The Irish Channel Salutes St. Patrick
By Troy Gilbert, Contributor
April / May 2007
With multiple events spotlighting the Irish heritage of New Orleans on St. Patrick’s Day, the largest and one of the more historic is the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club, which this year marks its 60th anniversary of parading through the streets of some of the city’s historically Irish neighborhoods. With over 3,000 people either marching in formal attire to the sounds of bagpipes or lining the sides of the 30 double-decker floats, the members don’t necessarily lead, but rather accentuate the celebration of the throngs who line the streets.
Richard Burke, the current President and son of one of the club’s founders says, “The parade started in 1947, with only about 300 people marching in tails. Today, most of the people who parade are either of Irish heritage or have some connection to the Irish Channel neighborhood. It’s really just a way for all the old neighborhood folks to get back together.”
The energy, of that day in early spring in the deep south, is enhanced by the thousands of green and white long beads thrown to the eager crowds, who one would think would have had their fill from the two weeks of Lenten festival Mardi Gras parades.
Furthering the spectacle along the mansions of the Garden District and historic Magazine Street, are the untold thousands of cabbages, carrots, potatoes and even the errant brisket tossed from the floats. In 2006, a crew of three siblings who ride annually got creative and figured that certain ingredients for a traditional cabbage dinner were missing and threw sticks of butter.
Burke explains, “We started out throwing green and silver doubloons and beads, but people started looking for things more Irish and the cabbage kind of evolved into the signature throw. We actually used to throw them, but the city forced us to start handing them out for fear of injuries.”
Billy Arnold, President of the Algiers Irish Rebels a sub-Krewe that marches in the parade further details, “Throwing cabbages has been going on since I was a kid riding in the parade. Our Krewe, which is around 300 people, tossed over 870 sacks of cabbages last year. That’s almost 44,000 pounds of cabbage for us alone.”
In the city, it has become a tradition to cook up all that cabbage in the evening after the parade.
As the parade winds through the heart of the Irish Channel, it passes the corner of Third and Magazine where just down the street one of the city’s most madcap block parties envelops Parasol’s Bar and the surrounding neighborhood in a mass of celebratory green.
Opened in 1952, the unassuming Parasol’s Bar belies the fact that it beats the soul of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. The street party originated in the mid-1960’s with the original owner Louis Passhour and a few friends getting together to enjoy the day. Over time it has morphed into the destination for revelers. The current owner of the bar, Jeffrey Carreras states, “Its just gotten bigger and bigger. It’s easily a couple of thousand people in the few blocks surrounding the bar, enough people to consume at least 30 kegs. We even have about ten to twelve guys from the New York Port Authority who fly down to celebrate every year. They come in and march in formation playing their bagpipes. It’s truly great. The only year they’ve missed in recent history was the St. Patrick’s Day after 9/11.”
The parade wasn’t even stopped for the St. Patrick’s Day after Katrina. According to Burke, “It was especially important for us to get together after the storm in 2005. People were ready and needed to parade. That year was one of our biggest years for participation. It was a tremendous turnout.”
There is also a serious side to all of the day’s events. The parade starts with a formal mass at the historic St. Alphonsus Church, and over the year’s they have expanded their activities to include fundraisers for several charities, including the St. Michael’s Special School. Burke adds, “It’s a privilege for us. We’ve helped raise thousands of dollars for this school and their 2-300 children who are, how should I say it, just special.” ♦