A boarded up Rory Dolan's on McLean Avenue. Picture submitted by Sharon Brady
It’s about two months ago since I gave a rather ominous report from New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States.
Daily death numbers were still climbing before leveling off at approximately 800 per day, while hospital personnel and facilities were totally overwhelmed by an influx of infected people. That grim reality was graphically illustrated when field hospitals were set up in Central Park and the Javits Center while the Cathedral of Saint John Devine in upper Manhattan was also being readied as a makeshift hospital.
However, the most revolting fallout from the coronavirus was that some funeral homes were unable to cope with the rapidly increasing number of deaths. They resorted to storing corpses in rented U Haul vans, and soon the stench of death was pervading neighborhoods. The cases of the virus seem to be progressively decreasing, there were no reported deaths last Wednesday. However a couple of dozen were reported over the next few days. Still the stark statistics show that almost 25,000 in New York have succumbed to the vicious virus since the beginning of March. That’s approximately a quarter of the deaths in the US, and that number is even more startling, given the fact that New York State has a population of about 20 million, while the US’s population is around 330 million. Then when you parse the numbers, another very disturbing statistic emerges, namely that over 30% of New York’s causalities were residents of nursing homes. Given that many of these elderly residents would have underlying conditions that would render them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, the situation was greatly exacerbated by New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo, whose main credits to-date include naming New York’s longest bridge after his father, being married to a Kennedy for a while and depopulating the Big Apple’s jails, decreed that nursing homes had to accept patients who had the virus. You didn’t need to be half a rocket scientist to know what this act of malfeasance would lead to, an exponential growth in cases of the virus, and sadly death.
Unfortunately we had this all too real experience. My wife’s brother-in-law contracted the virus in a nursing home, and unfortunately we were unable to visit prior to him getting the virus due to a mandated lock-down at the home. As the man deteriorated we couldn’t visit, and the clergy seem to have taken to the hills as none were available to administer the sacrament of the sick.
The funeral was a rather cavalier event without decorum, priest, pastor or prayer, and five of us, ordered to stay in the car about two hundred yards from the grave, watched as a JCB dumped in the clay before the coffin had hardly settled. This was a cruel way to say goodbye to a man who in many ways acted as a protypical American grandfather who introduced my children to the great American sports of baseball, softball and hockey in their formative years. Incidentally Eddie’s death certificate stated that he died from natural causes. Apparently nursing homes have been deliberately misstating the cause of death with perhaps a view to lessen the charge of negligence.
Hopefully when this pandemic recedes we’ll be able to give the big, generous and warm-hearted man a proper memorial service, at one of his favorite places, namely Rory Dolan’s.
This time I’m happy to say that my report will be a bit more sanguine, or as my golfing buddies are prone to note about my game, a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. Well as noted the coronavirus is receding and hopefully that trend will continue. The city is being gradually reopened with construction, manufacturing, agriculture and retail company workers returning this week, while adhering to social distancing protocols. This is good news for many Irish folks, especially those involved in the construction industry. However it must be noted that the Irish were particularly hard hit from the economic fallout due to the city being basically shutdown due to the virus.
Many of the Irish are involved in the construction and hospitality industries and thus were summarily unemployed. Granted some got unemployment checks and stimulus payments, while, a considerable number of the younger folks were entitled to neither. Seamus and Caitriona Clarke, the owners of JP Clarke’s on McLean Avenue and sponsors of the Leitrim team, quickly realized the perilous predicament of those without income to buy food, pay bills and rent.
They formulated a plan to urgently address the plight of the economically afflicted by setting up an organization called Slainte 2020.
The organization was launched on April 17th to harness the collective resources of longstanding Irish organizations to maximize fundraising to assist individuals adversely affected by the Covid crisis. The partnership consisted of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, the New York GAA, the United Irish Counties, the New York Irish Center and the Aisling Irish Community Center. In the interest of full disclosure Caitriona Clarke is Chairperson of the Board of Directors, while I’m also a board member.
The Aisling Irish Community Center is an outreach organization that services a great variety of functions and needs in the Irish and Irish-American communities in the north Bronx and south Yonkers. The partnership was acutely aware of the scope and scale of the problem and noted “ no one organization could go it alone, but by joining forces we realized that by working together we could make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in our community who need assistance”.
The statement was not an idle boast or a good sounding platitude. Though still not two months in existence, Slainte 2020 has raised and disbursed over half a million dollars to some very needy and grateful individuals.
The New York team was scheduled to play Galway on May 3rd in the first round of the Connacht Championship, and that is by far the biggest day on the Big Apple’s GAA calendar, but of course it didn’t happen. Well the team and management were not about to allow the weekend to go to waste. Johnny Glynn, the former All-Ireland winner with Galway and current trainer with New York, came up with the idea of a thousand kometer run, which is basically the distance of a return trip from Malin to Mizen Head.
The boys had no problem cranking out a thousand kilometers, in fact they nearly doubled that distance in a medley of runs from the 5k to the marathon. Sean Kelly, a Dromahair native, a former New York player, a current selector, and Chairman of the Leitrim GFC, reportedly breezed through a half marathon in record time. The running paid off handsomely as Joan Henchy, Chairperson of the New York GAA was proud to announce that the New York team and their mentors raised about forty grand from their exertions.
It was also very gratifying to read recently that the run by Leitrim players, both past and present, was very successful, and that a very generous donation was made to Slainte 2020.
