Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Who is St. Patrick?

St. Patrick Cemetery, Number 1
in New Orleans
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

There is an old church in New Orleans on Camp Street named after St. Patrick. He is the patron saint of Ireland who converted the Irish people from paganism (Druidism) to Christianity in or about 432 AD.

There is a cemetery on Canal Street in New Orleans named St. Patrick Cemetery, Number 1. There is another cemetery, also in New Orleans and also on Canal Street, named St. Patrick Cemetery, Number 2.

St. Patrick Cemetery #2,
in New Orleans
Photo by A. McGrath

And there is still another cemetery in New Orleans named St. Patrick. This is St. Patrick Number 3, and it is on City Park Avenue.

There are numerous parades for St. Patrick's Day in New Orleans. In multicultural New Orleans everyone celebrates March 17th. Some parades go through the old neighborhood called the Irish Channel, and others go through the French Quarter and the suburbs.

Some parades are typically Irish; others are multicultural.  One includes the Italians/Sicilians -- who celebrate St. Joseph Day on March 19 -- and another includes the Islenos, who are people with an ancestry in the Canary Islands of Spain. The Islenos immigrants originally settled in fishing villages just south of New Orleans. In reality, in New Orleans, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by people of all ethnic backgrounds and all religious beliefs.

Entrance to St. Patrick Cemetery #1
on Canal Street in New Orleans, LA, USA
Photo by A. McGrath

There is even a street in the city named St. Patrick Street -- not far from the St. Patrick cemeteries -- and a playground by that name too.

St. Patrick Cemetery, Number One
on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana
Photo by Adrian McGrath

New Orleans is about 4300 miles from a place called Downpatrick in Northern Ireland (or the North of Ireland, if you prefer). There is a graveyard at a cathedral there which is said to be the final resting place for St. Patrick who died on March 17, 461 AD. The exact resting place for St. Patrick is disputed, however.

So, why is this man who lived 4300 miles away and 1557 years ago remembered in a city, New Orleans, so separated from him in time and space? And for that matter, why is St. Patrick remembered in other cities and countries around the World?

The day for St. Patrick was remarkably celebrated in Antarctica too. No kidding. See this story about a St. Patrick's Day celebration in Antarctica.

And St. Patrick's Day was even observed in outer space where an Irish American astronaut, Dr. Cady Coleman  , played an Irish tune on a flute and sent holiday greetings from the International Space Station orbiting planet Earth.

American Astronaut Dr. Cady (Catherine) Coleman
sends best wishes for St. Patrick's Day from
the International Space Station, while playing
an Irish flute and a tin whistle, given to her by
the Irish band The Chieftans. She is floating with the
musical instruments in zero gravity while orbiting planet Earth.
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia Commons

Quite amazing, yes. Although St. Patrick's Day -- his Feast Day which is actually observed on the day he died, March 17 -- had been recognized for centuries by the Church, the first officially recorded St. Patrick's Day celebration in America happened in the Spanish colony of Florida in 1600. That Spanish colony had an Irish priest or vicar named Ricardo Artur (or Richard Arthur) who made the St. Patrick's Day celebration happen. 

The largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world today is not in Ireland but in New York City. This New York tradition began in 1762 by Irish soldiers who were then in the British Army. Not to be outdone by the British Army, George Washington celebrated St. Patrick's Day with his soldiers during the Revolutionary War. (See my article on this.)

So why has St. Patrick and his Feast Day been remembered with such affection throughout the centuries by so many people? What did St. Patrick do?

Stained glass of St. Patrick
in Cathedral of Christ the Light
in Oakland, CA, USA
Photo from Creative Commons/
Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, Sicarr

The story begins, oddly enough, not in Ireland, but in ancient Britain. His original name was Maewyn Succat, not Patrick; and he was Roman, not English, despite being born in Britain.
(Maewyn later took on the Latin name Patricius, which in English is Patrick.)

