Margaret Pritchard, Margaret Begley, Catherine O'Brien, Marge Suter, Liz Kenny and Agnes Neulinger at the New York Irish Center

Next week the first census of Irish elderly people in the New York borough of Queens will begin. 400 respondents will take part in a survey on emigration and their situation in the United States.

The survey is being called the Gallagher Initiative. It is named after Tony Gallagher. A retired carpenter, originally from Ireland he died in December 2008. His remains were only discovered a week after his death.

Doctor Elaine Walsh, the the gerontologist from Hunter College, and head of the study of Irish pensioners spoke to the Irish Times about the “snowball approach” she is using. The initiative was launched at the Irish Centre in Long Island City. The Fund for the Advancement of Social Services was welcomed enthusiastically and 80 guests asked to participate.

Walsh said “Many of them said, ‘I’m fine, but I know someone who lives alone and needs help’. That’s exactly what we want. They were thinking of others, not themselves.”

Ciarán Staunton, founder and president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, has unsuccessfully lobbied the Irish government for assistance. He says “Many of these elderly Irish sent money to Ireland in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s...They paved the way for the Celtic Tiger and for us to come here.”

Charles Schumer, the New York senator, got $200,000 in federal funding for the census. Also Christine Quinn, the Irish-American speaker of the New York city assembly, got $25,000.

The findings of Walsh’s study will be discussed at a conference in October 2011. Walsh and her team will approach churches, pubs, shops, restaurants, building superintendents and neighbours. Their aim is to find those Irish who have been cut off from their community.

“The demographics of Queens has changed, with an influx of other ethnic groups...That has increased their isolation,” Walsh told the Irish Times. “If they’re not seen for a couple of days, someone should ask, ‘Where are they?’”

Staunton says that the Queens census is just the start of surveys that will be carried out in ethnic communities looking after their own and for future Irish initiatives in cities with large Irish populations such as Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

Those taking part in the survey will be asked if they are they are happy they left Ireland; whether they would have preferred to have stayed; how often they went back; how much money they sent home; how they feel it should be returned to them and where their families are and how often they visit.

Walsh askes that anyone who knows elderly people in Queens to contact her on +1 917 575 7158 or at