St Patrick's Day in New Orleans
Unique Nola tours love a party and St Patrick’s Day is one of the great ones in New Orleans. Sadly, St Patrick’s Day here was born out of a tragic event. Between 1845 and 1857 Ireland was beset with one of the worst famines in world history. The Irish potato famine killed over a million people and it caused twenty percent of the country to emigrate. Many of those afflicted families ended up here in New Orleans.
In the early 1850s the docks were crowded with desperate, hopeful Irish folks looking for a better life in the New World. Many settled in the area that is just upriver from downtown, on the river side of Magazine Street. To this day, the neighborhood is known as the “Irish Channel.”
Now, there had been Irish here since the early 1800s because New Orleans had two attractive qualities to them: we were super Catholic and super anti-British. The first St Patrick’s Day celebration was actually in 1809.
In 1833 St Patrick’s Church was constructed so the Irish worshippers wanted Masses in English. The church still stands today, though it is a different building. What happened is Irish architect James Gallier Sr designed a better building and had it constructed OVER the original church. When the new church was done, they tore down the first one, and pulled it out of the new front doors board by board.
Many Irish rose to prominence as time went on. In the beginning it was tough for them. Many Irish families were basically indentured servants where Dad would work on the magnificent mansions of the Garden District, Mom would do the housework and the kids would clean – all for a dollar a day.
The New Basin Canal took six years to dig and 30,000 Irish and German immigrants died working on it. After a hundred years, the city didn’t need it any more and they filled it back in. Today the long, green stretch of grass runs like a scar along West End Boulevard.
The local accent here actually is theorized to come from the Irish influence. There is no “Southern” feel to our accent here. It is more like a New York-y patois. Some experts believe the Irish, who mostly arrived in Boston, Brooklyn and here affected the English speakers into their unique accents.
If you come to New Orleans during the St Patrick’s Day season, and yes it is a season, it starts a week early and stretches PAST St Patrick’s Day to March 19th on St Joseph’s Day – a day sacred to Italians here. (It goes on and on here).
We have a St Patrick’s parade, where they throw beads and stuff, but they also throw cabbages to bring home to cook with corned beef. We also have a St Joseph’s Day parade, and on the day in between, of course we have the Italian Irish Parade.
And all this happens during that time when Catholics shouldn’t be partying – Lent.