lso known as ‘The Channel’, the Irish Channel sits just below (south) of the Garden District and Magazine Street, bounded downriver by First St (to the east) and upriver by Toledano St (to the west). This small area is primarily made up of traditional New Orleans shotgun homes, some in states of romantic molder, some remodeled to fresh renovation. These houses were originally the downmarket residences of the early waves of Irish immigrants who settled these streets.
Irish immigration into New Orleans began in earnest in 1810, but truly gained steam in the 1830s, over a decade before the Great Famine (1845). That event, also known as the Potato Famine, is largely considered the major spur to the Irish diaspora outside of New Orleans, so why were so many people fleeing to New Orleans earlier?
In general, they sought the same things immigrants seek anywhere in the word: better opportunities for themselves and their families. New Orleans was a major shipping port, and the boats that moved cotton through the Mississippi and off-loaded in Britain required ballast for the return trip across the Atlantic. Thousands of poor Irish were willing to assume the role of said ballast. New Orleans would be prove to be a receptive home; the local population was largely Catholic, and the Franco-Spanish Creoles harbored no shortage of anti-British sentiment.
The Irish settled in what was then called the city of Lafayette, which constituted the modern Garden District, Lower Garden District and Irish Channel. That last name derived from Irish immigrants, but it’s a sight misnomer, as the Irish were joined by many African Americans, Germans and Italians (largely from Sicily, like famous local jazz musicians Tony Sbabarbo and Nick LaRocca). But the Irish were the dominant ethnic group, and their social institutions characterized the hood then and even now, even though the Channel has been majority-African American since the 1960s. Even this demographic is changing thanks to an influx of Latino immigrants in the 1990s and early 2000s, and more recently, young gentrifiers from within the USA.
Back in the day the Irish Channel was home for those new Americans who were employed to build the infrastructure that made New Orleans a great city. Today the area is more well known for St Patrick’s Day celebrations, which tend to concentrate at the iconic Parasol’s bar.