A 5K, football tournament, concert, gala and parade will celebrate the culture of the Irish immigrants who helped make up the melting pot of New Orleans during commemorative events this week.
And on the somber side, monuments will be dedicated and money raised to feed the hungry in honor of those who fled the Emerald Isle in the middle of the 19th century, when a catastrophic famine claimed the lives of nearly 1 million people and twice as many fled the land.
Thousands of Irish immigrants chose the Crescent City as their new home, populating the Irish Channel and building majestic churches, including St. Alphonsus on Constance Street. Most of the Irish-Americans here today are descendants of Irish famine immigrants; many others arrived in more recent years.
“As Irish-Americans, we are often overlooked when people think of Irish cities,” said Dr. Laura Kelley, a Tulane history professor and the author of “The Irish in New Orleans.”
“The Irish are deeply enmeshed in the cultural, social, political and economic fabric of this city. It’s not simply a case of looking backwards, historically, at the Irish community. There is a very vibrant one that exists today.”
Since 2009, Ireland has honored the victims of the Great Famine with an annual commemoration in one of the cities that provided a safe haven for Irish refugees.
This weekend, New Orleans will host the International Irish Famine Commemoration for the first time. A portion of proceeds will benefit organizations whose mission is to serve the homeless, such as the Lantern Light ministries.
“The whole idea of the International Irish Famine Commemoration is to not just recognize and honor those people who perished or emigrated during the famine, but to acknowledge that there is still hunger in the world,” said Terri Landry, the special projects coordinator at Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans. “We’re trying to benefit people, now.”
The collection of events, which spans three days, features a symposium, a parade that blossoms into a block party, a walking tour throughout historic Irish settlements, a 5k followed by festival, and a black tie gala at Gallier Hall.
The weekend concludes with the dedication and blessing of Hibernian Memorial Park, where Irish immigrants suffered extreme hardships, and many died, while digging the New Basin Canal.
“What we’re trying to do is make it a commemoration to the victims of the Irish famine, but also a celebration of the influence that the Irish have had in North America, and of course, in New Orleans,” said Adrian D’Arcy, president of Irish Network New Orleans. “Ties are being rekindled between New Orleans and the Irish government, and this is one of these events that will bring the country and the city together.”
International Irish Famine Commemoration Events
Friday, Nov. 7, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tulane University will host a free symposium at the St. Alphonsus Art and Cultural Center. ‘Ireland and New Orleans: From the Famine to Katrina – Stories of Recovery’ will explore the many connections between New Orleans and Ireland – past and present. The symposium will close with a keynote address by the Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. For additional information, visit www.ifnola2014.org.
Friday, Nov. 7, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
During the Irish Famine Commemoration Parade, the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club will march from Jackson Square, through the French Quarter, and usher in Lace Curtain Night on Conti Street, while distributing special commemorative beads to paradegoers. For additional information, visit www.icmnola.com.
Friday, Nov. 7, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Hosted by the St. Patrick Foundation, the Lace Curtain Night street celebration will take place in the 900 block of Conti Street. The fete will feature food from local vendors, a reunion performance of the popular Celtic band, The Poor Clares, and a preview of An Gorta Mór: The Great Hunger – a new exhibit at the Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans. Tickets are available in advance at www.icmnola.com and will also be sold the night of the event.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 10 a.m. to noon
The Historical Tour of Irish New Orleans, which is led by Tulane University historians, will explore the neighborhoods where the Irish first settled, along with the churches they built, and include a stop in St. Patrick Cemeteries. Advance registration is required at www.ifnola2014.org.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Following a 5k, Irish Fest at the Kingsley House in the Irish Channel features a Gaelic Football Tournament and an Irish Feis dance competition, presented by the Muggivan School of Irish Dance, along with performances by The Wild Irish Roots. Festival fare includes traditional Irish favorites and New Orleans dishes with a Celtic twist. An art exhibit will reveal the story of what happened during the years of the famine. The festival is dog-friendly. A brown button will serve as the ticket to festival activities and can be purchased at www.irishfestneworleans.com. Saturday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (patron party at 6 p.m.)
The Irish Network-New Orleans (IN-NOLA) Famine Commemoration Gala is a black-tie event at Gallier Hall, featuring delicacies from some of the city’s finest restaurants, including Dickie Brennan’s establishments. As for music, the renowned Celtic rock band Black 47 is on the roster, along with New York Celtic-Jazz singer Tara O’Grady and her Black Velvet Band. Officials from Ireland will be guest speakers. Tickets are available at www.irishnetworkneworleans.org and www.innolagala.org.
Sunday, Nov. 9, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians of Louisiana will host a dedication and blessing of Hibernian Memorial Park – a new 4-acre park on the site of the historic New Basin Canal, where a Celtic cross was erected in 1990 to honor the Irish laborers who built the canal. Traditional Celtic music and the sounds of the Marine Corps Band of New Orleans will help mark the event, along with performances from the Muggivan School of Irish Dance.