Gerry Cowley, a Mayo-based doctor and Founder of the Safe Home Program, said there was a “great response” in the U.S. following an article about the service last April in the Echo.
“The majority of returnees are from Britain, but we’ve had a lot more interest from the U.S.,” he said.
Cowley set up Safe Home in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with the aim of assisting elderly Irish emigrants (aged 60 or older) living abroad to move home in situations where they do not have the means to do so themselves.
The program wants to provide housing for participants in the same town or as near as possible to where they grew up and to helps them to reintegrate into contemporary Irish society.
Since the program’s inception in 2002, 478 retired emigrants have moved back to Ireland and 641 individuals are on the waiting list.
Since 2002, the program has helped Irish people from all over the world to return home, but fewer than 10 Safe Home participants have come from the U.S. In recent months, however, the office has received a number of enquiries from all over America, with half a dozen U.S. emigrants now on the waiting list.
Cowley said US returnees tend to readjust very successfully into Irish Society.
“They have all gotten on very well,” he said.
“A lot of people left with the intention of coming back. In their mind, they never left. It’s very humbling to see how much it means to these people to return home.”
“I spent thirty years in the U.S. but never lost the longing to get home,” according to 76-year-old Cathal, who returned to Mayo recently, having moved to Cleveland in 1948.
“I visited as often as I could, which was every five years in the early days. I couldn’t get home more often than that because I knew my parents needed the money I could send home. Last year I came back to Ireland permanently with Safe-Home and live less than ten miles away from my boyhood home. My happiness is complete. For all its shortcomings Ireland is still the greatest place in the world to live in.”
But Cowley is quick to emphasize that returning home is not right option for some people. Prior to signing up, each potential candidate goes through extensive counseling in order to determine their reasons for coming home and to ensure that they are aware of how much Ireland has changed since they left.
“More than half of the people who come back to us are counseled off the list,” he said.
“We go to great lengths to make sure that coming back is as pleasant an experience as possible for them. But those who do come back have make a fully informed choice.”
Angela, who moved to New York from her home town of Athboy, Co. Meath in 1957, was unsure about returning to Ireland when she contacted Safe Home.
“They suggested that I should come over for six months and try out living in Ireland,” she said.
“I took their advice and came, and stayed for the full six months although I knew by the end of the fourth month that coming home was not for me. I moved back to New York and am very content with my life.”
For more information about the Safe Home program, contact 011 353 9836036 or log on to www.safehomeireland.com.