Cork couple on their scary time in New York when Covid hit

Cork couple Michael and Laura Dorgan tell BRENDA DENNEHY about their experience living in New York during the pandemic, and why they decided to stay there and not return home
Cork couple on their scary time in New York when Covid hit

“WE BOTH ARE VERY DRIVEN PEOPLE”: Michael Dorgan and his wife Laura in New York

“MADE in Cork, assembled in New York!”

That’s the reply Michael Dorgan gives when I ask him to choose between his home city and the Big Apple.

Michael, a former Nemo Rangers senior footballer, and his wife, Laura, are both from Douglas but now based in Queens and have been living there since September, 2018.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on New York, claiming 53,000 lives, the couple have never been busier career-wise.

Both are working from home in their stylish apartment, one stop away from Manhattan on the subway.

While Laura works in the kitchen on her own fitness app, the Laura Dorgan Fitness App, Michael is in the bedroom/office/podcast studio working six days a week with The Queens Post, along with his successful podcast, The Long Hall.

Whilst many Irish emigrants and Corkonians travelled home last March when the pandemic began raging throughout the world, the Cork couple stayed put at the epicentre of the outbreak.

Michael and Laura Dorgan in New York
Michael and Laura Dorgan in New York

Ironically, life fell into place for them just as Covid hit.

Now that New York is starting to loosen restrictions as the vaccination progamme kicks in, the couple have no regrets about staying put in their adopted home.

“It never even crossed our minds,” says Michael, of whether they thought about returning to Ireland.

“Our family were asking us if we would consider coming home as well.”

However, with the decision to stay on in New York during the pandemic and live through it, Laura says she has memories now that she will never forget, and moments where she admits she was full of fear.

“Every day without fail, I listened to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences.

“When they brought the USNS Comfort hospital ship down the Hudson — and the only other time they did that was for 9/11 — I was absolutely terrified.

“They set up a hospital in Central Park and we lived near a graveyard at the time and the truckloads were like a horror movie.

“We also had a view on the Empire State Building from on the road in Queens and one day it went dark and all you could see was flashing red, symbolizing a beating heart, showing New York state was in a state of emergency. It was a very surreal feeling and this went on flashing night after night after night.

“I remember thinking, will it ever stop, until one night, thankfully, I looked down the road and it was white and shining bright like I remembered.”

Michael recalls: “It was scary alright as we didn’t know what to expect like everyone else.

“There were rumours of martial law and the National Guard manning the streets. Stores were packed and the shelves went empty.

“We stacked up the best we could with canned food and non-perishable items.

“The cases and deaths were flying in and I actually went to six days a week with work so I don’t think I had too much time to think about it. It was just all work.”

With failure not an option, the optimistic couple helped each other along through one of the hardest years of their lives.

Experiencing setback after setback, the couple’s marriage only became stronger, with Michael saying: “If I was down, Laura picked me up and vice versa. You just had to get on with it, there was no turning back, we were never going to give up.

“After every unsettling event, we would say, ‘you know, this is after bringing us closer together’, and it did. We only had each other, nobody else, so you have to rely on one another even more.

“Laura knows when I need a good telling off or when I’m down and I suppose I do the same for her,” Michael says.

The couple are resolute that their decision to stay in New York was the right one for them.

“I couldn’t understand why people were going home, economically you are always going to find work easier here,” says Michael.

“We also worked so hard to get here and to stay here.”

“Laura had actually lost her job a few months before Covid hit and it turned out to be the best thing that happened to her. Her app took off soon after.

“There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell we were heading home. Looking back now, and the state of Ireland now, it was definitely the right decision.

“Everything changed before Covid and life here fell into place. After fighting and holding on for so long, we knew we could get through this as well,” Michael explains.

Michael and Laura Dorgan in New York.
Michael and Laura Dorgan in New York.

So, what is an average day in the city that never sleeps like for the Dorgans?

It begins at 6am with Laura dragging Mike out of bed and getting a fitness session in before they get down to business for the day.

Then, while Michael goes on the Starbucks run, Laura makes the eggs, as her husband of five years can’t make them as good!

“We then start work at around 9am,” says Michael.

“We are both working from home so Laura is in the kitchen and I am in the bedroom/office/podcast studio.

“That is on repeat from Monday to Friday. Up early, gym, work all day. We work most nights until 10 I would say.

“If I’m not working late with the Queens Post, I’m working on a podcast for the Long Hall Podcast.”

The saying goes ‘if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere’, but the competition is stiff and it’s a dog eat dog environment.

Laura knows this too well, as she explains: “The hard work will always pay off, but you can’t just talk about hard work, you have to do it. I think that’s why America suits us.

“Nine-to-five is non-existent if you want to make it here. We both are very driven, we don’t really know how to rest, which is a good and a bad thing, but you need that fire in you over here so it has stood to us.”

While it took the couple 18 months of hard graft for things to finally fall into place, what guidance would they give to other Corkonians who want to follow in their footsteps?

“Don’t ask too many before you go,” Laura advises. “They say the first 12-18 months are the hardest and they’re right.

“To think how naive, we were just packing up so fast and moving to the biggest, craziest city in the world still makes my jaw drop.

“So, if we knew how hard it was going to be and what was ahead in the first 18 months, we would’ve never moved,” she says.

“If you really really want it, you’ll find a way. You just have to want it hard enough.”

“It’s not easy but it’s definitely worth it! It’s a cliché but it really is the land of opportunity.” Michael adds.

It comes as no surprise that one of the secrets to their loving marriage is the Cork humour: “We’ve got some good old fashioned love, I suppose! We kill each other most of the time!” laughs Michael. 

“Think John and Mary in Father Ted. But we get on so well together and we always have a laugh or pull the mick out of each other. Probably our Corkness!”

With a five year plan in place, the Dorgans are currently in the process of prolonging their stay.

While Michael has aspirations to move to Washington, Laura has other ideas.

He says: “I really want to get into U.S political reporting/writing/broadcasting. I’m hinting at Washington DC but she’s having none of it so far. We are still just planting our roots here.

“The city is back to life, which is great, to feel the energy around the place again. We’re going for a Green Card next so that’s the next big plan.”

“So, depending how that all pans out will be where the direction or the Dorgans will venture then,” Laura adds.

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