A Short History of the Irish Channel

Image from the City of New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission report on the designation of the Irish Channel Historic District In 2002.

For our purposes, the Irish Channel refers to the historic district designated by the City of New Orleans in 2002. The basis for this designation came from a number of criteria, including architectural features as well as local memory. You can find more about the city's decision here

The Irish Channel was once part of the city of Lafayette (not to be confused with modern day Lafayette, LA) and was officially incorporated into the city of New Orleans in the 1840s. One thing about the Channel which may surprise you? It really was never all that Irish. While the term "Irish Channel" came about in the later decades of the 19th century (around the time of our map, in fact), the modern Channel was actually home to people from all over the world, with a large population of German, French, English, and, of course, Irish immigrants. The Channel itself seems to have been first and foremost an immigrant community with a large population of European immigrants and first generation Americans. 

The Channel was also home to a number of different religious communities. Each ethnic group had their own place of worship divided along religious lines. The most famous example of this are the Three Churches of the Irish Channel, located on the eastern boundaries of the district. St. Mary's Assumption (German), St. Alphonsus (Irish), and Notre Dame de Bon Secour (French) may stand less than a stone's throw away from one another but they testify to the desire of individual ethnic groups to hold on to their own heritage and practices. 

The Irish Channel was a working class neighborhood like many of its time. Census data indicates that a number of men and women owned businesses such as markets, bars, and clothing stores. The warehouses along the river provided jobs to many in the Channel, with "laborer" or "warehouseman" common occupations. Everyone in the Channel pitched in. Teenagers as young as fourteen were put to work as apprentices and laborers (boys) or servants and dressmakers (girls) both to learn trades and help support their families. Yet while many teens took jobs to help out at home, many parents sent their children away to schools or had them attend one of the local private or public schools in the Channel. 

 

1880's Sanborn insurance map section showing Louisiana Brewing Co. during construction.

Old Brewing Co. building currently at the same location as the Louisiana Brewing Co. building was under construction during the 1880's. Photo by Maegan A. Smith


Further reading: 

Campanella, Richard. Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm (Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006). 

Kelley, Laura D. The Irish in New Orleans (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2014).

Niehaus, Earl F. The Irish in New Orleans 1800-1860 (Louisiana State University Press, 1965). 

 

For more information about the Irish Channel today please see the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association's website