Transcript: Discussing the Irish In New Orleans with Dr. Laura Kelley

The following is a transcript of the LIVE members' chat hosted here at on Saturday, February 21, 2015 with Dr. Laura Kelley.  Some editing has been applied for clarity.

The Wild Geese:  Hello and “fáilte” to Dr. Laura Kelley who joins us live from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. So pleased to have you with us today, Laura!

Laura D Kelley:  Thanks! Great to be here on this first weekend of Lent!

The Wild Geese:  One of the first things I'd like to ask is: How did the majority of the Irish find their way to New Orleans?

Laura D Kelley:  It depends which time period because each one holds its own story, but certainly the largest group came as a result of the Famine.

The Wild Geese:  Any particular region of Ireland in particular?  I know other American cities had large concentrations from certain counties.

Laura D Kelley:  Over time they will end up coming from all regions of Ireland, but at the peak of the Famine we have quite a few from central Ireland followed by Cork. But again the "where" is contingent on the "when." For example, during the early American period we had quite a few exiles from [the Irish rebellion of] 1798 arrive and in recent years we have had a sizable group from the North, Dublin, and Kerry.

The Wild Geese:  Interesting. And by what route -- through which ports -- would most of them have come?

Laura D Kelley:  For the Famine refugees, nine out of ten came from Liverpool and landed either in New Orleans directly or landed on the East coast and made their way south. It gives one pause to consider the state these men, women, and children were in and the fact that they had to first travel across Ireland, get to Liverpool, and from there travel across the Atlantic. The birthplaces of the children gives us a good indication of the places they travelled as well as their desire to come to NOLA. For example, the first 2 children may be born in Ireland, the next 1 in NYC, the next in Kentucky or Ohio and the last 2 in NOLA.

The Wild Geese:  Right. And before we open up the floor, how about great Irish personalities in New Orleans? Perhaps your own favorite? We all read your great article about the amazing Margaret Gaffney Haughery. Anyone else stand out for you?

Laura D Kelley:  Well, Pauline Patterson, owner of Finn McCool's and Treo is one of my heroes! I call her the modern day Margaret for all the incredible work she does.

Tara O'Grady:  She's amazing...that's where I'm having my cd launch - at Treo.  It was voted one of top 10 bars/restaurants in NOLA.  Treo is an Irish word.

Kelly O'Rourke:  I think it means "direction?"

Tara O'Grady:  yes

Greg Lynch Jr:  What makes Pauline such a hero?

Laura D Kelley:  Pauline provides free meals for all kinds of organizations, often cooking the food herself. She constantly finds ways to raise money for different charities such as St. Baldrick's.  She hosts the Ulster Projects kids each year and, in essence, she is the heart of NOLA.  Her energy is incredible because she is also running two businesses!

Gerry Regan:  Laura, you mention John Mitchel and his son -- both fierce Irish nationalists and Confederate partisans. Have you come across any 'brother versus brother' stories from NOLA, fighting between family members over the North versus the South?

Laura D Kelley:  Oddly enough, no!  I wonder since we are soon far South if it happened at all.  NOLA was also captured very early in the war so the experience for us was quite different compared to other places in the South.

Kelly O'Rourke:  How did you find the publishing process, Laura? Was this your first book?

Laura D Kelley:  Yes- my first book, and my publisher is amazing, so my experience has been great.

Tara O'Grady:  Any plans for a second?

Laura D Kelley:  YES! The 2nd book is about half way done. While I was writing this one at one point I realized that I had enough material (and then some) for another volume.

Tara O'Grady:  What can we expect in the 2nd?

Laura D Kelley:  Ahhh Tara- the pressure! :-)  Realistically- within 2 years.  This book had a hard deadline bc it needed to be out before the Famine Commemoration in NOLA last november. I'm hoping to have little more breathing room for this volume

Tara O'Grady:  I was amazed you got it out so fast

Laura D Kelley:  This will have a much more indepth focus on Politics, Culture, and FOOD!

Greg Lynch Jr:  Do you have a favorite story about the Irish in politics in New Orleans?

Laura D Kelley:  Yes- there is a common expression here- "Vote Early and Vote Often," which most people attribute to Huey Long. In fact it refers to the Irish in the 1840s NOLA.

Kelly O'Rourke:  Interesting!

Greg Lynch Jr:  I always thought that was a Chicago expression.

