March 14, 2014 11:00 AM
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches and we consider the Irish heritage of New Orleans, it is easy to lump together all of the people who immigrated to the city from Ireland because of what they shared — language, religion and, of course, a homeland. But that would be a mistake, according to Tulane historian Terrence Fitzmorris.
“The Irish people who came to New Orleans were not monolithic nor were they homogenous,” Fitzmorris says. “They were diverse in education and class, and to paint them all with the same brush is a disservice.”
Fitzmorris argues that they may have been poor, as a result of the Irish Famine, but the idea that they were all illiterate proletarians is false, as evidenced by the fact that many found work in trades that required more than a modicum of education.
“We see many Irishmen who became clerks and the like, which required not only that they were literate, but that they were educated and skilled,” Fitzmorris says. “That certainly goes against some of the conventional truths and wisdom people have about them.”
Furthermore, Fitzmorris says, the Irish brought with them a parish-centered view of the Catholic religion, and along with that view of the church came Catholic schools, run by nuns who, he says, were “by and large Irish.”
“Because of these schools, the Irish were responsible for the expansion of education in New Orleans,” Fitzmorris says.
Another myth he wishes to dispel is that the Irish came to New Orleans and suffered more than other immigrants.
“Some mythmakers want to portray the Irish as victims,” Fitzmorris says. “They were not victims. They were actors who came here and took advantage of the American gifts.”
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org