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Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas

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Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

The Irish in New Orleans

The Irish in New Orleans


  The history of New Orleans is tinted green by the many 
Irish who have lived, worked and contributed there. When 
a series of levees was first constructed to protect the 
city back in the late 1700s, it was done under Governor 
Alexander O'Reilly of Co. Meath who, like many tens of 
thousands of other Wild Geese, left Ireland to serve in 
foreign armies. He swore allegiance to Spain, rose to 
brigadier general and when New Orleans was ceded to Spain 
in the Treaty of Paris (1763) he was sent as Spain's first 
governor. In 1801, the city reverted to the French.

After the United Irish Rising of 1798 when British General 
Packenham publicly humiliated French General Humbert by 
ripping off his epaulets and breaking his sword, Napoleon 
sent the discredited Humbert to New Orleans. When America 
purchased Louisiana in 1803, Humbert decided to retire 
there. Nine years later, during the War of 1812, New Orleans 
found itself threatened by the same General Packenham. An 
American force under General Andrew Jackson, himself a son 
of Irish immigrants, was sent to stop them. Jackson sent 
messengers to seek assistance. They recruited the famed Prince 
of Pirates, Jean Lafitte and when they told retired General 
Humbert that the British force was led by Packenham, he too 
volunteered his military expertise hoping to avenge the 
indignity he had suffered in Ireland. Jackson also asked the 
Ursaline convent to pray for his success against the Brits. 
When victory came on 8 Jan, Humbert learned that Packenham 
had been killed in the battle and, being a principled soldier, 
he refused to hang his fallen enemy in effigy. However, 
according to a Cajun historian, Jackson agreed to Lafitte's 
suggestion which pleased Humbert - they packed Packenham's 
body in a barrel of New Orleans Brandy and sent it back to 
England, so that the General might arrive in good spirits.
Jackson also sent a courier to the Ursaline Convent to 
thank the sisters for their prayers. Then he sought out 
the Rt.Rev. Dubourg, (later Catholic Archbishop of New 
Orleans) and asked that he offer up thanks for the victory. 
Permit me, he asked to entreat that you will cause the 
service of public thanksgiving to be performed in the 
Cathedral in token of the great assistance we have 
received from the Ruler of all events. On 23 January 
1815, Jackson and his staff marched triumphantly through 
the streets of New Orleans lined with cheering citizens 
to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass at St. Louis 
Cathedral in what is now Jackson Square.
Among the early Irish contributors to New Orleans was 
Co. Louth born James Gallagher, known to locals as James 
Gallier. From 1834 until he retired in 1850 this brilliant 
architect built the St. Charles Hotel (influenced by the 
Court House in Dundalk), the Post Office, the Exchange 
and the City Hall in Greek Revival style and he built 
St. Patrick's Church and Christ Church with Gothic 
interior and spires. One of James' buildings  is named 
Gallier Hall. It is chiefly owing to his 15 years of 
building in New Orleans that the city is renowned for 
its classical architecture.
The city saw its greatest growth with the arrival, 
between 1845 and 1855, of Irish fleeing the Great Hunger. 
It was they who built the streets and canals that turned 
the port city into a thriving metropolis, and did so at 
a tremendous cost in life due to yellow fever.
The history of Irish contributions to New Orleans 
continued with the philanthropy of Co. Cavan-born Margaret 
Haughery who saved the lives of many orphans and even 
defied Union General Butler to keep serving the poor 
of her adopted city against his curfew. When Margaret 
died in 1882, city newspapers were edged in black and 
her funeral procession was the largest ever seen with 
the mayor leading the procession and two former 
Louisiana governors as pallbearers. The city erected 
a marble statue to the memory of this remarkable Irish 
woman; it is simply engraved Margaret and it stands in 
a little park on Margaret Place.
During WWII Higgins Industries, owned by an Irishman 
named Andrew Jackson Higgins, produced more than 20,000 
boats for the Allies. He also designed and built 199 PT 
boats. By September, 1943, ninety-two percent of U.S. 
Navy vessels were of Higgins design. His company 
received the Army-Navy "E" (the highest award bestowed 
upon a civilian company) several times during the War 
and many of his boats are on display in the largest 
D-Day Museum. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 
memoirs, recognized Higgins as the man who won the war 
for us.
From the earliest days, when the blending of Irish and 
Creole music created the sound we know today as Cajun, to 
the most recent tragedy that struck the Crescent City, the 
Irish have been there. When Katrina hit in August, 2005, 
the AOH established a relief fund that has helped bring 
the city back to its feet. Buses and other assistance is 
still rolling in as a result of Irish generosity. Perhaps 
the most enduring legacy of the Irish in New Orleans is 
the undefeatable attitude that never says die and which 
has become a part of that city.