The Wild Geese:  Food question for you, Laura: How much impact has the Irish influence had on famous New Orleans cuisine? Most of what we hear about is French / Cajun influenced.

Laura D Kelley:  Less Irish influence and more Irish people.  The Brennans are a great example (but not the only one) of being able to appropriate a type of food and make it popular.  In many respects the Irish are known for their absence of food ways, and I think this makes them open to all sorts of types of cooking...not restrained, so-to-speak. The Brennans took food that was cooked in homes but not in restaurants and opened it up for everyone to enjoy
And, in that process, changed it.  I'm trying to convince Dickie Brennan that he needs to do a whiskey tour of Ireland...Not that he needs much convincing! 

Tara O'Grady:  Bananas foster?

Laura D Kelley:  That is a Brennan invention!

Tara O'Grady:  cool

Kelly O'Rourke:  Bananas Foster - my favourite!

The Wild Geese:  Ironic that the worst Bananas Foster I've ever had was in Ireland! :-!

Laura D Kelley:  Indeed! Time for a visit to the Big Easy!

The Wild Geese:  Yes!

Tara O'Grady:  What is your favorite story in your book?

Laura D Kelley:
That's like asking me who is my favorite child!  Well- Tara is a great example of what can happen musically when you combine NOLA Jazz with Irish Tunes- You hear it and not only does it sound great but it seems like that is the way it should always be!

Tara O'Grady:  I wasn't looking for praise…but I'll let you adopt me if you say I'm one of your favorite children...

Laura D Kelley: I know but I was thinking about the food situation (Brennans) and I realize that your music is an auditory version of that!

The Wild Geese:  Looking forward to listening to "Irish Bayou" while eating a proper Bananas Foster.

Laura D Kelley:  Great idea! 2 senses taken care of!

Tara O'Grady:  Ya'll are making me hungry!

Laura D Kelley:  Me too, and thank goodness I live here! :)

Tara O'Grady:  What did you learn that you didn't already know in researching the book?

Laura D Kelley:  How deeply intertwined the Irish were in the politics of this city up to 1970s-1980s...
And trying to figure out why their exists such a strong Irish identity in places like the Irish Channel.  I say that because Irish immigration to NOLA slowed to a trickle and then a drip after the Civil War, unlike places like Boston, NYC, etc.  Usually you need a constant source of immigrants to keep the identity alive.

Tara O'Grady:  It's the same in Butte, Montana, those residents are 3rd 4th 5th generation Irish, but the Irish flags are still flying and the citizens are very proud of their heritage, even if they never set foot in Ireland

Ron O'Connor:  Hi Laura! I’m just part way into the book, but the thing that sticks out so far are the laws that the Catholics wanted to escape. No matter how bad I imagine things were, my expectations are usually exceeded when I learn more. How long did those Penal Laws continue in effect and how strictly were they enforced?  

Laura D Kelley:  The Penal Laws start in the 1690s and different ones are enacted for over 50 years. The last one was repeal with Catholic Emancipation in 1829!
I think the Penal Laws ironically fostered a mindset that made the Irish much more capable immigrants than other groups.

Ron O'Connor:  Thanks. So, something like 140 years.

Greg Lynch Jr:  Are there any more stories about Policeman Robert Gordon and his horse from 1862?

Laura D Kelley:  They created their own codes of justice and how to deal with prejudice, etc.  Drunken Cop and drunken horse!  Honestly, I have not looked, but now I will because maybe he continued with his antics while NOLA was under occupation!

Greg Lynch Jr: I hope so. You can't keep a man like that down.

Laura D Kelley:  There are so many of these strange and bizarre stories- stay tuned for volume 2!
You can't make this stuff up!

Gerry Regan:  '12 Years a Slave' -- fabulous movie based on a memoir and set in part in New Orleans. Leads me to wonder: Did the Irish take part in the slave trade, as overseers or middlemen or facilitators? I think we're all ready to acknowledge our sins, such as they were (and are).

Laura D Kelley:  The Irish showed no love for a person of color...Free or slave.

Tara O'Grady:  They seemed to be mesmerized by Frederick Douglas though when he made a speaking tour of Ireland.

Kelly O'Rourke:  Of course, some of the Irish were enslaved themselves...any record of this in NOLA?

Laura D Kelley:  Nope! Owning slaves but not the other way around. Even Margaret Haughery did...
The documentation for which I found after the book was sent to the press. 

Ricky Duffy:  Hi all from Co. Tyrone.  Research "White Slave Trade," and you may find some answers to the Irish spread throughout the world.

