Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of Nassau County paid tribute to Commodore George Coleman de Kay on June 15 at his place of his burial in the cemetery at the St. George’s Episcopal Church in Hempstead.
Town Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr. led a ceremony at the grave of the Oyster Bay-native and Irish-American to commemorate his contributions during the Great Hunger, a period of mass starvation in Ireland that began in 1845 and continued through 1849.
Commodore de Kay was born in Manhattan to George de Kay, a sea captain, and Catherine Coleman, of County Cork in Ireland. Both of his parents died at an early age and de Kay planned to attend college, but pursued a life of seamanship under the master ship builder Henry Eckford.
In 1826 at 24, he sailed one of Eckford’s ships down to Buenos Aires, and found that the harbor was blocked due to a war between the Argentine Republic and Brazil over the territory Banda Oriental, which later would become Uruguay. After de Kay volunteered to join the Argentine Navy, he proved to be one of the most daring sea captains in this conflict by capturing four ships in battle.
When the Great Hunger struck Ireland in 1845, de Kay wanted to help the country where his ancestors lived. Commodore de Kay petitioned Congress and, in 1847, secured 12,000 barrels of food that were sent to Ireland and reportedly saved 9,000 Irish lives and affected nearly 25,000 others. He sailed for Ireland on the frigate called the Macedonian for the famine relief of the Irish and Scottish people.
At the ceremony, Dunne read from a proclamation sent to the Nassau County residents by Anna McGillicuddy, the deputy consulate general of Ireland in New York. She wrote, “In gathering here today, at the gravesite of Commodore de Kay, you are ensuring that the history of the great hunger and the generosity of the Commodore and the American people will continue to be handed on to future generations.”
The order carried out an act of charity as well and collected food and clothes for St. George’s Episcopal Church.