Many of the details of St. Patrick's life are uncertain today, and much remains a mystery. We do know that he came from a fairly well-to-do family of Roman citizenship and that his parents were Christians. He was born in the early 5th century AD and may have lived in his early years in Scotland. 

The river dyed green for the Irish
for St. Patrick's Day in Chicago, Illinois, 2009
Photo from Wikimedia Commons and Mike
Boehmer, Chicago/ Creative Commons

The world in those days was still dominated by the Roman Empire, but it was in decline in the West. The eastern empire thrived from Constantinople, but the West fell to barbarian invaders in 476 AD. In the time of St. Patrick, Rome still existed; but the world was changing. Rome was no longer officially a pagan state but had been Christianized under Emperor Constantine.

Nevertheless, paganism prevailed throughout much of Europe. Ireland had not been conquered by Rome, although Romans did visit it somewhat and named it Hibernia, the winter land. 

US President Barack Obama and Irish Prime
Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny celebrate
St. Patrick's Day at the White House, 2012.
Pres. Obama and Mr. Kenny both have on
green ties and green shamrocks. St. Patrick's
original color was blue, but green
eventually won favor as the symbol for Ireland.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Most of what we know about the life of Patrick comes from a book he wrote called Confessio. (See more about the book here.) In it St. Patrick describes his life and his work as a missionary. 

When he was only 16 years old, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken back to Ireland as a prisoner and sold as a slave. He was forced to work for a wealthy Irish chieftain as a shepherd tending to his flock of sheep. (Yes, it had an uncanny symbolism, did it not?)

Stained glass of St. Patrick
Kilbennan, County Galway,
Ireland, St. Benin's Church
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
Creative Commons, Andreas F. Borchert

Patrick was a prisoner and slave for six years. During that time, although he had not been particularly religious prior to his enslavement, he developed a strong belief in prayer. His Christian faith sustained him during his captivity.  

He escaped somehow and made his way by ship back to Britannia and was reunited with his family. It was said that Patrick was advised by a mysterious voice during a dream on how to make his escape. Was this the voice of God?

After he was back home, Patrick decided that he would become a Catholic priest. He studied for the priesthood and became a missionary. But he had another dream. This time, in the dream, he received a letter called "The Voice of the Irish." In the dream he heard the voices of Irish people asking him to return to Ireland and teach them about Christ.

The fountain in front of the White House
in Washington DC dyed green in honor
of St. Patrick's Day, 2011. Green is the Irish color.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons and US Government

Patrick eventually became a bishop, and in 433 AD he traveled back to Ireland. In the land where he was once held as a slave and labored as a shepherd, he returned as a Catholic bishop and missionary who would lead a new flock, the Irish nation from paganism to Christ.

By using no power but his remarkable powers of persuasion, his will power, and his faith in Jesus, St. Patrick built churches and converted thousands upon thousands of the Irish people. He told the Irish about the life of Jesus and delivered the Gospel to them. 

St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City,
on 5th Avenue, 1909
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Library of
Congress, Bain News Service Collection

St. Patrick lived and worked in Ireland as a missionary, usually in a state of poverty and with great physical hardship for almost 40 years. Although there were other Catholic missionaries to Ireland, it was Patrick who was responsible ultimately for turning the Irish away from Druidism to Christianity.

St. Patrick, it was said used the shamrock -- a three leaf clover with one stem -- to explain to the pagans the complex and seemingly contradictory concept of the Blessed Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were like the three leaves on the shamrock which were connected by one stem forming one shamrock leaf. Like the Celtic harp, the shamrock became the very symbol of Ireland, perhaps greater so because of its religious ties to St. Patrick.

There is a popular story that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. Of course, Ireland did not and does not have any snakes. What this story most likely means is that St. Patrick drove away the belief of the Irish in paganism and replaced it with a faith in Christianity.