Gerry Regan:  Talking about the Irish and slavery for the moment, in 'Gone With the Wind" the owner of Tara was an Irish immigrant, and of course he had many slaves.  Margaret Mitchell's choice of an Irishman to own Tara (not to be confused with our Tara) is a fascinating one, but perhaps beyond the scope of this conversation.

Laura D Kelley:  Yes- but oddly enough a family had Tara rebuilt on St. Charles Ave.  Rather funny since that house was only ever a movie set!

Greg Lynch Jr:  Do the Irish still have their own unique sections of NOLA or have they diversified? How Irish is the Irish channel?

Laura D Kelley:  The Irish are spread throughout NOLA. The Irish Channel changed dramatically after the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s.  White flight in 1970s and crack in 1980s nearly killed the area all together.  The book/film Dead Man Walking - Sister Prejean, who wrote it, was located in the Channel.  But in the 1990s things slowly began to change.  Before Katrina, it was making a come back, and now it is back on its feet again.  The pubs and other public establishments are located in Mid-City, the French Quarter, on St. Charles Ave, etc...Irish infiltrating everywhere! :-)

Greg Lynch Jr:  It's what happens.

Laura D Kelley:  But the huge Uptown Irish Channel Parade starts and ends in the Channel so every year everyone comes back or congregates anew in this area.

Tara O'Grady:  What are your plans for this year's St Patrick's festivities?

Laura D Kelley:  I joined the one and only female marching group - Daughters of Lir - so I will be participating this year!  I can't wait! My niece dances in it every year with Muggivan School of Dance, so she is much more of a pro than I and only 10!

Greg Lynch Jr:  Is there an Irish segment to Mardi Gras or do you save it all for St. Pats?

Laura D Kelley:
Some of the groups like the Corner Club, parade during Mardi Gras, and they are the only ones who have a practice march the week before, but most save it for St. Pat.

Tara O'Grady:  NOLA parade is sooooo much better than NYC's.

Greg Lynch Jr:  Those sound like fighting words, Tara.

Ron O'Connor:  :)

Tara O'Grady:  I live in NYC, so I can claim it

Laura D Kelley:  Fighting words, but true, Greg!

Ron O'Connor:  Can you make a meal with what you catch from a NYC St. Pat's parade?

Laura D Kelley:  Exactly Ron!  I was just about to type that!

Ron O'Connor:  One year I got two small bottles of wine, too.

Laura D Kelley:  One year I came home with 18 cabbages and who-knows-how-many potatoes, onions, and carrots!

Tara O'Grady:  There is no throwing of anything in NYC.

Laura D Kelley:  What is the point of a parade then?!

Tara O'Grady:  It's quite solemn.  It's more military and church…boring.

Gerry Regan:  Tara, can you mention your upcoming launch party…where and when?  There will be a bit of New Orleans in New York that night!

Tara O'Grady:  March 26 is my NYC cd launch for "Irish Bayou," and Treo is hosting my NOLA launch in early May, date to be determined.

The Wild Geese:  Okay, folks ... we'll call it a wrap right there for our official discussion (but you're more than welcome to keep chatting on through the night).

Be sure to check out the fabulous Tara O’Grady at her music website here.  And be on the lookout for her new album, “Irish Bayou.”

The Wild Geese:  And you can get your hands on a copy of Laura's book here.  Thank you so much, Laura.

Laura D Kelley:  Thank you!  And come on down to NOLA for an experience you won't forget!

Ron O'Connor:  Thanks ya'll.

The Wild Geese:  And thanks to all who joined in on the discussion this evening.

Greg Lynch Jr:  Thanks, Dr. Kelley.

Laura D Kelley:  My pleasure! 70 degrees here now.

Tara O'Grady:  rub it in...

Laura D Kelley:  Just saying - we shoveled beads this week!

The Wild Geese:  Thanks for joining us, Tara. Looking forward to hearing how the CD launch goes!

Tara O'Grady:  Slán

Laura D Kelley:  Slán

The Wild Geese:  Oiche mhaith, gach duine (good night, everyone).

** Congratulations to:  Ron O'Connor and Ricky Duffy! **

They are the lucky recipients of "Irish Bayou" on CD.  

This is the latest album by Wild Geese Irish Heritage Partner, Tara O'Grady.  Enjoy, Gentlemen!

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Tags: Diaspora History, Living History, Louisiana, New Orleans, United States


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