New York -- About 20 stalwarts, including three members of The Wild Geese, trekked to American Irish Historical Society last night in near sub-zero temperatures for a presentation on "The Irish in New Orleans."
The climate, replete with winds howling like banshees beyond the windows outside the Society's tony 5th Avenue townhouse, was inhospitable, but we wayfarers were, I think it fair to say, amply rewarded.
The Wild Geese in attendance at last evening's presentation, pictured, left to right: the evening's speaker, author Laura Kelley, Gerry Regan (holding Kelley's new book), and singer / songwriter Tara O'Grady, who next month is releasing her fourth studio album, titled "Irish Bayou," featuring "a gumbo of genres – from zydeco and rockabilly, to folk, funk, swing and blues." Photo by Moira Tierney
The presenter, historian (and Wild Geese member) Laura D. Kelley, who resides in the Crescent City, came home to her New York birthplace a complete weather naif, sans hat and gloves, which she said were kindly provided by her hosts, some empathetic Redemptorists in Brooklyn.
For 45 or so minutes, she beguiled us with her artful narration of the Irish experience in New Orleans, from the early 17th century settlers who came with The Wild Geese via France to the last, and largest, immigrant wave during The Great Famine.
Kelley, an adjunct assistant professor in the Tulane University Department of History and creator of the Hidden History service-learning course, teaches "The Irish in New Orleans" at Tulane. Her book, "The Irish in New Orleans" from University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, is available online.
Here's how her publisher describes Kelley's new book:
"In this well-researched volume, historian Dr. Laura D. Kelley tells the colorful, amusing and often adventurous history of the Irish in New Orleans. From 'Bloody' O’Reilly in the 18th century to the great churches and charitable organizations built by the Irish Famine immigrants in the 19th century to the Irish-dominated politics of the 20th century, as well as Irish dance, music and sports, the author introduces the reader to a hitherto untold story of one of America’s most historical cities. The book also includes essays by Betsy McGovern recalling her involvement in the city’s Irish music scene and Terrence Fitzmorris who discusses wakes and funerary practices of the Irish. The lively and readable text is beautifully illustrated with photographs by Carrie Lee Pierson Schwartz that convey the continuing vibrancy of the Irish community of the Crescent City."
We are hoping to bring Laura's expertise to The Wild Geese for a week-long focus on the Irish experience in New Orleans. Stay tuned!