St. Patrick’s Day and Celtic New Orleans

by Sally Tunmer on February 22, 2012

in Arts & Culture, Food, GoNOLA Radio, Music

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In some cities, wearing green in order to avoid a pinching is the extent of their St. Patrick’s Day observance. In New Orleans, as we do with every other holiday – however widely or narrowly celebrated elsewhere – it’s taken to the next level. On St. Patrick’s Day, block parties, parades, second lines, green jello shots and flying produce are prevalent throughout the city.
GoNOLA Radio free New Orleans podcast
New Orleans has a rich Irish culture and history that fuels the St. Patrick’s Day revelry, dating back to the 1800s when an influx of Irish citizens immigrated here. This episode of GoNOLA Radio hosted by Sunpie Barnes delves into the food, music and history of Ireland in New Orleans that all contribute to the festivities. The culinary beacon of Irish cuisine in the Crescent City is the Irish House on St. Charles Avenue. Lorin Gaudin speaks to the mastermind of The Irish House, Chef Matt Murphy.

A Louisiana native who infuses Celtic with Cajun and progressive music is Beth Patterson who can be heard playing her bouzouki weekly at Café Negril on Frenchmen Street and various Celtic establishments such as The Irish Pub and the Kerry Irish Pub. George Ingmire finds out about her musical background and the prospect of a Cajun metal genre.

Mikko speaks with the man who has played a big part in the New Orleans tradition of parading on St. Patrick’s Day, Vice President of the Downtown Irish Club, Terrence Ryan. Every year, the parade follows a route marching from one Irish landmark in New Orleans to another, like two legendary Bywatering holes Bud Rip’s and Markey’s, whose original proprietors were founding members of the Downtown Irish Club.

Discover Irish heritage and legacy in New Orleans with this St. Patrick’s Day episode of the free New Orleans podcast, GoNOLA Radio.

GoNOLA Radio is a free New Orleans podcast hosted by Lorin Gaudin, George Ingmire and Mikko about the food, music and culture of the Crescent City. Subscribe to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes to download all the episodes. GoNOLA Radio features music by Cale Pellick.

Podcast Transcript 

Sunpie: Welcome to GoNOLA Radio. My name is Sunpie Barnes and I will be
your host of hosts as we explore New Orleans to learn about the city’s rich
cultural heritage, food and music. We bring you experts, real deal experts,
who will talk with you about the people who make New Orleans such a
wonderful place to live and visit. It’s GoNOLA Radio. 

Because it’s New Orleans, we use St. Patrick’s day as a chance to throw parties and have parades. New Orleans has a big Irish presence from the history of the Irish Channel neighborhood to all of the Irish music and food in our city. Get ready for a Irish celebration like you’ve never seen this St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans. Matt Murphy knows a thing or two about Irish food. He’s Executive Chef of The Irish House. New Orleans’ food goddess Lorin Gaudin discusses the restaurant serving inspired and authentic Irish food that’s bringing in even more Irish culture to New Orleans.

Lorin: Well, we’re getting ready to celebrate a really important holiday in
New Orleans. We’re talking about St. Patty’s Day coming up and in New
Orleans, of course, it’s a very storied history of the Irish. An important
history. We’ve got the Irish Channel and, of course, the very important
people that helped build the city of New Orleans and that’s the history
thing that I’m going to leave to a buddy of mine who’s a history expert.
But I’m going to dive right in and talk about food and I’m in studio with a
chef who, were he visible, would need no introduction and once you hear his
voice, you’ll say, “oh. I know that voice so well.” The marvelously
wonderful and extremely handsome Chef Matt Murphy of The Irish House.
Welcome.

Matt: Hi Lorin.

Lorin: How are you?

Matt: Awesome to be here. Having a great time.

Lorin: Good. I’m glad to have you in studio. Very excited for you. The
Irish House, this is your dream, your passion, this is your thing. Tell us
about The Irish House, its location, your concept, the whole nine yards.

Matt: The Irish House is a public house like you’d have back in Ireland.
Basically putting everything out there, the culture, the Irish culture, the
music, the food, everything under one roof.

Lorin: Even the things on the wall are evocative of the Irish culture too.

