St. Patrick’s Day and The Irish Channel, 1946

Tulane University Digital Library. Paulin playing trumpet during a Mardis Gras parade procession through the Irish Channel. Still Image. Hogan Jazz Archive, Special Collections, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. Tulane University

The Irish Channel is a neighborhood within the Lower Garden District that is home to the history and contributions of the Irish to New Orleans. Although it isn’t just filled with strictly those of Irish descent now, it is home to the St. Patrick’s Day parade and other historical events and landmarks. Worsening conditions at home like the lack of food from the Potato Famine, the desire for freedom of religion, and political freedom from the British overlords led the Irish to immigrate to the United States.

The Irish Channel is a neighborhood within the Lower Garden District that is home to the history and contributions of the Irish to New Orleans. Worsening conditions at home like the lack of food from the Potato Famine, the desire for freedom of religion, and political freedom from the British overlords led the Irish to immigrate to the United States.

They found the freedom they were looking for in the States, but they took up unhygienic living conditions and dangerous jobs. Much of their work exposed them to dangerous work or disease since they relied on jobs African American slaves were not even given because of the high fatality or spread of disease in these jobs. Their masters knew of how dangerous it was and because the slaves needed to last throughout their daily tasks, the Irish workers were merely replaceable. These weren’t the only line of work the Irish could get, but it was the most common when they first immigrated from home to the United States.

The Irish were known for building many of the railroads, canals and cleared the swamps in Louisiana. One of the most known projects and Historic landmarks for the Irish Channel is the New Basin Canal. Intended to use for shipping services of cotton, indigo, tobacco, and other goods. This required clearing of the swamps for the canal to be dug out, causing many to contract and die from yellow fever. The gap in the canal prevented drainage waters and other waste from the upper parts of the city and managed them into streams to the canal. Slaves were needed for households, despite them not being treated well, they needed to last through the daily tasks they were given; the Irish were not regarded as such. However, after the completion of the New Basin Canal, things began to settle and the Irish along with other immigrants moved into the Projects and formed an immigrant area known as the Irish Channel.

Sekaer, Peter. Irish Channel, future site of St. Thomas Housing Project, St. Thomas and Felicity Streets, New Orleans, ca. 1938. Photographs, Gelatin silver print

As the Irish settled into neighborhoods, many wanted to stay near to those who came from the same place as them, which created the term “Irish Channel”. Ironically, it wasn’t all or even a majority Irish. As Spanish, African and French also settled, the majority of the immigrant group dominating this area was actually the Germans. St. Alphonsus, known as “Ecclesiastical Square” with one church for Catholics and two other churches for the French and Germans in the neighborhood. After World War II, the three churches merged and became a cultural center. Despite the seemingly closeness of the different immigrant groups, the Irish Channel had a darker side to it as the docks became a thriving place for prostitutes and criminals. 

Gang activity also began to rise, especially between rivalling Irish and Italian mobs over territories. The most prominent of these gangs were St. Mary’s Market Gang, the Shot Tower Gang, the Pine Knot Gang, the Ripsaw Gang, the Crowbar Gang, and others. Most of the activity was centered towards St. Mary’s Street and Religious Street, ironically such religiously named places were where the violence occurred. The reason for the tension was over different ethnic relations since so many cultures resided so close to one another. St. Mary’s had a record or crime, street fights and other disturbances that it was even given the nick name “Bucket of Blood” and boxing fighters were recruited in the area.

Franck-Bertacci, Franck, Charles L. Copy of an older photograph of two gentlemen, one in a satin outfit with a top hat. Commissioned by a Mr. Basaret care of Waguespack-Pratt. Photograph, 1962. Charles L. Franck and Franck-Bertacci Digital Collection

The long lasting traditions and monumental buildings of the Irish Channel are more than just its past traditions, but the ones kept alive today. Places like Parasols, apart from it being a famous pitstop for the po-boys or for drinks on the march on St. Patrick’s day celebrations, it is also a key piece in the historically immigrant neighborhood. Originally called “Tracey’s” in the early 19th century, which was eventually revived and moved a block over, it was bought out by the Passeur family who became its founders. It became more of a hangout for the locals and families in the surrounding area.

