Following the lonely death of a Co. Mayo man in 2008, an Irish census of older people living in Queens, New York was launched on Wednesday, October 13.
The study, which will examine an immigrant’s past and how his/her living conditions are at present, stemmed from the death of Tony Gallagher, 72.
Gallagher, a retired carpenter from Co. Mayo, was found dead in his apartment in Sunnyside on December 11, 2008. Firefighters were called to the apartment building by the superintendant who had not seen or heard from Gallagher in a few days. It is believed he lay dead for a week after suffering from a heart attack.
Shocked and upset with the manner in which Gallagher’s body was there for a week before being discovered, members of the Irish community in Queens asked that something be done to prevent such an incident in the future.
During a service for Gallagher in Queens that December, Father Colm Campbell, chaplin to the Irish community, told a packed house that the community was collectively guilty.
“It’s not right. If someone hasn’t been seen for a day or two someone should be asking questions,” said Campbell at the time.
Community activist and co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, Ciaran Staunton, who has lobbied for nearly two years for funding to get the project off the ground, told the Irish Voice on Tuesday that such a study is necessary.
“When you look back to when Tony Gallagher died there was a big question raised in our community on how can someone not be seen for a week,” said Staunton.
“This raised the question about how many people are out there alone, and how do we go about finding them.”
The Gallagher Initiative was launched by the Fund for the Advancement of Social Services through the offices of New York Senator Charles Schumer, who provided $200,000 in federal funding for the census. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office donated an additional $25,000 for the project.
Staunton initially lobbied the Irish government for funding for the project but his proposal was rejected.
“A number of agencies including the Irish government were approached to identify and set up someone to go out there to do some research but the project was never taken up,” he added.
“We then went local to state and city government and to Schumer’s office and were successful.”
According to Staunton, this is the first time research of the elderly has been conducted in the city.
“Once we have completed Queens the template can then be used citywide and borough wide and in any state in the country,” he said.
The aim of the initiative is to identity how older members of the Irish community are coping in New York, and thus recommend to service providers solutions to deal with the gaps they may find in the community.
The study will be conducted through faculty members of Fordham University and Hunter College.
Director of the study and gerontologist with Hunter College, Dr. Elaine Walsh, will head the four-to-six month study.
Said Walsh, “This is the first needs assessment of older Irish in New York and promises to be a template for similar studies in other parts of the country. It is an honor to lead this first needs assessment of the older Irish. It is vital for the Irish community to come forward to participate directly or by referring others.”
Some of the questions asked will be if the immigrants are happy they left Ireland, how often they would visit home and if they have families here.
The project will reach out to senior programs, churches and Irish community centers.
Executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers Orla Kelleher Doherty said the center “fully supports the Gallagher Initiative and will assist in any way we can if it means improving the lives of the elderly Irish living here in Yonkers/Woodlawn through the provision of services not already available to them.”
Over 400 Irish immigrants or U.S. citizens who had a parent born in Ireland who are 55 or older are expected to be interviewed in Queens.
Walsh plans to present her findings at a conference in New York in October 2011.
The directors are especially interested in talking to older Irish immigrants who may be isolated.
If you are interested in participating in the study or know someone who may be, call Walsh at 917-575-7158 or email Gallagher.firstname.lastname@example.org.