Matt: We searched out a lot of stuff to bring the Irish that were in New
Orleans over the years, whether it’s digging the canal and all those that
died, along with the amount of people from Ireland that moved to New
Orleans, not just New York. New York was the port, but New Orleans was a
huge port, the second biggest port for Irish to enter the U.S. So many of
them came in here, they might have gone up the Mississippi to other parts
of the U.S., but we ended up having our Irish New Orleans wall where people
had pictures of their family and we have it up there. They were a very poor
people, they took the jobs that no one wanted, working in the swamps and
things like this, so the pictures you can get are far and few between, but
we’re lucky to have people that have lived here and their family held on to
them. Even if it was mass cards from their parents that died, that was
probably the only thing they had. They didn’t have a picture but they had
that mass card of the funeral when their parents passed away.

Lorin: It’s amazing. So the whole concept of The Irish House is to
recreate, as you said, a public house, which is a pub, what we call a pub
from the bar, all the liquor, the food, the environment. So the whole
spirit of the place is evocative of your homeland, which is?

Matt: Ireland.

Lorin: What part?

Matt: County Dublin. A little town [Blackrock], right outside Dublin.

Lorin: That’s fantastic. You came to new Orleans many years ago and were
doing all kinds of wonderful things. Your pedigree, your culinary pedigree
goes without saying. Does doing the food at Irish House, which has
definitely got a traditional bent to it, does that really speak to your
soul? Was it soul food that you wanted to do?

Matt: Yeah. You hear that comfort food. That’s really comfort food for me,
that’s the type of stuff I grew up. The braised meats and some of the stews
we do, even the changes we put on things. Instead of a baked potato and
Irish stew on top of it, stuffed, loaded, we did a lamb stew on top of a
sweet potato and a fried crystal onion rings on top of that. Just put some
twists on it for the town we’re in, being New Orleans.

Lorin: Sure, the taste of place.

Matt: And you have in the Irish that’s in New Orleans, the American Irish
that are here, that have grown up in New Orleans, of course, gumbo, all
this sort of stuff is part of their diet too. We try and amalgamate all
that into the food and, New Orleans being such a food city, we just found
that little niche where there wasn’t anyone out there doing that and
thought it was awesome, brought the culture into it with the music, our
Irish traditional sessions we do on Monday night and then our Friday and
Saturday we have some live acts going on.

Lorin: The Irish House really is your place to express your Irish self,
from the food to the music to the cocktails and the beer, of course, on
tap, etc. Coming up for St. Patrick’s Day, you’re doing something all week
long.

Matt: We looked at it. This week St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday and
here in New Orleans, usually when it falls on another day, there’s two St.
Patrick’s Days. If it falls on a Wednesday, we know St. Patrick’s Day is
Wednesday, we’re all going to go and have a block party somewhere and get
drunk and have a bit of fun. Then the Saturday before is also another
party, but now it’s all on Saturday. There’s no pre-party so we ended up
saying, “The Irish House, what are we going to do? Let’s have an Irish week.”
We’re kicking it off on the Monday. We always have an Irish session there
at 7:00, so we’re allowed traditional music, choirs, singers and so on.
Even that American folk, we have people that are folk singers that are
visiting town, they’re looking for a place to play music and they’re
welcome to come in, they sing their songs and we have a blast. We’re
starting that week off on the Monday, starting off with a good old Irish
session and it’s right in the downstairs of the restaurant, big space and
just have a lot of fun.

Lorin: It’s amazing the menu. We talked very gingerly about the menu. We
haven’t really dived into it too much, but of course, there are very
traditional things on there. Chips, of course, fish and chips. Curry and
chips, which I’ve eaten twice and love. You have to dip those chips in the
curry sauce, it’s just too magical and you have to do it. You have
beautiful things all on the menu. One of the killer things for me that I
just love is that Irish breakfast that you do. Would you do me a favor?
Tell everybody what exactly is an Irish breakfast and during this Irish
week, you’re doing something special with that Irish breakfast, so tell us
about that?

Matt: Irish breakfast, no matter when you go to visit Ireland and you go
out in the countryside, you stay in a guest house, hotel, whatever, the
first thing you get up in the morning, I’m sure after a hard night leaning
on the side of the bar, you’ll go downstairs and your first thing is that
someone say, “You want a full Irish?” You’re not ordering a portion, you’re
ordering actually a breakfast.

Lorin: If you’re a lady you’ll say, “I’ve already had one. Why, thank you.”

