Blog Post

Emerald City

emerald city.jpg

I’ve worked construction my whole life, I’ve grown up around it, my father worked construction, as did most of my cousins and a couple of my brothers. I worked construction at home in Northern Ireland, in London, New York and San Francisco. I’ve been an electrician, a carpenter, a painter. For three years in my early twenties I did nothing but install and refinish hardwood floors. After a couple of decades it becomes engrained in your blood. When I walk into a room I automatically do a construction scan, it’s innate. Are the floors properly sanded? What sort of door trim has been used?Are the receptacles properly squared and leveled? I can tell if a ceiling is running off a half an inch from wall to wall at a glance. I can’t help seeing it, when you’ve spent half your life checking surfaces with a four foot spirit level the pupils of your eyes become the air bubble you square the world with.Construction, particularly the Irish immigrant version of construction, can be a harsh life. Kneeling on a hardwood floor for five years straight can cripple a man. I’ve seen men half mad from prolonged exposure to paint fumes, cancerous from asbestos inhalation. I’ve witnessed lads loose fingers, had friends who’ve died falling from a scaffolding. The teeth of a saw can minister a vicious bite if the hand is not sure enough, the mind muddied from a heavy nights drinking.But what a life! What an array of characters! Primitive man unchecked. I’ve worked in an office for a spell, worn the suit as uniform, suffered the tediousness of office politics, the constriction of formality. And then I went back to construction again. Those rules do not apply in the Irish construction world I’ve witnessed in New York; the tongue goes unchecked, a man ripe with booze might take the afternoon to spin a yarn about a bender he was on for the previous week. He might sing aloud out of key to no one in particular. He might belch and excuse himself very politely in the voice of a high pitched english lady. He might throw off his toolbelt and announce he’s going to the bar, or Barcelona, and no one would find it unusual. It’s a tough life to give up. The camraderie can be addicitive. Spend two days sheetrocking a ceiling with a man and you’ll know him for life. I’ve encountered many the undiscovered genius on a worksite. Many the unfullfilled artist.I’ve detailed my own twenty year experience adrift in The New York Irish contruction scene in my memoir “Orangutan”; the drinking, the drugs, the failed marraiges, the jails and hospital trips. I was lucky enough to survive. Emerald City, will be my personal homage to that life, to those men I worked with, to the brilliance of some of the craftsmen I have had the pleasure of spending time with, and to those lost along the way.It will be a modern movie, a movie about where the Irish construction business is today. it will follow one crew in particular as they come to terms with the fact that they are no longer the same young carpenters who spilled off the plane at Kennedy twenty years ago. The construcion business in New York has changed, unions and strict regulations have closed in on the small contractor making it almost impossible to survive in the way that we did when I first arrived here. Construction is no longer the wild west, the small contractor must adjust, clean up his books, get rid of the undocumented, account for his finances in a way that would have been laughable fifteen years ago. The Irish carpenters are being replaced by a new wave of Ecuadorian and Mexican carpenters who are equally as talented and as keen as we were twenty years ago to make our mark.Emerald City will mark the end of an era. The crew I follow in the movie are still very much lodged in the old way of doing things but it’s closing in on them fast. They’re the last men standing.

Ireland does not export construction workers like it once did. But we left our mark on this great city and I feel the need to acknowledge that contribution in all its madness, glory and brilliance in a movie.

And besides all that…. it’s going to be a helluva lot of fun. Join the family. Help us build the buzz. Emerald City will be a way of remembering.


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