, Splash, Boxers, Griffin, Ritz, and too many other New York hotspots to list here! Mucho fun.

42.     Attended a taping of The Colbert Report

43.     Saw comedians Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan and Daniel Kitson for free at a comedy night at the tiny Upright Citizens Theatre

44.     Attended a reading by Booker-nominated author Emma Donoghue of her novel "Room" at the Irish Arts Center

45.     Checked out Canadian rockers My Morning Jacket at Terminal Five

46.     Dinner at the upmarket David Burke Townhouse during Restaurant Week

47.     Visited the Irish Famine Memorial in Lower Manhattan

48.     Attended World Premiere of Gay Zombie Porn movie  by Bruce LaBruce at the Mix Queer Arts Festival (don't ask!)

49.     Went to the top of the Empire State Building

50.     Enjoyed Red Velvet Cheesecake and other delights from the renowned Magnolia Bakery

51.    Strolled around the Columbia University campus and surrounding area

52.   Spent a weekend at Wild Wood, New Jersey - lovely seaside resort

53.  Was inside City Hall and met Mayor Michael Bloomberg

54.   Celebs spotted walking down the street include Matthew Perry, Susan Sarandon, Jay Brannan, Zachary Quinto, Jared Leto and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (No i did not ask for pics or autographs)

55.  Went to a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman

56.   Covered the premiere of U2's Spiderman musical from the red carpet - Cindy Crawford, Bobby De Niro, Bill Clinton and others were there.

57.  Visited Washington DC twice, including spotting President Obama on his back lawn on one occasion

58.  Interviewed Christine Quinn, speaker of NYC City council, and one of the favorites to be the next mayor of New York

59.   Watched the NYC St Patrick's Day Parade

60.  Helped produce several broadcasts by The John Murray Show and one from Morning Ireland ex New York, including leading over 100 people on a walk around Central Park

61.  Saw Julie Feeney in concert and interviewed here twice - lovely lady

62.  Protest city! Visited Zucotti Park during Occupy Wall Street protests this year, and the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" protests last year.

63.  Spotted 30 Rock filming near my house, Glee filming near the Lincoln Center, Gossip Girl at the Meatpacking District and the new Spiderman movie filming in the Flatiron area.

64.  Had a magical night at Other Voices New York with performances from Glen Hansard, Martha Wainwright, Bell X1, The National, Justin Bond, Martin Hayes, Damien Rice, and readings by Paul Durcan, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann, Joseph O'Connor, Gabriel Byrne and many more.

65.  Spent evenings at Town Council meetings in Greenwich Connecticut and poring over land records to cover developer Sean and Gayle Dunne's dispute with neighbors at their new $2m house there

66.  Attended a performance by Camerata Ireland orchestra at Carnegie Hall

67. Saw an early performance of the new Once musical based on the Irish Oscar winning film, which moves onto Broadway in Spring 2012 (I predict big things for it!)

68.  Interviewed families and friends of victims of 911 as part of my coverage of the 10 year anniversary of the attacks here

69.   Survived the hurricane that never happened, as New York shut down in anticipation of being struck by Hurricane Irene

70.  Took a trip to the Canadian capital of Ottawa and toured its Parliament buildings

71.  Hosted a Eurovision party at my apartment with some bemused US friends and more excitable European ones

72.  Saw Tori Amos concert at the Beacon Theatre

73.  Enjoyed many Irish theater productions on their visits to New York including Mimic, Bogboy, Temporal Powers, John Gabriel Borkman.

74.   Enjoyed a Circle Line ferry Cruise around Manhattan

75.  Attended the US Open tennis championships at Flushing Meadows, and saw Serena Williams win her semi-final.


The list is meant primarily as a record of my time here for my own memory, but I decided to share with you - not to make you jealous, but maybe to inspire you to take an adventure too!

It was January 2010 when I took a two year career break from my job in RTE.