St. Patrick truly did great things and did so in a humble and caring way. He never used force or threats to convert the pagans. He only persuaded them through the power of love -- the love of the words of Jesus.

Evidence of St. Patrick's devotion to the teachings of Jesus is this prayer which he wrote called "Christ Be With Me." There is no doubt that these were not mere words to Patrick because it was the power of Christ that sustained him when he was just a boy being held as a prisoner and worked as a slave. 

St. Patrick devoted is life to helping the very people who had enslaved him find salvation through Jesus Christ.

From "Christ Be With Me" written by St. Patrick:

"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 

Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,

Christ in every eye that sees me, 
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Salvation is of the Lord. 
Salvation is of the Christ.

May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us."

St. Patrick died in a place called Saul, Downpatrick, in the North of Ireland on March 17, 461 Anno Domini. 

The spirit and message of St. Patrick's live on centuries later in Ireland, in New Orleans, in Antarctica, in New York, in Washington DC, in a space station in orbit around planet Earth, and where ever and when ever people of faith travel throughout the Universe -- not just the Irish people, but any and all people who hear the healing power of the words of Christ -- or simply follow his example -- by which St. Patrick found Salvation. 

Sources and further reading:

"This Day in History: March 17, 461 Saint Patrick Dies" by the Editors at;, article on St. Patrick.
For St. Patrick's prayer, "Christ Be With Me," see here and here. Wikipedia article on St. Patrick's Day in the USA 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What Foods did the Irish Eat in Old New Orleans?

Red Beans and Rice with Andouille and Ham
with a French Bread Pistolette
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

What foods did the Irish eat in New Orleans after they emigrated to that major port city on the Mississippi River? The Irish had been coming to New Orleans, Louisiana from the city's earliest days since the 1700s. But they came sporadically, and the early immigrants had some means in that city which was originally controlled by France. They were not poor and uneducated. 

The French city changed hands, going to Spain and then back to France. Napoleon Bonaparte gave it to the United States under the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 when Thomas Jefferson was president.

Unlike the rest of the American South which was mainly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, New Orleans was Catholic -- as was south Louisiana in the French Cajun country. As a major port New Orleans attracted people from around the world. French, Spanish, African (most held as enslaved persons, although there were some Freemen-of-Color and Freewomen-of-Color), Native American Choctaws, Germans, Italians, all made up the multi-cultural gumbo that was New Orleans. 

But there was another group of immigrants who came en masse. The Irish, and mainly Irish Catholics, came again to New Orleans in the 1830s through the 1850s. These Irish were different from the few Irish who had arrived earlier. These Irish were mainly poor and uneducated. They came in the 1830s seeking political freedom from oppression in their homeland which was occupied by Britain, and they came for work to survive. 

These Irish were typically discriminated against in work with signs like "No Irish Need Apply" -- a common thing in the major cities on the US East coast.

Some of these Irish found employment, albeit very difficult and dangerous, digging the New Basin Canal from the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, north of the city, to the business district of New Orleans. Thousands of these Irish immigrants died from diseases and exploitation while digging this canal through hot, humid swamps infested with wild animals and mosquitoes which carried deadly yellow fever.  (See more about this at my article on the New Basin Canal.)

Monument for the Irish who died digging the
New Basin Canal of New Orleans in the 1830s
Photo by A. McGrath

The living conditions for these Irish workers was atrocious. They had no medical care to speak of and very poor food as they were several miles from the central city. The only supplies they got were from the company store which took advantage of them and had inadequate cooking facilities.

Another wave of Irish immigrants came during the Great Hunger or Potato Famine from 1845 to about 1850. (Read more about this at my article on Coffin Ships.)  A million Irish people starved to death when the potato blighted, despite the fact that there were other types of food in Ireland besides potatoes. But all the food and the lands were controlled by the British who let the Irish starve to death or flee Ireland, mainly for America, in dangerous and disease-filled Coffin Ships. 

