By Ray O'Hanlon
It was the lonely death of Mayo man Tony Gallagher that inspired the idea of carrying out a census of the number and needs older Irish people living in the U.S.
And what will be a first of its kind was launched in Long Island City, Queens last week.
The Gallagher Initiative, as the study will be known, was set in by The Fund for the Advancement of Social Services through the office of New York Senator Charles Schumer.
The project is a response to the sadness and outrage felt by many Irish-born and Irish Americans when they
learned of the death of Tony Gallagher, a 72-year-old native of County Mayo who died alone at his home in Queens in December 2008 and whose body wasn't discovered for over a week.
According to a release, the objective of the Gallagher Project is to identify and learn how older Irish are coping and to make informed recommendations to service providers about service needs and gaps in the community.
Led by faculty members from Fordham University and Hunter College, the study director is Dr. Elaine Walsh ofHunter College.
The project will be collaborating with senior programs and churches, and has been warmly welcomed by Irish American organizations in New York.
Commenting on the potential value of this project, Dr. Walsh said: "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," she said.
the study was announced at a community lunch in the New York Irish Center in Long Island City by Irish lobby for Immigration Reform leader Ciaran Staunton [pictured], who first called for such a study to be carried out.
"This is a serious response by Senator Schumer to a culturally sensitive issue, that is, how we identify and address the needs of our Irish aging population, which is reflective of other ethnic groups," said Staunton.
"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," he said.
Mae O'Driscoll of County Cork Association, a member of the study's advisory committee, welcomed the initiative and spoke of its importance within the community.
The Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens also welcomed the study as did the director of the Irish Center in Long Island City, Paul Finnegan, whose Center has been to the forefront in provision of services to the older Queens Irish population.
The project intends to interview at least 400 Queens residents aged 55 or older who were born in Ireland, or have a parent who was born in Ireland. The directors are especially interested in talking to older Irish immigrants who may be isolated or feeling so.
Anyone interested in participating in the study, or who knows someone who may be interested, should call Dr. Elaine Walsh at (917)575.7158 or email Gallagher.email@example.com.
Senator Schumer secured $200,000 in federal funding for the census while New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn added an additional $25,000. Dr Walsh is planning to hold a conference to announce her findings a year from now.