And along with living in Manhattan, I think I should remind myself of some 15 other cool things I did since then:

1.  Visited Rio De Janeiro, although it rained most of the time I was there! My view from the Christ the Redeemer statue was a bit ruined by clouds!

2.  Relaxed on the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

3.   Island-hopped off the Brazilian coastline at Parati

4.  Camped roadside with new friends on the Kumuka Truck/Bus trip across Brazil

5.  Horse-riding though the Brazilian Pantanals (swampland/jungle)

6.  Wildlife spotting in the Pantanals including alligators, and wild hogs

7.  Fished for piranha in the Brazilian rivers

8.  Snorkelled in the crystal clear waters of Bonito

9. Viewed the spectacular Iguazu Falls from all sides, from the air, and from underneath.

10.  Enjoyed an old-school BBQ in the Uruguayan town of Durazno

11.  Visited Uruguay's capital Montevideo

12.  Ate countless delicious steaks in Argentina

13.  Did my best Evita impressions outside Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, and visted Eva Peron's grave in the impressive Ricoletta cemeteries

14.  Checked out Diego Maradona's home suburb of La Boca

15.  Took a Tango lesson in Buenos Aires

Here is some final food for thought about my two years.

When I was last in Ireland:

- The IMF were not involved in any way with Ireland's financial affairs

- Gerry Ryan was still alive and hosting his 2fm radio show

- Jedward were best known as a joke act from the X Factor

- Gay civil partnerships were not allowed in Ireland

- Enda Kenny was considered a liability for FG, who were trying to oust him

A lot can happen in two years. Make the most of your time! LIVE THE BEST LIFE YOU CAN!!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


A rare first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses has failed to sell at auction in New York despite attracting bids up to $420,000.

And the first ever collection of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623 – described as the most important book in English literature – was also withdrawn from sale after failing to meet the reserve price.

Both books were in the collection of a private British collector which went under the hammer at Sotheby’s in Manhattan Thursday.

Sotheby’s described the copy of Ulysses as “one of the most important” copies of Joyce’s classic to ever come to public auction.

Bids opened at $260,000 and quickly rose in increments of $20,000 among several bidders.  But interest evaporated once the price rose to $420,000 – shy of the $450,000-$550,000 estimate.  Not only was the first edition signed by Joyce, but the book itself has a fascinating history.

It was originally owned by Sylvia Beach, the American woman who ran the bookshop in Paris which published Ulysses in 1922. She kept a personal copy of the novel, which was signed by the author. During World War II, Beach was forced to close her shop and was interned by the Nazis. Her release was secured by an American living in Paris at the time, Tudor Wilkinson, and as a token of her gratitude, she gave Wilkinson the book as a gift.

Ulysses is one of the most sought after works for rare book collectors. Just one thousand copies of the first edition were printed, and of those, 100 were published on Dutch manuscript paper and signed by the author. The book on sale in New York Thursday was one of those 100. Only around one third of those are in private ownership, which makes them even more valuable.

Two other Joyce books - first editions of Dubliners and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man – also went under the hammer at last night’s auction in New York and also failed to reach their asking prices of $150,000 and $40,000 respectively. Just two Joyce works from the collection sold – a first English edition of Ulysses from 1936 and Collected Poems (1936) went for $6,000 and $17,500 respectively.

But Joyce’s Ulysses was not alone in not selling.

A first folio of Shakespeare plays from 1623 – considered the most important book in English literature and, along with the King James Bible published a few years earlier, one of the two greatest books of the English language – also failed to meet its reserve price of $600,000.

Experts say without the publication of this folio after Shakespeare’s death, 18 of his plays including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, A Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, The Tempest, Henry VIII, Twelfth Night and others, would have been lost forever.

Of the 750 copies made, only 220 are known to exist. This copy attracted bids of up to $550,000 before being withdrawn.

A third folio of Shakespeare plays published in 1664 did sell at Sotheby’s for $542,500. That collection is considered the rarest of the 17th century editions of Shakespeare, as a large number of copies were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Is it all over for David Norris?