That certainly epitomizes bonds across the ocean and how things have changed. Time was when goods and currency were very one-directional. Some of your ancestors will remember the big American parcels and the remittance in the envelopes with the US colors around the edge and the statue of liberty on the corner.
Team Aisling raises $80,000
Though the Aisling Center has been in existence for twenty five years, a running program was established two years ago, named Team Aisling. Its philosophy was encapsulated in the 4Fs, namely fun, friendship, fitness and fundraising.
Well given the ban on large group assemblies, the runners were like a rebel without a cause. They quickly discovered one, Slainte 2020. Seamus Keane, a Mayo native and a running guru broached the idea of a virtual run, and needless to say the previously marooned runners took to the idea like ducks to water. So for the month of May individuals were given discretion, freedom and flexibility to run a medley of distances from a 5K to a marathon with a culminating run on May 31.
Well the road warriors fulfilled the 4Fs, with alacrity and aplomb, especially the fundraising. Team Aisling ran, hobbled, sweated and pried plenty of dollars from their friends, families, acquaintances and any soft touches they encountered as their efforts netted over 80K. I ran a half marathon after having a knee reconditioned in January.
My mechanic advised me to add the WD40 to the refueling belt just in case I’d have problems with the hydraulics of the refurbished knee. I’m very grateful to the Leitrim Society, the men’s and ladies’ football teams family, friends and my golfing buddies for sponsoring me to the tune of over $7K for Slainte 2020. Of course some of the running aficionados wanted to know what my time was and I truthfully replied, it was a personal best, on that day anyway. Overall Slainte 2020 has been a resounding success and great credit is due to Seamus and Caitriona Clarke for having the foresight to recognize the problem and deal forthrightly with it.
Death of Floyd George and the Protests
At the beginning I said this report was a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. The bad was certainly the death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis, at the hands of police, while the ugly was the violence, vandalizing, arson and looting that accompanied some of the protests. The death of George Floyd was the tipping point for demanding racial equality.
The video of the interaction is not just disgusting, but also very dehumanizing as a police officer nonchalantly keeps pressing his knee on the cuffed man’s neck. This was a most egregious abuse of police power, and naturally many were incensed, not just African-Americans, but basically large swaths of the population all across the States, and even around the world.
This horrendous act set the scene for mobilizing crowds to protest peacefully under a banner that proclaims “Black Lives Matter”, in essence decrying racism and police brutality. If there ever was a case for the perfect storm, this was it.
The weather was good, most people were not working, schools and colleges were closed and all places of assembly were shut. There were plenty of protesters available, good intentioned and otherwise. Marches that started out peacefully, soon evolved into mayhem with looting, rioting and wanton destruction of property.
Unfortunately much of the property in some cities involved immigrant and minority-owned businesses that were already struggling from the pandemic-induced shutdown. Last weekend the protests moved to New York, and there was wholesale destruction in its wake, with iconic stores such as Macy’s being pillaged and plundered by what some in the liberal media labelled “agitators”.
These agitators travel with knapsacks that contain crowbars, hammers, bricks and in a number of instances also contained Molotov cocktails that were thrown at police and into police cars, that’s if they didn’t get close enough to burn them. Apparently Mayor Bill de Blasio, a very inept and ineffectual leader at the best of times took a laissez-faire approach, hoping that things would just quieten down once these folks displaced their pent-up anger and aggression.
Then when Governor Cuomo ordered the cops to crack down, the courts just charged many of the arrested arsonists, looters, rioters and those who assaulted police with bricks and bats with petty crimes and misdemeanors and released them back into the streets, yes to resume their agitation. Just like lowering standards in education, the left is continually downgrading the significance and severity of crimes. The most asinine proposal to come from the lefty loonies at City Hall recently is to defund the New York Police Department.
Then when curfews were issued in an effort to keep the agitators from using the protests as cover for their depredations, many of the city politicians told the marchers and protesters to ignore it. Naturally this led to more confrontations, some of them purposefully staged for the cameras and social media, and accusations of aggressive policing. Protesters want to be treated with kid gloves, though they were breaking the law and refusing to follow orders. These problems are not just endemic to big cities, we got a taste of this wanton destruction during the week in Yonkers when forty to fifty thugs, all in stolen cars, hit McLean Avenue. One car was used as a battering ram to burst into a jewelry store, while a pharmacy was also robbed and ransacked. McLean Avenue in South Yonkers is known as the Emerald Mile which hosts many Leitrim-owned businesses. Well, by the end of the day it had a radically different appearance as many of the store fronts were boarded up with plywood. Just like Beirut getting ready for a bomb attack.
Looking to the future
Meanwhile as noted the coronavirus seems to be ebbing away, but now there seems to be a real fear that there could be a resurgence, and the trigger for that could be these mass protests. Social distancing has gone out the window, while wearing a mask was unfortunately not the norm for some during these turbulent times. All you need is one “super spreader” and the epidemic is away again like a forest fire.
Perhaps the next time you hear from me the coronavirus will be well under control and ideally a vaccine developed, and the death of George Floyd will not have been in vain.
Hopefully meaningful reforms will ensue and the few bad apples in police forces get weeded out and punished appropriately. Now that I hear that you can travel more than two kilometers over there, it’s time to get the calendar out and book the flights.
Frank Brady is a native of Manorhamilton, retired university professor, former Leitrim Guardian Person of the Year, member of the Leitrim Football Club (NY) and Leitrim Society (NY) and is currently a sports journalist with the Irish Echo.