However, it is most famously known for the carnations and kisses associated with the holiday honoring the Irish saint as the Irish Inner Corner Club made it a key part in the holiday. While parades and Ash Wednesday have been the starting points for Mardi Gras, the conclusion of Carnival winds down to St. Patrick’s Day before the Lenten season starts.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in 1946

The Great Depression and World War II put Carnival season on a halt in 1942, eventually “starting” up again in 1945 but it was nothing like how it used to be. This wasn’t the first, nor the last time Mardi Gras had to be postponed or cancelled but

After the end of the war, celebrations erupted in the streets across the world, specifically Ally territory but New Orleans offered their own commemoration. Carnival season traditionally always happened between the months of February and March depending on the calendar year, but shortly after the Great depression it was put on pause. It was a symbol of hope and joy after the end of the war, bringing back some normalcy and carefreeness.

Balls, parties and other activities started rolling in January of the post-war carnival season, an exciting two months before Fat Tuesday. It also fell just two days before St. Patrick’s day as the parade was reestablished, but not celebrated with a traditional parade. The city’s resources were limited as were it is, especially for smaller parades, but the day did not go without celebration.

The St. Charles Hotel held their annual St. Patrick’s Day banquet, hosting the O’Brien’s, Kelley’s and other Irish celebrators. And although their parades didn’t roll, Parasols, the St. Charles Hotel and the Irish Channel held visitors in its bar and the streets of St. Charles and Constance St. They served an assorted menu, keeping it as festive and light as possible, while music filled the streets.

Drinks: Cluded Clover Blossom Cocktails, Spirits

Main: Creme de St. Patrick Soup, Roast Turkey a la Dublin, Peas a la Mother Machree, Emerald Island Potatoes, Tipperary Salad

Dessert: Blarney Stone Ice Cream, Creme de Methe

Teunisson, John N. Tables set for formal dining, including streamers and American flags for decoration. Still image. John Norris Teunisson Photographs.

Good music and good times still went on as the end of the war brought people together and the restart of the Carnival Season since the start of the war. Similarly enough to now, before COVID, more than a dozen times. The essence of The Irish Channel, its traditions, history and the great times that it never fails to bring, also speaks of the history that paved the way for this celebration. Many of the Irish came over after the Great Potato Famine in search of jobs and new opportunities coming to America promised them and found what they were looking for and more.

Begbie, Viva and Wilde, Blanche- Society Editors. “Cosmopolitan Club Auxiliary Has Their  March Meeting”. The Times. 16 March, 1946. https://www.newspapers.com/image/210523213/?terms=st%20patricks%20day%20new%20orleans&match=1

Branley, Edward. “Nola History: The Irish in New Orleans”. 4 March, 2013.  https://gonola.com/things-to-do-in-new-orleans/arts-culture/nola-history-the-irish-in-new-orleans.

“Closing the Gap”. Times-Picayune.12 February, 1863.https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/28235005/?terms=new%2Bbasin%2Bcanal&pqsid=OoG9tUw1Y28KaKdWH1Takg:529000:152986454#.

Haines, Matt. “Behind the Irish Channel: New Orleans Connection to Ireland”. 13th March, 2019.https://nola.verylocal.com/behind-the-irish-channel-new-orleans-connections-to-ireland/43642/.

McNulty, Ian. “Parasol’s Bar, a once lost New Orleans classic, gets another chance in the Irish Channel”. Nola.com. 26 November, 2019. https://www.nola.com/entertainment_life/eat-drink/article_08415dc0-0d81-11ea-8126-d3b917883653.html.  

New Orleans Item (New Orleans, Louisiana), March 18, 1946: 6. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view? p=AMNEWS&docref=image/v2%3A1228C1F96EAE924B%40EANX-1589EC6333D1D2EC%402431898- 1585154818ED2606%405-1585154818ED2606%40. 

The Coshocton News. Newspapers.com. 1 March, 1946. https://www.newspapers.com/image/37045700/?terms=irish%20mardi%20gras&match=1