New Orleans is known for its celebrations, and it's already time for another round of parades. On March 17, we will celebrate St. Patrick's Day—a celebration of not only the arrival of Christianity to Ireland but also of Irish history and culture. The first St. Patrick's Day parade in New Orleans (at least in the official public record) was in 1806, and the Irish have been an important part of New Orleans since the very beginning.
One of the earliest major players in the annals of Irish immigrants in Louisiana history was Lieutenant General Alejandro O'Reilly. He arrived in 1769 to quell a rebellion in New Orleans. In 1762 the French had secretly handed over most of Louisiana to Spain in 1762. However, in 1768 more than 500 prominent merchants, planters, and former soldiers had expelled the acting Spanish governor.
O'Reilly arrived with 2,000 Spanish soldiers, including a regiment of Irish soldiers—Wild Geese or Irish men who joined continental armies, primarily French and Spanish, from the 16th-18th century. Born in 1723 in County Meath, Ireland, O'Reilly joined the Spanish army at 11.
Before arriving in New Orleans he had previously successfully restored Spanish authority in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Though he only served in New Orleans for a year he not only successfully quelled the rebellion, he also established the Cabildo, which replaced the French Superior Council and instituted a Spanish code of laws. He outlawed Indian slavery and introduced a Spanish version of Code Noir that provided paths for manumission and more rights for the enslaved. Several of the Irishmen who traveled with O'Reilly stayed in New Orleans, becoming important political and business figures in their own right.
To learn more about the Irish in New Orleans, check out:
Irish Culture Museum: The Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans' mission is to devote resources to educate and create public awareness among locals, tourists, and others of the contributions Ireland, her people, and their culture have made to New Orleans since its colonial beginnings.
Includes a map with more than sixty Irish-related points of interest in New Orleans.