The Irish-Italian connection/tradition originates with the two cultures merging in New Orleans after WWII.
In terms of numbers and influence, the Irish were first in New Orleans. O’Reilly is an outlier on this; the Irish influence begins in the 1820s. That first wave of Irish immigrants provided the manpower to build the New Basin Canal.
Crescent City Living’s video on the Irish Channel, produced by Crista Rock, with commentary from NOLA History Guy.
These are articles about the Irish I’ve written over the years. This podcast doesn’t go into a ton of detail, since its focus is how all these folks ended up in the same parade. 🙂 Don’t let that deter you from looking further into the Irish. Their story is an important part of the bigger story of New Orleans.
In many ways, the Italians get more exposure in the touristy writing than the Irish. That’s mainly because the Italians all but took over the French Quarter. This was in the 1880s and 1890s. The Italians left a lasting mark on the French Quarter. It’s the one neighborhood just about every visitor sees. Naturally, this is going to leave an impression. The Italian groceries, St. Mary’s Italian church (next to the convent), so many other Italian-owned businesses. Even the building the Louisiana State Museum currently uses as a warehouse for their massive collection was at one time a pasta factory!
Anyway, I wasn’t kidding about going to the Beauregard-Keyes House, either. The mafia connection is fascinating!
It’s not all about the Quarter, though, for the Italians.
So, the Italians migrated from the Downtown side of Canal Street. They went to Gentilly, Metairie, and St. Bernard Parish. The folks who went out to Metairie teamed up with the Irish for the big parade.
Dr. Campanella wrote a piece for da paper today on “moonlight towers”, the big structures erected in urban centers in the late 1800s, as a first step in providing electric street lighting. When Susan Granger shared it to our New Orleans group on Facebook, Froggy added a link to some photos in the Commons, showing moonlight towers.
Moonlight Towers lit up Canal
Henry Clay Monument, New Orleans, 1892
This photo of the Clay Monument is from 1892. The moonlight tower is visible in the rear. If the size of statues is any indication, Henry Clay was incredibly popular in antebellum New Orleans. The massive monument to him, located on Canal Street, at the intersection of Royal Street and St. Charles Avenue, remained in place until it was moved to Lafayette Square, in 1901.
Cotton wagon crossing Canal Street, 1890
A big cotton wagon crosses Canal Street at Carondelet Avenue, in 1890. Better view of the moonlight tower. The cupola of the Mercier Building, later Maison Blanche Department Store, is visible in the background, through an electric pole’s cross beams.
Cut down to size
Henry Clay Monument, 1895-1897
Here’s Clay again, sometime after the Canal streetcar line was electrified, and the statue was relocated. You can see the base of the monument has been removed, so tracks would run straight through the intersection. Even then, the cars passed too close to the statue.
Location of the tower on Canal
The tower on Canal Street was positioned at Canal and Dauphine, It cast its light in a 360-degree radius, extending for blocks around. This meant it illuminated the street as far back as Basin Street and the Southern Railway terminal. Even though electric lighting evolved from this format into storefront lighting and individual street lamps, most stores closed around 5pm-6pm in the evening at this time. Night hours were still decades away.