Not so long ago, Ireland's number one export was people.
A nation mired in poverty had no jobs to keep its own employed, and so the young left in droves. For decades, they finished school and were on a plane as quick as they could raise the airfare. Thousands of Irish men and women found work in America, then sent money home to support their extended families.
Through hard work, they rescued countless Irish who relied on money from abroad to keep food on the table. The jobs didn't pay much, and it often meant that once a child left, they couldn't afford to return. Family connections were lost and sixty years on, there's no one in Ireland who remembers the great-uncle who went to New York.
Dr. Elaine Walsh of Hunter College has received some funding from Senator Chuck Schumer to conduct a survey of the Irish diaspora in Queens, New York.
She felt compelled to do something following the lonely death of retired carpenterTony Gallagher, whose body was not discovered until a week after his passing.
Dr. Walsh plans to reach out to the Irish community in Queens, calling at pubs, churches and wherever the Irish retirees may gather, to find out how they are getting on. By identifying the old ones, she hopes to foster a sense of community among them so that if one should not be seen around for a day or two, their absence will be noticed.
For now, Dr. Walsh is confining her census to the Queens borough, but plans are in the works to expand the data collection to places like Boston or Chicago, where the Irish found work when there was nothing much for doing back home.
For all the money that they sent back to support their native land, Ireland doesn't have an extra euro or two to return the favor to her scattered children. The information that Dr. Walsh collects would most likely be of use to the Irish Centre in New York, a home away from home that represents a refuge from the obscurity found in big cities.
The Irish came for decades to escape poverty and lack of opportunity back home. The cheap housing they occupied is now taken up by the newest waves of immigrants who emigrated to escape poverty in their native countries. The Gallagher Initiative seeks to find those pensioners who stayed where they landed, and now find themselves isolated, no longer surrounded by fellow Irishmen.
Through the Gallagher Initiative, Dr. Walsh intends to find them and extend a lifeline to those whose financial assistance just might have helped to trigger the Celtic Tiger that launched Ireland into the western world.