It has been the trip of a lifetime for many, but for retired coach driver Liam McIntyre, it has been a poignant journey.
Last November, the Donegal man drove to Dublin from his home in Donegal Town to appear on Winning Streak. With him was his 100-year-old mother, Annie.
“Marty [Whelan] asked her what her dream was and she said she wanted to go to New York,” said Liam. Sadly, nine months later Annie died without achieving that dream. But three days after she was buried Liam got the call to say he was one of the 39 lucky winners of the lottery’s Big Money Game TV show and that he was heading to New York.
In his mother’s honour, Liam and his son Liam Jr have made the most of every minute of their trip — and of the €2,500 in spending money given to them by the lottery team.
Among their many purchases are two important items for his daughter, Elaine, who gets married later this month.
“The deal we did was, I wanted her to go on this trip with Liam but she said: ‘No dad, my wedding is two weeks later, but you get me two dresses for my honeymoon’,” he said. The two Liams achieved their mission, buying one of the dresses in Macy’s department store.
Many of the prize winners found themselves trying to spend some of their €2,500 in the world-famous store. Among them was Claire Pierce from Carrigtwohill, Co Cork. She was able to call on the expertise of a job in retail in Brown Thomas in Cork to shop for herself, her husband Tod, and their two young children Béibhin and Ruadhán.
Claire and Tod might have missed their children while on the trip, but it provided them with an opportunity to meet up with other family members in the city where they got engaged in 2008.
On Friday night, they headed to New York’s East Village to have a few drinks at the bar owned by Tod’s uncle, Johnny, who is one of triplets. On Monday, they then got to meet up with another of the triplets who lives in Long Island.
One of their highlights was the night cruise across the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty, something they had wanted to do when they came to New York before but didn’t get a chance. On the cruise the guests got to hear from the boat’s captain about his previous role as a firefighter. He had managed to get to the 11th floor of one of the World Trade Centre towers to try to help people when the other tower collapsed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“The lottery staff do everything for you,” said Tod. “From the first night at the meal, they were so friendly and catered for all the questions we had.”
Claire said: “There has been no expense spared. They are just there to make our journey as enjoyable as possible. The fact that you have your own freedom but can meet up for a group evening is brilliant because it is the best of both worlds.”
As a group, the prizewinners also got to eat in some of New York’s top restaurants, including the River Café right under Brooklyn Bridge. They also got to visit a few of the city’s most iconic buildings.
Storyteller, author, and former schoolteacher Eddie Lenihan, and his wife, Mary, scaled the heights of the Rockefeller Centre.
“Looking down, people were like little specks. It was a spectacular view, especially of Central Park,” said Eddie, who only found out he had won when his wife rang him in Amsterdam where he was telling stories at an event. In fact, this trip across the Atlantic is the latest of many for Eddie, whose storytelling has taken him to 40 of the 50 US states so far.
As a Clare resident, Eddie took great pleasure in watching last Saturday’s All-Ireland hurling final replay in an Irish pub. While confessing to not being a huge sports fan, he added: “It was a great match, you got drawn into it.”
It was a good week all round for Clare as Eddie’s fellow parishioner, John McNamara, was also on the trip. The pair found out within a week of each other that they had scooped the big prize.
What was much less captivating for Eddie was the shopping, a bone of contention for Mary who was determined to avail of the copious spending money.
No trip to New York would be complete with- out taking in a Broadway show, and the group got to enjoy Jersey Boys.
A number of people also made it to the tour of the Intrepid, a massive aircraft carrier moored on the Hudson. On the flight deck of the vessel, the public can walk among a myriad fighter planes and helicopters and even the Space Shuttle. Alongside the carrier, on land, is a Concorde plane, while in the water beside it is the decommissioned nuclear submarine, the USS Growler, which people are able to walk through.
Unfortunately, some of the city’s most famous sights were closed on the last day of the trip due to the fallout from the US government shutdown.
However, that just gave the prizewinners another excuse to do a bit more shopping.