A former Irish immigrant, who has been calling Kings Park home for decades, is set to lead the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 4.
Born in County Carlow in the southeast region of Ireland in 1934, Michael Lacey has called Kings Park home since he was 21. When he arrived in his new hometown, Lacey found work at the Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital.
According to a press release from the parade committee, Lacey is known in the area “for his compassion, support and inspiration, earning him the title of this year’s honoree.”
Lacey said in a phone interview that when he found out he was this year’s grand marshal, he was excited and happy to hear the news. It’s an event he attends every year.
While living in Ireland, Lacey worked various jobs and traveled throughout his native country as a dance band musician and played the tenor saxophone. The grand marshal said he no longer plays the instrument but still sings. Many may know him from the annual Irish Night at the Kings Park Heritage Museum, where he performs Irish songs for the attendees.
While still in Ireland, he married Kathleen Byrne, and they had their first child before moving to the United States. Lacey immigrated before his wife and child to earn money when finding a job in Ireland was difficult. Lacey said being raised during World War II was hard, during a time when his homeland could not get imports.
“We had a tough time, especially my parents with 10 kids,” he said. “We lived off nature. Everybody sowed their own gardens. When we were kids, everybody took their turn helping our father out in the garden.”
As a kid in Ireland, he said, “We’d go to the movies and see New York and all that and said, ‘Boy, it must be a great place.’ And it is the greatest country in the world.”
When he arrived at Kings Park, he lived on the hospital grounds and worked three jobs. He said he found it to be a friendly place.
“Everybody knew everybody in town,” he said. “If you walked down Main Street, everybody knew who you were.”
When his wife joined him months later, she found a job as a therapy aide at the psychiatric facility. The couple returned to Ireland in 1957 with no intentions of returning to the United States, but after seven weeks in their homeland decided to come back to Kings Park.
Lacey said they returned to Ireland because he was a bit homesick.
“Like they always say, ‘You got to go back and get it out of your system,’” he said. “So, I did go back, and I went back in the same old routine, and I said, ‘I have to go back to the States.’”
The Laceys put down roots in Kings Park and saved money to build a home. Over time Lacey was promoted to laundry manager at the hospital, where he worked for 33 years.
“Mike understands that life is tough at times, but he offered optimism and hope to those whom he encountered”
— Kings Park parade committee
He and his wife helped many of her siblings move to America. The second youngest child in his family, he said his nine brothers and sisters were already settled in Ireland and never moved to the States.
In the parade committee’s press release, the committee members commended Lacey for helping many of his relatives move to America.
“Mike understands that life is tough at times, but he offered optimism and hope to those whom he encountered,” the press release continued. “He was willing so that they could lead a better life, without any thought of receiving anything in return.”
After raising four children in the hamlet and welcoming seven grandchildren into the family, Lacey’s wife passed away in 2021. He remains in the same home they built decades ago. Local family members will be joining Lacey in the parade as he makes his way through the streets of Kings Park.
The parade steps off at noon Saturday, March 4, at the corner of Lou Avenue and Pulaski Road then continues down Main Street onto Church Street. The parade ends down Old Dock Road at William T. Rogers Middle School.
For more information, visit www.kpstpat.com.