David Norris’s presidential campaign is dead in the water according to two separate opinion polls published in the past 24 hours.

Red C has him on 14%, fourth in the race.

Ipsos/MRBI puts him fifth, with just 11%.

For someone who held the lead in several polls during the summer, it’s a disaster.

And while Sean Gallagher has gained the momentum at a crucial time, Norris is going in the opposite direction.

The controversies over the clemency letters have dragged him down, and he needs a minor miracle to recover.

If you were in his campaign team, what move would you make right now to try to turn it around?

Here are a few ideas I had:

The only glimmer of hope in the polls for Norris is that when Red C asked the public, which of the candidates they would most like to invite over for dinner, he topped the poll (19pc). This shows that there remains a personal regard for Norris – many people still like him, despite all the controversies, they just can’t see him as president.  So the task for Norris is to get those people, who still like him, to believe again that he’d make a good president.

1 – High Profile Endorsements
He needs a series of high profile endorsements from people who are widely respected by the Irish public. People who could say, ‘I know David, I’ve seen what he’s done for Ireland, and I think he’s someone we could trust and be proud of as president’.  The name Mary Robinson comes to mind, given that she worked alongside him for years as they fought for the decriminalization of homosexuality. But obviously, as a former president, there is no way she can do it. But he needs people of that calibre. (Any ideas for who?) A series of endorsements could help change the narrative, because if someone like, say Colm O’Gorman, could come out and say they accept his regret over the letters, then maybe he can move past the issue.

2 – Play Up the Gay
I’ve argued before that rather than being a hindrance to him, the fact that he is gay is one of his strongest assets. He needs to raise the issue: “Is Ireland ready for a gay president?” If he can make that question a central part of the election, he will do better. Because I think the answer for a lot of the population is yes. Certainly, among those who could be persuaded to vote for him. A vote for him, is a vote for Ireland’s first gay president, a vote for something that would make history, a vote that would tell the world Ireland is out from under the yoke of Catholicism – that’s something that people could get behind. It’s also a subject that he’s on solid ground with, and that he can get passionate about.

3 – Anti-establishment credentials
He should be releasing collections of quotes and clips from speeches he has made in the Seanad over the years that show how often he was vocal in his opposition to policies that everyone now agrees were wrong. He voted against the bank guarantee, he opposed the war in Iraq – he needs to remind people that he has been on the right side of many of the big issues over the past two decades.

4 – Tone it down in media interviews
I know fans of the West Wing would argue that we need to just “let Norris be Norris” but his media appearances over the past week were awful. He needs to stop shouting, he needs to know when to pick his interjections and when to shut up. His attempts at playing the “everyman” are cringe-worthy. We all know he’s not a regular guy – he’s the colorful scholar of Joyce with a plummy accent and high intelligence. Less pomp, more realism.

5 – Courting transfers
We all know whoever wins such a crowded field is going to need to be strong on winning transfers from other candidates. Michael D and Sean Gallagher understood this when they facilitated Norris. Gallagher’s popular stunts on posters and letters are resonating, because they are common sense – even though they are nothing to do with presidency itself, but others should be jumping on board. I was surprised how small Norris’s transfers were from the likes of Mary Davis. It’s time for Norris to start looking for number 2s, especially from those candidates who are behind him, or very close to him in the polls. (He’d get a lot from Michael D and McGuinness, but he needs to get ahead of them before elimination so not much use)

None of these might be enough to stem the tide at this stage. The letters issue has been hugely damaging. His prepared legal statement at the official launch yesterday was his best attempt to deal with it, but really it was far too late having spent a week and a half faffing about on the issue. At this stage, when it comes to the letters, all he can say is that although people are interested in what’s in them, and the media are of course dying to find out what juice is in there, it’s not necessarily the same thing as the public interest. He has his legal advice, and either people believe that he’s following that or they believe he’s lying about it. He could challenge the other candidates to say whether or not they believe he’s lying about it. The letters are what they are – a plea for clemency for someone close to him after he’d been convicted, not an attempt to stop the conviction. I'm sure he regrets ever writing them now. But most people accept that, in his position, they too might have written for mercy for someone they loved. The problem is the defensiveness he's exuded in the past week. It looks like he's hiding something, a howler as Vincent Browne put it. Norris himself has never done anything to harm anyone, after all.  

