On a cooler in the back of the Parasol’s Bar is a snapshot from the 1990s of a young Thea Hogan dressed in all green at the Irish Channel’s greatest block party. A few decades later, in 2010, she and her late husband John Hogan bought the place. They see some regulars every day.

“Everyone in the neighborhood loves this bar,” she said.

Others are similarly devoted and consider themselves regulars – though they may be once-a-year regulars, who show up every St. Patrick’s Day, when Hogan hires eight bartenders just to keep up.

That’s the way of the Irish Channel. Even for those who have long moved away, the old neighborhood is a touchstone for extended family and old traditions, said Fr. Richard Thibodeau, the priest for two merged churches built in the 1850s across Constance Street from each other: the now-shuttered St. Alphonsus, which was built for Irish immigrants, and St. Mary’s Assumption, which was built by German immigrants.

Though the two churches stand across Jackson Avenue from the current city boundaries for the neighborhood, everyone considers them Irish Channel churches, Thibodeau said. The churches are part of what’s now known as Ecclesiastical Square, which once spanned five city blocks and have, over the years, included a shrine to the Blessed Seelos, a priests’ rectory, two convents, and St. Alphonsus and Redemptorist schools.

The extended Irish Channel family

Thibodeau said that, while his parish of today mirrors the channel’s modest, working-class roots, a much broader community of people trace their family history to these blocks, through schooldays, baptisms, and marriage. This extended Channel family recently helped to raise $1 million for a restoration of the church’s bell tower.

Thibodeau sees many of those far-flung congregants annually, when he says a pre-parade Mass at St. Mary’s for marching clubs like the Emerald Club policemen; the Ancient Order of Hibernians; the Irish Channel Corner Club; and the largest group, the 1,050-member Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade Club, started in 1947 by Dickie Burke’s uncle and father.

Each year, Burke’s club wears tuxes and tails and walks the familiar streets, kissing ladies, just steps behind floats that are tossing cabbages.

Burke, now 66, remembers walking those same streets as a child and knowing everybody’s aunt, uncle, cousin, sister and brother. And though his family moved away to the suburbs in the 1970s when it became nearly impossible to get housing loans for older houses in city neighborhoods, the Irish Channel is still home to Burke and his neighbors, especially around St. Patrick’s Day.

“For the parade, people come back to New Orleans,” he said.

Burke remembers how easy it was to get anywhere from his old neighborhood, just by hopping a bus or hoofing it on foot. The location is still key for small businesses like Quintin’s Ice Cream. Founder Quintin Quinlivan can deliver a freshly made gallon of ice cream from his creamery on Toledano Street to a restaurant in the French Quarter in 10 minutes, he said.

The roots of the Garden

Though the bright-blue Commander’s Palace is technically in the Garden District, the Brennan family, who has run it since 1969, is rooted a few blocks away in the Irish Channel, said co-proprietor Ti Adelaide Martin, whose mother, Ella Brennan, was born in the Channel in 1925.

The family also moves to the rhythms of the Channel in other ways. When Commander’s beloved chef Jamie Shannon was fighting cancer, Martin went to a healing Blessed Seelos Mass at St. Mary’s Assumption with him, a local ritual for those who are ill.

“It’s an Irish-Catholic thing, and half of New Orleans is one or the other or both,” Martin said.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Martin’s uncle and his friends gather to drink and eat corned beef, wearing what Martin terms “grotesque outfits” of the “ugliest green plaid” they can find. And on the second Sunday in October, Prince of Wales, the Irish Channel’s only social aide and pleasure club makes its annual stop there.

The Prince of Wales club is said to be named after the actual Prince of Wales, Edward, later King Edward VIII, who visited the United States in 1924 and was called “the best-dressed man in England.”

In 1928, the club took the streets with that image in mind, determined to be “the best-dressed men in New Orleans,” said Noland Stansberry, 56, who has been a member since 1989 and is now the club’s financial secretary.

Bruce Goodrich, 51, the club’s business manager, had followed the club’s parade since he was a child growing up in the Channel. But he was compelled to finally join in 2008, after the club came out in a purple suit, with a purple shirt and a purple hat. “I couldn’t stand it,” said Goodwin, who has paraded with the club ever since.

For decades, the Prince of Wales parade has passed by Commander’s on Washington Avenue. Usually customers leave their tables and pour out of the restaurant to watch the parade pass.

Then, several years ago, Stansberry, who had worked as a truck driver for the family, made a list of all of the other Commander’s employees who would vouch for them, and then teamed up with Goodwin to make an official visit to Commander’s to ask if the club could make an official stop outside.

After the first year, the annual drink evolved. “It’s called ‘the Prince of Wales,’” Stansberry said. “They make it to match the color of our outfits.”