The Luck of the Irish in New Orleans

new orleans Jun 30, 2019
‘I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it’. – Thomas Jefferson
We've all heard about the fascinating history of the Creole and Cajun cultures portrayed in the music and cuisine, the Spanish and French architecture are apparent throughout the city and the soulful influence of the Caribbean and African people provide the pulse and vibe of the crescent city. But what about the other cultures that helped build the city?
The most unique combination of ingredients blended together make the best gumbo and the same can be said about creating a city. Each culture who settles in a region, indelibly leaves their mark and impact on the area.
In New Orleans history, this includes the migration of the Irish. During the 1840’s, a great famine hit Ireland, referred to as the potato famine. The magnitude of this famine along with the politics of the time with the English, encouraged almost one million Irish people to migrate to the U.S. During the influx of the Irish to America, the majority relocated to Boston and New York in greater numbers than in New Orleans, but like each piece of history that I share in my Spirits of New Orleans book dear readers, we can see the significant impact that each culture created in the city. When looking at American history, it can be said that Ireland’s loss was America’s gain, as the country benefited in a myriad of ways from the Irish settling here in the U.S. Many of our cultural, religious and holiday celebrations were brought here by the Irish, including the celebration of Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.
The Irish who migrated through the port of New Orleans settled into an area near the river called the Irish Channel. At great peril and with a tremendous loss of life due to disease, snakes and alligators, the Irish were instrumental in digging and establishing the extensive canal system in the city including the New Basin Canal which provided an important link from downtown New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain. The building of the New Basin Canal was extremely difficult, as the Irish worked with water up to their hips while digging and were at constant risk of contracting malaria, cholera and yellow fever, all of which were fatal to many. Many of the Irish laborers who fell ill while working were buried at or near this area and it is estimated that the number could be as high as 30,000. This area is reportedly one of the most haunted in New Orleans, especially near Canal Street at City Park Avenue, which has a record of hauntings and active encounters including seeing full apparitions of ghosts walking down the street and ghostly funeral processions.
The Irish added to the diversity of architecture and culture in the city, building St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and establishing Hibernia Bank. One example of Irish architecture is the Gallier House on Royal Street, built by Irishmen James Gallier and his son James Jr. who were architects in the city. Another testimony to the strength and heart of the Irish is the statue of Margaret Haughery, an Irish immigrant who became a well respected business woman in New Orleans. Her business acumen was only matched by her good deeds and charity and the statue portrays her comforting an orphan in her arms. It is believed that this statue of Margaret is the first statue in the U.S. to honor a woman.
When in New Orleans, it’s always good to tap into the ‘Luck of the Irish’ and no place is more famous for being Irish in the city than Pat O’Briens. With their signature flame fountains (water fountains with fire in the middle), live music and special drinks served up in souvenir glasses, Pat O’Brien’s delivers on their motto created back in 1933, which is “Have Fun”!
Located in the heart of the French Quarter, Pat O’Brien’s has an illustrious history, first as a speakeasy during prohibition and then operating as an Irish bar. Perhaps what it’s most famous for is the creation of the drink – the ‘Hurricane‘, which is still popular to this day.
Dining and listening to music at Pat’s is an experience not to miss while in New Orleans and I had a ghostly encounter there when visiting, which I share in my Spirits of New Orleans book.
May the luck of the Irish be yours while you enjoy the food, music and festivities!
Kala’s tips on finding the ‘Luck of the Irish‘ while visiting New Orleans:
  • Visit the historic Gallier House, now a local museum located on Royal Street

  • Have a signature Hurricane drink at Pat O’Briens in a souvenir take home hurricane glass

  • Order your very own Pat O’Brien’s swag to wear at the next St. Patty’s Day party

  • There’s no St. Patrick’s Day parade quite like the one in New Orleans where cabbages, potatoes and other produce are tossed from the floats

  • Visit the haunted area of Canal Street at City Park avenue to try your luck at seeing a ghost

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