On the hot early afternoon of June 15, members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of Nassau County Division 7 recognized the heroism of Commodore George Coleman de Kay by gathering at his place of his burial in the cemetery at the St. George’s Episcopal Church in Hempstead.
Standing by his grave, Town Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr. led a ceremony to commemorate the Oyster Bay-native and Irish-American for his contributions during the Great Hunger or a time of mass starvation in Ireland from 1845 to 1849.
Commodore de Kay was born in Manhattan, and his parents George de Kay, a sea captain, and Catherine Coleman, of County Cork in Ireland, both died when he was young. Although he initially planned to attend college, he instead opted to become a seaman and worked under master ship builder Henry Eckford.
He was 24 in 1826 when he sailed to Buenos Aires to find the harbor blocked because of an ongoing war between the Argentine Republic and Brazil. De Kay joined the Argentine Navy in their battle over the territory, Banda Oriental, which would later become Uruguay. He captured four ships in battle, earning a reputation of being one of the Navy’s most daring sea captains.
In 1845, the Great Hunger struck Ireland, and de Kay wanted to help the country from which his family had come. He petitioned the U.S. Congress, and two years later secured 12,000 barrels of food that were then sent to Ireland. He sailed on a frigate called the Macedonian to the country, where his efforts reportedly saved 9,000 Irish lives and affected nearly 25,000 others.
At the ceremony, Richard O’Neill, the president of the AOH of Nassau County Division 7, said that the order’s purpose is to help people the way de Kay helped the people of Ireland. “When we see abuse, we must step in and help,” he said. “[Commodore de Kay] did, and it’s worth honoring every year.”
The order carried out an act of charity by collecting food and clothes for St. George’s Episcopal Church.