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The Irish

Many of the early Irish immigrants settled in New Orleans, especially during the Spanish colonial period (1763–1800).

The Catholic predominance in Louisiana was particularly inviting and they found plenty of employment opportunities in the traditional building and construction trades. They contributed their skilled labor (and often their lives) to the canal and railroad infrastructure of Louisiana. Many of the early arrivals were educated middle class and found employment as lawyers, doctors and other sought after professions.

Once established, the Irish tended to support one another in close communities and sticking together as a union of workers ensured their own livelihood by keeping out other laborers within the construction industry. They made sure that vacant positions were filled by other Irishmen and organized what was effectively, the first labor strike while building the New Basin Canal.

Irish women worked hard and supported their families along with the men. One of these illiterate immigrants was Margaret Haughery, an exceptional woman who worked selflessly in New Orleans to help feed the poor and the city's orphans. At the time of her death she was one of the most respected and wealthiest women in New Orleans.

With much of the workforce employed in constructing roads, railways and canals in the swamp areas, they had more than their share of yellow fever epidemics and thousands of lives were lost to this disease.

With the Roman Catholic religion already established in the area, they had far greater freedom than in their homeland to practice their faith.

Their politics generally veered towards the Democratic party and as the Civil War became a reality, they supported secession, purely because they feared free blacks would flood the labor market, jeopardizing their livelihood. Until then, Irish laborers were paid a meager wage for tasks considered too dangerous for slaves.

After the war they played a vital part in the reconstruction of Louisiana.

 

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Tombstone for Irish resident of New Orleans
Ireland map
 

 

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