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DISASTER STRUCK 'It was like a war zone' - 98FM DJ Dara Quilty opens up about living in New York during lockdown

Irish broadcaster Dara reveals how the Big Apple has been deserted as a Covid-battered city tries to come back from disaster

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Quilty moved to New York just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and violence around Black Lives Matter protests increased

Quilty moved to New York just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and violence around Black Lives Matter protests increased

Quilty moved to New York just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and violence around Black Lives Matter protests increased

Irish radio DJ Dara Quilty this week revealed how he walked away from a top job with Dublin station 98fm to try his luck in New York - and ended up in a "ghost town" and "war zone".

The talented broadcaster and musician, who started out as a host on RTE 2's youth show Two Tube at the age of 20, emigrated to the 'Big Apple' last year seeking new life experiences.

However, the 32-year-old Dubliner from Rathfarnham, who landed work with MTV, got more than he bargained for thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests.

"When the pandemic struck I slept like a baby every night because New York is the loudest city in the world and it became a ghost town so fast," Dara tells the Sunday World.

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Dara Quilty feature for Eddie Rowley

Dara Quilty feature for Eddie Rowley

Dara Quilty feature for Eddie Rowley
Quiet

"My girlfriend Katie is from New York and we live in an apartment in Brooklyn. It's normally so noisy. The thumping music coming from cars at night is so loud it shakes the building.

"Suddenly the streets were quiet, the parks were quiet and going into Manhattan was like entering a ghost town. I stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue, right outside Saks, for 10 minutes with no people or cars in sight. I mean, that's a once in a lifetime thing.

"I stood in a deserted Times Square, which was amazing to experience as well. And New York is still empty. There's a little bit of a buzz in Manhattan, but you're talking 15 per cent of what it should be. Plus, the tourists are gone.

"When Covid-19 hit New York I stayed. Loads of people left. A lot of Irish people left. A lot of Americans left. It was obviously a scene of horror and it was like a war zone. New York was the epicentre of complete tragedy with more than 20,000 people dying."

Then came the Black Lives Matter protests. "I was in at the protests and they were very peaceful, there was a lot of chanting and energy," Dara says. "I didn't see anyone throwing stuff at cops, I didn't see any NYPD disrespecting people, I didn't see any protesters disrespecting property, and this was going on for five days.

"But at night time people were taking advantage of the movement and they were smashing up shops and looting. So at night it got scary because you didn't know what was going on.

"This was night after night, and then there was an 8pm curfew. I thought, 'this is utterly bananas, this is crazy, what am I doing here?' I had left behind a lovely job in 98fm back home in Ireland with 70,000 listeners for my drive time show, The Big Ride Home, and a car parking space in Dublin city centre."

Iconic

Quilty reveals that he doesn't feel safe living in New York these days, even though he intends to ride out the pandemic in the iconic American city.

"There were two shootings outside my apartment in the last month, and crime has gone up in the city in general," Dara explains.

"Shots were fired during the day and it was near a playground outside the apartment. That was kind of shocking because I was seeing kids being moved away.

"Then about four weeks later, at 1.30 in the morning, I heard what sounded like fireworks going off outside our window, and there were two guys shooting at each other.

"People are also feeling unsafe in Manhattan because there are so few people on the streets. If you got mugged in Manhattan on a usual day prior to this there were so many people around to come to your aid, and New Yorkers will help you out, it's not like London.

"But now Manhattan is a ghost town. A lot of the stores are boarded up, so it looks a bit like the Joker movie."

However, Quilty, who has now launched his own podcast, Dara Quilty's Different, says that New Yorkers have been strictly adhering to the Covid-19 rules and regulations, such as wearing face masks and social distancing.

The award-winning broadcaster - also a singer and musician whose bands included Fox Avenue and Apella - is currently back home visiting his Dublin family.

"I did two weeks quarantining in a house in rural Tipperary," he says. "I haven't seen a human mouth in New York since March. New Yorkers are policing themselves. If you go out without a mask you'll be quickly screamed at by old and young on the street, 'hey, where's your f**kin' mask!'

Uneasy

"I don't think Irish people are as conscientious about mask wearing. I was out at Dun Laoghaire last week and there were about 200 people on the pier with little social distancing and no masks."

He adds: "I feel a little bit more uneasy here and more wary of catching the virus than in New York, which is very strange."

  • DARA Quilty's Different is now available on all Podcast platforms.