We should be thankful always for the food we have today when we consider how our ancestors suffered horribly and died by the thousands upon thousands in those horrible days.

These Famine Irish immigrants were not discriminated against because of religion, as New Orleans was a Catholic city historically; but they were nevertheless considered outcasts by both the old established Creoles (descendants of the French and the Spanish) and the newer Anglo-Americans who came after the Louisiana Purchase.

By the time of the 1850s, a notorious group of bigots called the Know Nothings actively discriminated against the Irish and were involved in political movements to suppress Irish immigration.

The Union Fleet captures New Orleans
during the American Civil War, 1862
Photo from Wikipedia

With the American Civil War, Irish immigration to the city reduced and more and more Irish arrived in Northern ports like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. 

Eventually, however, the Irish made a home in New Orleans and began to assimilate. Because of their outstanding service as soldiers in the American Civil War, they gained respectability and advance up the social ladder becoming policemen, firemen, businessmen, journalists, lawyers, and politicians. (See my article on the Irish in the American Civil War, for more.)

Yes, all of this history is quite interesting; but since we are talking about New Orleans, a city where food is practically a religious experience, the question remains: What did the Irish eat? What foods did they cook at home?

I looked far and wide; and much to my surprise, I found the answer in a book written under the auspices of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) created during the Great Depression in the 1930s. It was part of a special writers' program of the WPA, Louisiana Writers' Project. (More on this book in a moment, let me finish the historical setting first.)

Most of the early Irish in New Orleans lived in a neighborhood near the Mississippi River called The Irish Channel a few miles up the river from the Vieux Carre or French Quarter which was the heart of the city. Originally, it was outside of the city limits and was a poor neighborhood or a working class neighborhood. 

No one really knows how it got its name. Some suggested when it rained, the poor drainage made the steets there resemble water channels. Others said the Irish were "channelled" into that area -- new Irish simply followed where earlier Irish immigrants stayed. Still another explanation was that as immigrants arrived by river boat on the Mississippi, they went down a side waterway, or channel, into that neighborhood. But, no one really knows.

It had shotgun houses (a unique style of small houses in New Orleans which were long and thin) and a number of rough-house bars -- one was called the "Bucket of Blood." (You get the idea.) Yes, on the waterfront, with lots a bars, drinking, and a few fist fights. Like something right out of a play by Eugene O'Neill.

The neighborhood was mainly Irish then but had people from other ethnic groups living there too. They did not always get along. Today the neighborhood is no longer mainly Irish, but is African-American and Hispanic. But the history of the Irish is remembered very well by, among other things, a popular St. Patrick's Day parade which still goes down Magazine Street.

St. Alphonsus Church, the Irish
Church in the Irish Channel
of New Orleans
Photo from Wikimedia and Nolabob

But the Irish Channel also had a very fine Catholic church called St. Alphonsus, which is still there. The Irish went to it. The German immigrants went to St. Mary's Church which was across the street (and still is), and the French went to Notre Dame church which was down the block a bit (but is no longer there).

The book I mentioned above is called "Gumbo Ya Ya: Folktales of Louisiana," complied by Lyle Saxon, et al. The name is a reference to a French Louisiana term for a type of "coffee klatch" (Kaffeeklatsch) where people get together socially, have coffee and nice conversation and everybody talks at the same time. 

There on page 61, I discovered my long-sought answer which discussed the Irish Channel neighborhood in the old days. The chapter on the Irish Channel said the Irish had large families and ate healthy but simple food. The book said that Irish in the Channel, as it is often called for short, ate "... stews, corned beef and cabbage, potato pancakes, red beans and rice ... during most of the week." The book went on to say that on Sundays, people -- if they had the money -- would eat roast chicken or turkey.  

