The Gallagher Initiative is aiming to evaluate the whereabouts and needs of the elderly Irish in New York City.
The new program began in October and is expected to last up to six months. Organizers are focusing on the Irish Americans in Queens and they are hopeful they will extend the initiative to all five boroughs in the future.
The research project was established after Tony Gallagher, a carpenter who immigrated in 1970, died alone in his apartment in Sunnyside in Queens. His death went unnoticed for a week before his body was discovered by firefighters who were called by the building’s superintendent.
It sparked disbelief among the Irish American community and prompted calls for the new initiative.
A team of researchers are working under the guidance of Elaine Walsh, a social workers and professor of urban affairs at Hunter College.
The team plan to interview at least four hundred people made up of first-, second-, and third-generation Irish over the age of 54 about their living arrangements, social networks, daily routines, hobbies and health.
Researchers have began visiting the elderly at their homes as well as community centers such as New York Irish Center, in Long Island City, Queens.
The questions will “identify for us how the Irish elderly are now coping, what their current needs are and what their needs could be in the future,” Dr. Walsh told the New York Times.
The survey will target only a fraction of the elderly Irish population in Queens but researchers plan to use the data to create outreach programs and neighborhood based communication networks.
The main aim of the program is to ensure that nobody falls through the cracks of society.
The program is being supported by the fund for the Advancement of Social Services, and has acquired $25,000 from the office of Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, and an additional $200,000 from the office of Senator Charles E. Schumer. Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform leader Ciaran Staunton was heavily involved in securing the funding.
Recently many Irish immigrants gathered for the free weekly luncheon at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City, in Queens. Many told the New York Times that they planned to participate in the survey but some expressed concern that they initiative would not be able to reach out to those who really needed help.
“My feeling is that it’s not going to be successful,” said Kenneth Natton, who immigrated from Co. Longford in 1964. A retired Verizon installer, he lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with his wife Eilish.
“As the saying goes, ‘They’re preaching to the converted,” he added.
A retired airline employee, 72-year-old Joe Flannery pointed out that many elderly people do not have many social outlets, which is a “sad state of affairs” he reflected.
“A lot of people who come here, this is — believe me — their only outing for the week,” he said.
In a similar attempt to reach out to elderly Irish Americans in New York, last year a hot line for elderly expatriates living alone was established.
The initiative was organized by the Irish Government in conjunction with city officials ad Irish community centers.
However the help line received few calls and was shut down operations recently. The Irish consulate is in the process of hiring a coordinator to revamp the service.
Irish immigrants at the recent weekly luncheon spoke about the importance of getting out of the house and staying active.
Miss Clifford left Ireland in 1957 said she makes a point of getting out of the house. As well as attending the weekly luncheons, she enjoys playing cards during the week.
“I use a cane, and I’m all dilapidated, but I get around,” she joked.
“You’ve got to hang in there, or otherwise you’ve got to lie down and die, “ she added.