Irish: Montauk Is Great Craic

Julia C. Mead | August 27, 1998

"It's brilliant." "It's great craic." "It's grand."

In other words, spending a summer here is enormous fun, at least according to the Irish students who come to work - and, some have observed, to party mightily - but only, the students add quickly, if one is lucky or persistent enough to find an affordable place to live.

"There's plenty of drinking to be done here. There's plenty of work to be had, too, but I came mostly for the drinking," jested Olivia Traynor, 22, who finished her law degree at the University College at Cork this spring before starting her second summer abroad, her first in Montauk.

For The Fun

Ms. Traynor works at the reception desk at the Tipperary Inn in Montauk, an aptly named center of Irish influence over the years. She shares an efficiency apartment there with three countrywomen, and said she and her friends are "in the pubs" nearly every night.

Like a dozen other students interviewed, she said she came to the United States for two reasons: fun and money - in that order.

"I find it grand. It's craic," she said.

Terry Hayes, a 21-year-old student at the College of Commerce in Cork, said he too came "more for the fun," but makes $800 a week waiting tables at Gosman's restaurant, four times what he would earn at the same job in Ireland - a blooming economy there notwithstanding.

Unreality

"We like it here because it's a small town. It's detached from reality. We're working all night and sleeping all day," said his co-worker, Stephen Breen, 22, who attends the University College at Cork.

"We haven't a notion what's going on in the rest of the world," said Yvonne McFadden, from Donegal, as she paused between tables at Gosman's to smoke a cigarette. Except, they agreed, when a bomb goes off in the North, as one did earlier this month in Omagh; that sort of news, they said, travels swiftly.

The seasonal wave of Irish immigration to Montauk is no news to the locals - the late Mary Gosman, an Irishwoman herself, is generally credited with starting the trend in the early 1960s, by bringing cousins over to work in the family restaurant.

Film Fodder

This year, the phenomenon has even become fodder for filmmakers. An independent production company set up this week at the Shebeen, a Montauk pub where the Irish are known to congregate, and began auditioning for bit parts for a comedy called "Sunburn," about - what else - the Irish in Montauk.

Brian Dorgan, 22, a Cork City native who was stocking the bar, said the Shebeen was "wall-to-wall Irish every night from midnight to 4 a.m."

"Ah, sure, I see it here every night. They only come over for a laugh. They're supposed to be coming to make money but that almost never happens. The scene here at 4 o'clock is hilarious. . . . Words can't describe it. It's madness, but it's clean fun."

Shebeen's Themes

The Shebeen has theme parties every Monday night. Last week's was Halloween. Mr. Dorgan dyed his hair green and painted his skin orange, like the Oompah Loompah characters in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." This week's party was a mock wedding.

"We live and die at the Shebeen," said Anne Marie Murray, 20, of Cork. "It's our last port of call" after stops at Al's Bar and Grill and the Tipperary.

Ronan Barry, a Longford native, "married" šna McGrath, who is from Tipperary, and the couple was attended by bridesmaids, a flower girl, and groomsmen, all of them formally attired.

The "priest" was actually the bouncer, in a stiff white collar and thong sandals, and jokingly looking for some altar boys to thrash.

No Wheels

By midnight, the bride was on a bar stool, pulling on a bottle of Amstel Light, and her groom was asleep on a table.

The customers, the overwhelming number of them Irish, arrive on bicycles, on foot, by thumb, and in taxis. A few have tried to figure out the public bus system but a table of Irishwomen at Al's Bar reported Friday night they were having trouble adjusting.

In Ireland, they said, riders pull a string to stop the bus and the side door opens automatically. Not so here.

The students cannot afford to buy a car just for the summer, they said, more than a few adding it was a good thing, too.

Came And Stayed

Mr. Dorgan came to work in Montauk last summer. Like some of his countrymen, including his brother, who manages the Shebeen, and his sisters, who wait tables there, he stayed, spending the winter in Florida. He was an electrician in Ireland, earning less than $500 a week, but makes much more bartending here.

The students, he said, come for "the excitement." Many are living away from their families for the first time, and working hard, partying hard, and sleeping six or eight to a motel room is all "part of the excitement."

Nora Dineen, 21, of Cork waits tables at the Cafe on Main in Amagansett for $2.90 an hour plus tips. "People tip here; they don't tip back home," she said.

She said she and her roommates often go home at 5 a.m. from a night out "on the piss" but have to be up at 6:30 a.m. to get to work. That, she said, was the hardest part of the summer.

Tight Housing Market

There are an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Irish students on the South Fork each summer, with growing numbers of students from Europe as well. Most have heard about Montauk from older students or siblings, and they head straight there from John F. Kennedy Airport.

But by some accounts, the Montauk summer job and housing market has reached capacity and the Irish, along with a growing number of British and Europeans, are scattering through East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and Southampton as well - and, increasingly, all along the East Coast resort towns, from Martha's Vineyard to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Roberta Gosman, who now runs the restaurant her mother founded, said she has two Spanish and one Polish student working for her this year. She had "I can't tell you how many" applications from Central Europe, she said.

Irish Economy

She and Prudence Carabine, who started an East Hampton employment agency in 1982 that brought Irish students to East Hampton, agreed there were too few young Americans willing to fill the jobs the Irish accept, sometimes two or three in a season.