Some pretentious people would sometimes put a turkey near the home's front window so the neighbors would notice the bird and be impressed. Other poorer people would pretend that they had enough money to buy turkey by sticking turkey feathers -- which they may have found in a garbage can or acquired somehow -- halfway into a shopping bag so that the neighbors could see the feathers as they carried the bag home (which actually contained no turkey). They had to keep up appearances.

Now as to the foods. I have earlier written about most of these. You can find my article on Irish Stew here. 

A bowl of Irish Stew
(Photo by Adrian McGrath)

You can find my article on Corned Beef and Cabbage here.  

Corned Beef and Cabbage (Photo by Adrian McGrath)

And you can find my article on Irish Potato Cakes here.
They are sort of like potato pancakes.

Irish Potato Cakes
Photo by Adrian McGrath

And, by the way, I earlier wrote about the Irishman, Lafcadio Hearn, who wrote the very first New Orleans Creole Cookbook that was ever published in the English language. The others were in French. In his book he gave recipes for Irish Stew and Stewed Irish Potatoes, which he said was a breakfast dish.

Lafcadio Hearn, 1889
Photo Wikipedia

His Irish Stew mainly consists simply of mutton or beef, potatoes, onions, stewed down with water and served with rice. (Rice is to New Orleans what potatoes are to Ireland.) See Hearn's book, La Cuisine Creole.

This leave us with just one last stone to turn over. What is traditional New Orleans Creole Red Beans and Rice?

Ah, this is the sacred cow of New Orleans food. Although the Crescent City is famous for many wonderful dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, muffulettas, fried shrimp po-boys, Crawfish Etouffee, fried catfish, Shrimp Creole, Stuffed Artichoke, and on and on ... the most essential New Orleans dish is Red Beans and Rice.

Red Beans and Rice with French Bread
Photo by Adrian McGrath

It is eaten by the wealthy, the poor, and everybody in between. There are as many ways to make it as there are cooks in New Orleans. But mainly it consists of red kidney beans; white rice; "The Trinity," which in New Orleans is green pepper, onion, and celery; garlic (of course!), and unless vegetarian, some type of meat, such as sausage, ham, or pickle meat (a type of Creole seasoned pork).

I never give precise recipes because I think people should concoct their own based on their own likes and needs, but I do give a general idea.

Here is my general idea on my version of New Orleans Red Beans and Rice, which would have been and still is a popular meal in the homes of all people from New Orleans including the Irish.

Uncooked, red kidney beans
Photo A. McGrath

Get some dry red beans and sort them, removing any foreign debris, then soak them in a bowl of water for about an hour or more, even over night if desired. This removes some of the gas. Then drain and toss out the old water.

Put the beans in a pot on the stove (or use a slow cooker) and add chopped up Trinity -- green pepper, also called bell pepper, onions, and celery. Add enough fresh water to cover this, usually about six to eight cups of water per pound of beans. Add Creole spice. If you do not have this, try mixing salt, black pepper, a little bit of cayenne (not much because it is hot), garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, and paprika.

You may add some butter optionally. Then add, precooked, the meat you wish. I use chunks of ham and sliced Andouille sausage, a type of Creole French sausage. Can you add Irish sausage and Irish bacon? Yes, of course, why not? It is your recipe.

Bring it all to a boil, then set the fire on low. Cover the pot and cook for about two hours or more on low. Smash up some of the red beans with a spoon on the inside of the pot to thicken the juice. Add water as needed. Be sure to stir now and then to prevent sticking.

Serve it with chopped green onions on top in individual bowls. Have French bread on the side or corn bread. Or Irish Soda Bread. See my article on that here.

And there you have it. That is what the Irish ate in New Orleans, and they still do the same today. I eat these things on a regular basis.

Bon Appetit.

Sources and Further Reading:

Wikipedia article on Irish Channel, New Orleans;  La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn, Pelican Publishing Co. 1967; Gumbo Ya Ya: Folktales of Louisiana by Lyle Saxon, Robert Tallant, et al. 1945, 1987. Pelican Publishing.