The Irish Channel is an historic
neighborhood in New Orleans
, the particular architectural
character of which was ostensibly created by the Irish immigrant
s who flooded the city
in the nineteenth century
. Difficult to distinguish from the neighborhood known as Lafayette
, the Irish Channel refelcts the employment pattern
s of the immigrant
s in their adopted city
The primary source of employment for the new Irish was in the brutal construction of the New Basin Canal, a waterway linking the Warehouse District to Lake Pontchartrain. The work was extremely difficult: the incidence of injury, malaria, exhaustion, and death among the Irish was quite high, and so many died that they were frequently buried near the canal, as a convenience.
The Irish Channel neighborhood was the result of Irish relocation to areas closer to their work site. However, the reputation the neighborhood acquired, of a distinctly Irish sector of the city replete with Old World nationalism and pubs, was (in the fine tradition of Southern self-created mythology) false.
The New Basin Canal was begun in 1838, and the Civil War, as well as the regional tensions which led to it, occured too shortly thereafter for the Irish to remain a culturally unique demographic group. The war united the city, as wars occsionally do, and by the 1880's, after the deprivation and hardships of Reconstruction, the Irish were an indistinct component of a largely multicultural city.
Nonetheless, the myth of the Irish national and ethnic presence has persisted: New Orleans is peppered with pub-like bars and inexplicable references to its Irish heritage. It is true that the influx of Irish doubled the city's population by 1860, but the immigrants did not bring their culture with them, and were more or less subsumed by the Creole-French-Spanish traditions present upon their arrival.