Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Orleans' Charming Irish Channel

Although I have already written a post for today (St. Patrick's Day), I felt that I neglected to truly pay homage to the wonderful heritage that the Irish people have given not only to the United States in general, but to New Orleans in particular. While many of you have probably heard of the various charming neighborhoods that make up New Orleans (such as the Garden District, or Uptown, or the Bywater), none is perhaps more picturesque than the cozy and modest part of town referred to as the "Irish Channel."

The Irish Channel is a true melting pot of cultures and peoples. Many consider it one of New Orleans most interesting neighborhoods.

Irish peasants fleeing the potato famine in the 1840s and 1850s debarked at Adele Street and were channeled from there to the rest of the country. There are several versions of how the Irish Channel got its name. One story is that Irish seamen coming up the river would see the light outside Noud’s Ocean Home Saloon on Adele Street and cry out “There’s the Irish Channel!” Another story is that Adele Street was often flooded after a rain and it seemed like a channel. The truth is that it was probably called the Irish Channel because so many Irish immigrants lived there.

(Photo by Peter Sekaer 1901-1950)

While there were wealthy, prominent Irish people, the Irish who came after the 1840s were largely penniless and had to work as laborers. With no money to explore beyond their debarkation point, many lower-income Irish settled right on that spot. Along the river there were slaughterhouses, tallow factories, steam driven cotton presses and even a sugar refinery. Work could easily be found in the area for butchers, blacksmiths, bricklayers, saddlers and draymen. As was true elsewhere in the country, the Irish of New Orleans were often considered "expendable" labor. Many were killed while employed at dangerous construction work and other manual labor. The riverfront was also home to petty thieves and prostitutes. Those who survived the recurring epidemics of yellow fever and saved their money became small businessmen or entered local politics, which helped them to prosper and gain prestige.

Rolland Golden, one of New Orleans' most prominent artists, posing with his mother in late 1930s New Orleans (Irish Channel neighborhood)

The Irish lived simply in small cottages. Shotgun houses – single, double and camelback – predominated the neighborhood. Whereas the Irish Channel neighborhood itself was respectable, the riverfront saloons gave it a bad reputation. Today, many of the neighborhood bars are gone, but several bars, including Parasol's on Constance Street are still present to entice Irish people to celebrate their heritage. In fact, Parasol’s is the starting point for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade that marches through the Irish Channel.

The "Irish Channel" was originally home to many of the Irish workers who came here in the 1830s to dig the New Basin Canal, completed in 1840. This area of small cottages and "shotgun" houses, located on narrow lots, continued to be inhabited throughout the 19th and 20th centuries primarily by blue-collar workers, who could afford the more modest prices. The houses here are smaller than those in the Garden District and Uptown, but what they lack in square footage, they more than make up for in fine decoration and charm. Their close proximity creates a feeling of community and coziness, where neighbors can still share a cup of coffee or a moment of gossip over a backyard fence.

Today, the Irish Channel is one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in the city, with residents drawn from every walk of life and every income level. Many families are multi-generational, having raised children and grandchildren here, while others are among the city's newest arrivals. Located along the strip of high ground facing the Mississippi, the "Channel" has gone from being a less-than-desirable address to being one that's extremely valuable, if for nothing else than its elevation. And the cultural variety here, from the heterodoxy of Magazine Street to the beautiful serenity of St. Mary's Assumption Church, offers something from everyone, whether or not he or she comes from the Emerald Isle.

Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson on one of New Orleans' most beloved neighborhoods.

Have a great night.


  1. Seeing all of these pictures of the glorious old, historic homes of New Orleans makes me miss it all the more. Thank you for sharing these images. It felt like home.


  2. Delighted to breathlessness at the story and architecture! I'm sure the St. Patty Day parade has a New Orleans feel, too.



    Sandy @ My Shabby Streamside Studio

  3. For a guy that is living in Europe all of this is making me home sick.


  4. Thanks you very much for sharing these links. Will definitely check this out..


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