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Ennis Man In New York Highlighting Irish Pride

AN Ennis man living and working in New York, which has seen the largest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US, has told The Clare Champion, “I can’t imagine life ever going back to normal.”
Journalist Colm Flynn has been covering the effects the virus has had on the people of New York for a number of television companies. Just recently he presented a widely acclaimed RTÉ Nationwide special highlighting how the Irish community in New York have been helping each other through the crisis.
Speaking to The Clare Champion from New York, Colm describes the atmosphere in the usually bustling metropolis as “extremely eerie”.
He says he has been “overwhelmed” with the response to the Nationwide show, revealing the show almost didn’t make it onto our screens.
“The situation was getting worse and worse here in New York, and back at home RTÉ of course was so focused on what was happening Ireland there wasn’t too much coverage of how the Irish community here were handling the crises. So I spoke to Jon Williams, the head of RTÉ News, and pitched the idea of a full Nationwide special about how the Irish were really stepping up to the plate and helping each other through this. He gave it the green light immediately but as soon as I hung up the phone panic set it!
“On the TV they were saying that New York was going to be shut down completely in two days’ time. Now, normally we would spend a week shooting a Nationwide special like this, but in this case, I only had two days. So I got straight on the phone and started calling my contacts here in New York and setting up interviews. I put a message out on social media looking for leads and was inundated with responses, people sharing heartwarming stories with me about how the Irish have been helping each other out. So for the following two days, my cameraman Patrick Leonard and I travelled all over the city filming different interviews. Then we had only two days to edited together the whole show and send it back to RTÉ. We really really cut it tight and the show almost never made it to air. But RTÉ received it just in time, and it went out across the nation.”
He continues, “It was a very strange programme to produce. On one hand, it was great meeting the Irish, and being caught up in the fun you always have together, and then, on the other hand, we were driving through empty avenues in Manhattan where thousands of people should have been walking around. So it was very surreal. Patrick and I kept looking at each other saying, ‘Is this for real? Is this actually happening?’. To see New York almost completely empty was incredible, and I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again in our lifetimes. By the time the programme was shot, edited and sent back to RTÉ, the lockdown had really started in New York. So even if we had waiting just one more day to start it would have been nearly impossible to make the programme.
“After it was broadcast I was so overwhelmed with the response from people all over Ireland, and from the Irish community here. I think the whole country watching the programme. As everyone is staying at home the ratings were through the roof. It made me so proud to be Irish, and I know that’s something people say all the time, but it’s really tough. I got a text from a Russian friend here in New York who happened to see it, and she said ‘Wow, it made me wish I was Irish’ That made me very proud that I was able to show people the great spirit of the Irish here in New York.”
Like others in the city, and across the world, Colm’s life has changed dramatically due to the virus. “Here in New York I loved my routine. I would get up early every morning and head to my favourite coffee shop in the lower east side for breakfast and tea. Then I would work in another coffee shop for a few hours on projects, then normally I’d be off somewhere to do a TV report or interview someone for radio. That has all changed now. Like everyone else, I’m at home most of the day and working on covering the Coronavirus here for RTÉ, BBC, and EWTN. I’m also trying to get through a huge backlog of editing and have some people who are working remotely to help me with that.
“The atmosphere in the city is extremely eerie. I only go into the city now to do live TV reports into the Today show and it’s the only time I’ve ever shot in Manhattan and been able to hear the birds chirping. I can’t imagine life ever going back to ‘normal’, something tells me this is going to change the way we live in the long-term. I’m not sure in what way yet, but I have a gut feeling.”
Asked if he believes that the US government have done enough to deal with the ongoing crisis he says, “There is a lot of criticism of president Donald Trump, but then again this is New York, a very Democratic city, so it’s not really surprising. I don’t blame him for how bad things seem to be here, it’s hard to imagine how a situation like this could have ever been prepared for to the fullest extent. But the main worry everyone has here is health care. The Irish people I meet who do not have health insurance are petrified of getting sick. A few days in hospital here and you could easily leave with a bill for tens of thousands.
“So many young Irish people are contacting me on Instagram and Facebook asking if I think they should stay or go home. The two simple things I ask them, have you, family, here and do you have good health insurance? If not, then I say they should probably strongly consider going home. But it’s not an easy decision to make. For many young Irish moving to New York has been a dream of theirs for years, and not they fear it will be ruined if they return.”
Colm says that he is doing well and is regularly keeping in touch with his family back home in Ennis. “I’ve been so busy covering the situation maybe it’s distracted me from the reality of my own situation a bit. I worried about my parents back in Ennis but I talk to them a few times a day on the phone and they are doing fine. Of course, they’re worried about me too. We’re all worried about each other. But I think there comes a point where we all have to stay quarantined and on lockdown as much as we can, take all the precautions, and then the rest is out of our control.”
He had been due to move to Rome to become the Vatican correspondent for EWTN, the global Catholic network, but that is now on hold until this passes. “So in the meantime, I’m staying in New York covering stories here. The interview with Pope Francis will have to wait,” he laughs.
“I really think the best in people can come out in the worst of times, and I’m so proud to be Irish when I see how the community here has been helping each other. I really hope we all come out of this soon, and life can go back to some sort of normal,” he concludes.

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