The Gallagher Initiative, a new Irish American community project to identify and address the needs of elderly Irish born citizens living in the U.S., presented the findings of its first study at the American Irish Historical Society in New York on Monday.
Named in memory of Tony Gallagher, the 72 year old Irish carpenter who died alone in his apartment in Sunnyside, Queens three years ago, Gallagher’s passing shocked the community when it was learned that a week had passed before his body was discovered by firefighters summoned by the building’s superintendent.
On Monday the Gallagher Initiative, created to prevent other elderly Irish from experiencing similar tragic fates, presented the findings of its first study of Irish and Irish American aging in New York.
“When Tony Gallagher died we decided we needed to find out how many elderly Irish are actually living in the five boroughs,” Ciaran Staunton, co-founder of the initiative, told the Irish Voice.
“Senator Charles Schumer’s office came in with their support, as did City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office. We focused strictly on Queens because we knew there were over 9,000 single elderly Irish-born people in Queens, 41 percent of whom we knew were living alone. We wanted to hear what would make their lives better.”
In attendance at the Monday event was Professor Elaine Walsh, the co-founder and director of the Gallagher Initiative who announced that the newly created Fund for the Advancement of Social Services would work in partnership with the Gallagher Initiative to advocate for the delivery of quality services to Irish seniors.
The fund will also educate policy makers, the public and the private sector regarding the importance and role of social services for the elderly, and the costs to society of not providing these services.
Walsh, a social worker and a professor of urban affairs at Hunter College, interviewed multiple first, second and third-generation Irish Americans over the age of 54 about their living situations, social networks, daily routines, hobbies and health to ascertain how best to meet their needs going forward.
Schumer was represented on Monday by his chief of staff Martin Brennan, who announced a $200,000 grant to the initiative. Quinn’s office also announced that it would support the initiative with a grant of $75,000.
Known as the generation who sent care packages and money home to Ireland, many elderly find themselves ignored or forgotten about now that they’ve reached their golden years.
“To think that so many of them have given their lives to work and sending parcels and money to Ireland, it would be an awful indictment of our society if no one wants them now,” Staunton said.
The initiative now plans to widen the scope of its research to include the five boroughs, Westchester, Long Island and the outlying areas.
“When there is a network, the Irish all keep a check on each other,” explains Staunton. “We want to create that network. We want to build this house from the ground up.”