The Irish in New Orleans
When you think of New Orleans, you think of the French. The Irish do not usually come to mind as being a part of the social fabric of the city and yet, New Orleans was the second largest point of origin for that ethnic group. It was second only to New York City. The first wave of Irish arrived in New Orleans in the 1700s and quickly assimilated into the culture. New Orleans was a draw for the Irish because it was Catholic and antiBritish. By 1809, there were sufficient numbers of Irish that the first Saint Patrick’s day celebration occurred. In 1833, the Irish constructed Saint Patrick’s church at 724 Camp street. The church itself dates to 1840 but the parish was dedicated in 1833. It is a grand building of the Gothic style, with a tower rising 185 feet into the air.The church was constructed in order that Mass might be performed in English “as the Good Lord intended.” Ironically, Saint Patrick’s church is one of the few churches where you can still hear Mass performed in Latin. The second wave of Irish began pouring into the city during the Great Famine or as it was known in Ireland, “an Gorta Mor.” The Phytophthora infestans, a potato disease struck that crop which a good two-fifths of the population relied upon for survival. It was not a true famine in the sense that food was unavailable. The British did not source the available food to the starving masses and this colossal failure helped contribute to the burning desire for Irish independence. The famine would claim nearly 1 million lives and approximately a million more fled the country. The Irish began arriving in New Orleans in the 1820s and this would peak in the 1840s. Again, New Orleans was a lure as the result of cheap passage available on board cotton ships sailing back to the city from Liverpool, England. Once the cotton cargo was unloaded, the ships needed ballast to properly weight the ship for the voyage home. Humans, paying for cheap tickets were crammed beneath. The conditions were deplorable. Upon arrival in New Orleans, these Irish were impoverished and weak, cramming into designated slums. They quickly began to fall prey to the city’s numerous tropical diseases, such as Yellow Fever. There were so many Irish sickened that the already established population of the city began to call Yellow Fever, the Stranger’s Disease. In addition, thousands would die digging the New Basin Canal. The Irish have left their mark on the city’s culture especially in the form of our accent. There is no southern drawl to be found here, only something that sounds similar to a Brooklyn accent, another area of Irish concentration. So raise a pint of anything but green beer and toast the Irish!
Crescent City Historic Tours