"American mothers, they don't want their precious daughters to be chambermaids," said Eileen Oliver, whose Beach House Motel houses about 50 Irish students.

But she and Ms. Carabine credited the boom in the Irish economy, fed by foreign investment and European Economic Community disbursements, for having a subtle effect on the Irish work force here.

"Their country now has the strongest economy in Europe, and their parents are better off than they were 10 years ago. In the '80s, the kids would go home with $4,000 to $5,000 in savings, but now they're having a great time and just covering their expenses. Many of them don't need to come here - except for the sun," said Ms. Carabine.

Save And Spend

Ms. Traynor told a similar story. Two years ago, she went home to Galway from a summer in Boston "in debt," but this summer she expects to "break even" - if she spends "my last two weeks here working my butt off."

Sandra Devaney, who attends Trinity College in Dublin, shares a large motel room with seven friends for a pooled $1,000 a week.

"I saved a good bit and spent a good bit," said Ms. Devaney, who works three part-time jobs, at two shops and a landscaping company. The floor of her room was, quite literally, carpeted with clothing, mattresses, and blankets.

"And our drawers are falling through," said one of her roommates, Grainne Quinlin, also a Dubliner, laughing that the drawer bottoms fell out from the "weight of the mighty amount of clothes here."

Eight To A Room

Each of a dozen or so students interviewed said they had had to take a loan to cover the $1,000 to $1,200 cost of a student work-and-travel program, which pays for the flight, medical insurance, and cost of a four-month visa, plus an additional $1,000 to $2,000 for housing and the required $500 in their pocket to get into the country.

Ms. Carabine and Ms. Gosman agreed a housing shortage has sent more and more students westward over the years. In Montauk, it is common for them to sleep six, eight, or more to a motel room, each paying $200 or more a week for the privilege, whereas in East Hampton the trend is to rent a room in a private house for the same or less.

Or, Ms. Carabine noted, to "make do" by sharing a house; she knows of one where a dozen people live together, paying $1,000 each for the summer.

"We live in a scabby room with no cooking facilities," said Nora Dineen, who pays $100 a week to share a room, one shower, and a family of cockroaches with two friends.

Evicted

Ms. Traynor's happy-go-lucky attitude about being here was typical of the students interviewed - with the notable exception of those who have run head-first into the housing shortage.

Paul Noble, 21, from County Wicklow, is studying construction economics at the Dublin Institute of Technology. He was having a "grand time," that is, until last weekend, when he and his five roommates were booted from the room they shared at Ms. Oliver's Beach House Motel.

The motel owner said repeated complaints about noise and rowdiness forced her to evict them, the fourth time this summer she has had to throw out a roomful of Irish students.

Tourists' Complaints

"I'm not going to lie to you. I came here to have a good time, but I came to make a lot of money, too. She should have known we'd be that kind of customer," said Mr. Noble on Monday, after two nights of sleeping in friends' already overcrowded rooms.

Ms. Oliver is not alone in her complaints, though her problems sound worse than others'. Richard Daunt, who owns the nearby Albatross Motel, said his guests also complain about the noise as young people leave the neighborhood bars in the wee hours.

But, said Mr. Daunt, the five young Irishwomen who work for him "are fine people, fine young ladies."

Though he holds down two jobs, in construction during the day and waiting tables at night, Mr. Noble said the housing difficulties were such that he and his roommates were ready this week to pack it in and go home a month early.

Security Deposits

"It's so hostile. We're having a board meeting tonight on the beach to discuss our options," he said wryly.

Ms. Oliver, who has rented rooms to the Irish for several summers, said this would be the last. She charges $750 a week for a room that sleeps six, which she said is about $300 less than she would get renting by the night to tourists.

She said she has repeatedly had to give refunds to tourists who complained about noise and rowdiness in the middle of the night. For that reason, she said, she has withheld the security deposits given her by the Irish students she evicted.

Mr. Noble said his group gave her $2,000 the day before he was booted.

Students Sued

One roomful of young women said they were told to leave after they handed Ms. Oliver a list of complaints that included cockroaches, a broken phone, a backed-up toilet, and a broken shower, and declined to pay the full rent.

Alison Dunne, 20, who studies at the Dublin Institute of Technology, and her five roommates took Ms. Oliver to small claims court to get back their $800 security deposit and were awarded a $500 refund.

"It's been a brilliant summer, but I wouldn't come back here again, based on the accommodations. I know a lot of people who left after a week or two and went to Myrtle Beach or somewhere else for the same reason," said Ms. Dunne, who now shares "a great house" and expects to have spent about $1,200 for housing over the course of the summer.

Early Birds

On the other hand, Ms. Traynor, Mr. Hayes, and others said they found affordable, and even pleasant, accommodations easy to find - if one starts looking early in the season or books before arrival, as Mr. Hayes did.

Ms. Traynor said she planned to stay until her four-month visa is nearly run out. "This is like a holiday here. For me, there's no point in going anywhere else," she said.

Many others said they will leave a few weeks before school starts in early October, to see Disneyland, Boston, or Chicago before going home.


With Reporting by Chris Harris