But controversy is toxic to an Irish presidential race. Whether it's Mary Davis and the boards, or Norris and the letters, if enough of a fuss is created about them, then people will just go for the safe pair of hands, with none of the crap flying about. And who could blame them? We all know that even Norris is giving his number two to Michael D.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

700 arrested on Brooklyn Bridge - Occupy Wall St protest

700 people were arrested Saturday evening on the Brooklyn Bridge - they were taking part in a demonstration called Occupy Wall Street.

Inspired by the Arab Spring, the movement aims to give a voice to the 99% of the population in America, against the 1% that controls most of the wealth.

The arrests, along with an over zealous use of pepper spray by police a week earlier and the endorsement of high profile figures like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon, have brought the demonstration to international attention.

I talked about it with RTE's Morning Ireland - you'll find the report at the link below.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DSK seeks diplomatic immunity in civil case brought by hotel maid

Former IMF chief Dominque Strass-Kahn is seeking to have the civil case against him by a hotel maid who accuses him of sexual assault at a New York hotel in May dismissed.

The former front-runner in the French presidential election is claiming diplomatic immunity from civil litigation.

You'll find my report on the developments for RTE Radio 1's Morning Ireland at the link below.


Palestine’s bid for membership of the United Nations is “entirely legitimate and understandable”, Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore told the UN General Assembly in New York. 

Mr Gilmore said Palestine had “the same right to membership of the United Nations as Ireland, or any other Member of the organization”, a remark that prompted applause from sections of the chamber. He promised Ireland’s “full support” in any vote on a proposal to admit Palestine as a member, or as an interim step, to give Palestine non-member observer status.

Mr Gilmore also held separate meetings yesterday with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and the Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki. The UN Security Council has begun consultations on the application by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But the United States has threatened to veto the bid, even if Palestinians get the support of the required nine of the 15 members.

In his address to the Assembly, Mr Gilmore said that membership of the UN would not change the situation on the ground, or remove “the compelling need for negotiations”. But he said recognition of Palestinian statehood would “give dignity and support to the Palestinian people who have suffered for far too long”.
He called on Israel to halt all settlement expansion, and to end the blockade of Gaza by opening up land crossings to normal commercial, human and humanitarian crossings.

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Gilmore praised the Arab Spring uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East as inspiring and historic. “We must ensure that the democratic changes underway are consolidated,” he said, “And that the promise of profound improvements in human rights in the countries concerned, particularly in relation to the role of women, is fully realized.”

He pledged Ireland’s support for the National Transition Council in Libya. But he expressed concern about the situation in Syria and warned President Assad that “no leader who refuses to listen to what his people are saying…can expect to remain in power.”

Mr Gilmore outlined Ireland’s determination to fighting world hunger, and said the government remained committed to achieving the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNP in Official Development Assistance. He said the international community had a moral obligation to act in the face of suffering in the Horn of Africa.

The Tanaiste also defended the United Nations itself, in the face of criticism from some countries. He said no other organization had the same global impact and legitimacy. “Ireland is deeply committed to the United Nations,” he said, “The UN is the embodiment of freedom and equality. It is a bulwark defending these core human values in a changing and uncertain world.” He said Ireland was strongly supportive of the UN’s role in peacekeeping and conflict resolution, pointing out that a 440-strong battalion from the Irish Defence Forces had recently returned to Lebanon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The first ever Certificate of Irish Heritage has been awarded posthumously to an Irish American firefighter who died on Nine Eleven at a ceremony in New York.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore presented the certificate to Mrs Bridget Hunter, mother of Joe Hunter, at fire house in Maspeth, Queens where he worked.

