ON HOME GROUND Ciarán Staunton, pictured here in Westport, likes to get home to Louisburgh and Mayo once or twice a year, but visits during Covid have been very different.
Louisburgh native Ciarán Staunton is in the US since 1982 but never found it as difficult to come home
We live in an apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan and life is very different here now than before the virus hit.
Everyone must wear masks in the common areas. A lot of people who have homes elsewhere have moved there because there’s more space than in Manhattan.
Bars and restaurants, like Ireland, are struggling to get staff so a lot of them are closed.
You’ve to wear masks on public transport but people are not inclined to go on trains, buses or the subway because they don’t feel safe. I got a taxi during the week because it is safer and the driver was telling me his trade is only 30 percent of what it was pre-Covid.
Overall, there certainly are less deniers of Covid in New York than in some western and southern states. People here know Covid is costing lives and isn’t a game.
I was in Wall Street last Thursday and it was like a ghost town. Despite the cold, the streets there would have thousands of people on them in a normal January. There were only a handful of people there, it was eerie.
I came to the US in 1982 as a 19-year-old and started in Boston before moving to New York. I ran a number of bars and restaurants in both cities and was also heavily involved in lobbying for the undocumented Irish in the US and for immigration reform.
But our world was turned upside down in 2012.
Our 12-year-old son Rory died from sepsis within days of getting a cut playing basketball. We brought him to his doctors and hospitals when he started feeling sick but no one diagnosed or thought it might be sepsis and we had never heard the word. His death was totally preventable.
As a result, myself, my wife Orlaith and daughter Kathleen established the Rory Staunton Foundation (now called End Sepsis: The Legacy of Rory Staunton) to raise awareness about sepsis.
As a result of our work, the hospitals in New York state have implemented ‘Rory’s Regulations’ which effectively means that they must identify and begin treatment for sepsis if a patient shows symptoms – the cure for sepsis is antibiotics and fluids. That didn’t happen for Rory, with devastating consequences
As a result of ‘Rory’s Regulations’, tens of thousands of people are walking around New York today who would have lost their lives otherwise. But it is still too high a price to pay, losing your child.
Meetings now for the foundation are all via Zoom since the pandemic so there’s less travel involved.
The draw of home
We’ve always sought to get home once or twice a year. My wife Orlaith is from Drogheda and we’ve a house there so when we get home we stay there and come down to Mayo for a few days.
I got home in 2020 and last summer but the most recent trip was on another level. We were home from December 27 to January 11.
In order to fly into Ireland, we were required to have a negative PCR ahead of of our flight.
So that meant queueing at a test centre in Manhattan on St Stephen’s Day. We ended up having to queue there for three and a half hours – myself, Orlaith and Kathleen.
Take it from me you don’t want to be outside in Manhattan for that length of time in December! It was below freezing and there was a wind chill factor to deal with too.
I’ve no problem in doing what needs to be done in order to fly though. Whether it is for security reasons or a pandemic like Covid-19, these measures are in everyone’s interests.
There’s a programme called Verifly which you fill out in advance which has a copy of your test result, your passport and picture. So when we arrived at JFK, all that information was ready for Aer Lingus.
It meant when we landed, we were clear too and just had to go to passport control and get our passports stamped.
We drove to Drogheda and we did a home test there and were all negative. Even still, no one came into the house. Anyone who called to visit, we stayed inside the door and they stood outside and we all wore masks. We got shopping delivered by Tesco – we took no chances!
One of the main reasons we come home is to visit Rory’s grave in Drogheda. We go there twice a day and talk to him when we’re in Drogheda.
We came down to Mayo for two nights in the New Year. We stayed in the Wyatt Hotel in Westport.
It was the first time we were in Mayo where I didn’t get to step foot inside any of my family’s homes. Anywhere we called, we stayed in the car or stayed outside and talked in the door to them and stayed eight to ten feet away at all times. With some family, we just phoned instead.
Even though we’d had negative tests, we didn’t want to be the ones bringing it here. Equally we didn’t want to be the ones getting it because Kathleen was back to college last week and needed a negative test before going there too.
One of my family still made sure to bring us out a cup of tea to the car but it was all very surreal.
I’m hoping to get home again in the spring. Hopefully we will be closer to normality by then!
Just briefly. . .
What’s the best thing about living abroad?
Meeting people from all walks of life and different backgrounds
Name the one thing you’d like to export from there to Mayo?
What do you miss most about home?
Family and lively conversations
What’s your favourite place to visit in Mayo?
Silver Strand Beach, Thallabawn
Which three Mayo people would you pick on your Zoom quiz team?
Cormac Hughes (RIP), Rose Conway-Walsh, Ronan Staunton
What’s your most prized possession at the moment?
A family photo of my wife Orlaith, me and our two children Rory and Kathleen
Where is your ‘happy place’ in NYC?
What’s the first thing you’ll do when this pandemic ends?
Go to a restaurant for a long sit-down meal
What do you miss about life pre-Covid?
Going to a restaurant for a long sit-down meal
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done to pass the time during lockdown?
Watching the sales at Maam Cross Mart on my computer in Manhattan
Sum up Coronavirus in three words?
Six Feet Apart