“It’s definitely going to hang! Are you kidding me?!” said Mrs Hunter, when asked what she would be doing with the framed certificate. “It’s going to be right in front of everybody when they walk into my house.”

Mrs Hunter emigrated from Recess, Co Galway in 1958. Her son Joe was last seen walking into the south Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 to help people escape.

The story of Joe Hunter first came to public attention, when it was featured in an RTE Radio documentary “Still Waiting for Joe” broadcast at the end of August. The Department of Foreign Affairs approached the family to see if they would like to receive the honour of getting the first certificate.

“(Joe) ended up losing his life in the Twin Towers, attempting to save the lives of others, and attempting to ease the suffering that was taking place on that occasion,” said Mr Gilmore. “I don’t think there is anybody more fitting to get the first Certificate of Irish Heritage than somebody who made such a sacrifice.”

He said Ireland was proud of the sacrifice made by all Irish-American firefighters on that day. Monday night’s presentation was attended by the Chief of the Fire Department of New York Ed Kilduff, who said it was “an extraordinary honour” to have one of its own singled out to receive the first certificate. He said photographs from the event will be distributed to the large contingent of Irish Americans in the Fire Department, to show that “the Irish government, by coming here to this location, is really expressing their appreciation to all firefighters”.

The event was also attended by FDNY chaplain Chris Keenan, Ireland’s ambassador to the US Michael Collins, Irish Consul-General in New York Noel Kilkenny and members of the Hunter family.

Joe Hunter was a quiet and reserved guy, according to his brother Sean. “He actually would have been embarrassed by all this attention, but he would be really honored too” he said. Joe’s sister Teresa said her late brother was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage. He had an Irish shamrock on his racing helmet, he had an Irish shamrock on his car, he had an Irish shamrock everywhere. So this is a tremendous honor,” she said. “We have such a large family here. My mom is one of 14, and we have about 50 first cousins, who are scattered all over here. Not just for our family, but also our friends, this is overwhelming. It’s hard to put into words, being the first of something that’s going to be now carried on for years to come in Ireland, America and the whole world.”

The framed certificate contains a quote from the Irish constitution which says “The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.” The inscription is on a colour background featuring Edwin Hayes’ 1953 painting of “An Emigrant Ship, Dublin Bay, Sunset”, one of three designs applicants for the new certificates will be able to choose from. The scheme to provide Certificates to Irish diaspora around the world will be formally launched next month at Dublin Castle during the upcoming Global Irish Economic Forum. It’s expected that former US President Bill Clinton will be presented with the second Certificate of Irish Heritage at that event.

The idea for the certificates originated more than two years ago and received support at the last Forum in Farmleigh in 2009. FEXCO, a company based in Killorglin, Co Kerry has been awarded the contract to manage applications and issue certificates. A website,, will go live at the end of this month, with applications being accepted after its formal launch in October. Each cert will cost 40 and applications are open only to people who were not born on the island of Ireland. Those who wish to obtain one will be asked to provide documentary evidence connecting them to a specific Irish ancestor.
Documents including birth certs, death certs, marriage certs, land records, ship manifestos, census records or other immigration documents will be acceptable. The requirements may develop over time, if necessary, to include the option of swearing a legal affidavit proving Irish heritage, where no records exist due to the passage of time.

Mr Gilmore said the document will have no legal, political, economic or commercial benefit, but was about officially recognizing someone’s connection to Ireland. One of the things that we have been hearing from people of Irish descent is that they want to have some formal acknowledgment of their Irish heritage, something to hang on the wall that says officially that they are Irish,” he said.

At current estimates, over 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry.  Mr Gilmore said there was no way of knowing what demand will be like for the certificates once they are launched, but suspects that it’s an idea that will grow over time. The certificates will be actively promoted through embassies and consulates, and through Irish-American organisations in the US.