Matt: It’s a combination of Irish bacon, which is a loin bacon. It’s a
thicker piece of meat than we’re probably used to in the states. The
sausage, it’s a spicier sausage. Always two sunny side up eggs, potatoes,
mushrooms, grilled tomato and beans. Then black and white pudding on there.
It’s funny. There’s something that’s so close to what we have here in
Louisiana, which is the boudin noir, boudin blanc, which is the rice,
whereas back home they would take all that and they would mix it and use
things like ground barley or oats and stuff to make the [simmer], almost
similar. I find them almost similar. When I first came here I was like,
“Hey. This boudin blanc, it’s just like white [boudin].” That’s the main
breakfast thing and we specialize in that and probably the only place you
can get it in the city.

Lorin: That’s far as I know except at my house when I take a day to make it.

Matt: Unless you buy it in the gift store and then you going to take it
home.

Lorin: We’re definitely going to talk about that gift store too, but the
Irish breakfast, you are serving that all day long during the Irish week?

Matt: We always have it on the menu for breakfast. Definitely it’s going to
be a feature. We’re going to be well prepared for everyone coming in, but
on St. Patrick’s Day, we said we were just quizzing people, saying, “Hey.
What do you want?” “I’m coming to your place. I’m starting St. Patrick’s
Day off the right way, I’m coming for an Irish breakfast.”

Lorin: The Irish House, we’re so excited for St. Patrick’s Day, everybody
always has their favorite toast that they want to say. Those ones that are
very long winded and, “Here’s to the wind at your back.” There’s one key
word and we want to say it correctly so, give us the Gaelic and say it so
that we understand how to say it. We can do it when we’re clinking our
glasses and toasting each other. What is that?

Matt: Slainte.

Lorin: Slainte.

Matt: Slainte and then you take a big drink and hit your glass together at
the same time. It’s basically Slainte. It’s a traditional Irish thing.

Lorin: That’s what I plan on saying when I go to the Irish House on St.
Patty’s Day. Irish House is located on St. Charles Avenue at the corner of
Melpomene, as they say here Melpomene, if you’re going to be particular,
and St. Charles Avenue. Stop number nine on the street car. I don’t know if
you know that. On the street car line right on St. Charles Avenue, you
cannot miss it. A dynamite place to go. Chef Matt Murphy and his wonderful
wife and their beautiful five kids who you might even see sometimes in
there in the daytime, clearly not at night, for Irish food, Irish music and
Irish soul. Slainte.

Matt: Slainte.

Sunpie: If you ever hear the sounds of traditional Celtic music in New
Orleans coming from a ten stringed guitar and a pretty female voice, it’s
unmistakably Beth Patterson. George Ingmire is here to talk with the quirky
New Orleans musician about her unique blend of international, traditional
and modern music.

George: Well I am here with singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Beth
Patterson, and I want to welcome you to GoNOLA Radio.

Beth: Thank you George.

George: I’m finding out a lot about you these days.

Beth: I didn’t do it. I swear I didn’t do it.

George: We’ll talk about that later, but you grew up in Louisiana.

Beth: I did.

George: Lafayette.

Beth: Mm-hmm.

George: I’m curious about growing up in Lafayette and how that started you
off musically and otherwise.

Beth: It’s very interesting. It was a unique experience because it’s a
blend of things like the heritage. It was just when Cajun music was
starting to get popular amongst younger people, but only on the cusp of
that. There weren’t too many people my age playing Cajun music when I was
in high school. One friend of mine, Mitch Reed, who’s now playing bass with
[Bosolay], he’s a very fine fiddle player, he was the person who got me
interested in Irish music and the bouzouki, but before that it was really
hard. I was doing a little bit of bass playing with my mom’s Cajun band,
Renaissance [Kajin], and I played bass in a couple of different rock bands. We
did some hard rock and some heavy metal and this running joke I always used
to say was, this is half true, “If you want to find kids your age to play,
you’d be hard pressed if you wanted to find anybody who wanted to play
progressive rock, but it’s really easy to find people who want to play
either heavy metal or Cajun music.” I used to joke around that my band was
called Iron Crawfish. I might still try to get something like that
together, one of these days.

George: I’m thinking heavy Cajun might really be an interesting music.

Beth: I’ve seen some stuff, I used to go to some of these places that were
described by one friend of mine as, “so real it hurts.” There’s a place I
used to go to when I was still living in Lafayette out in Unis called
[Dupes], and it was half of a bar and half a feed store and there’s this
little dark corner for the band to play and this guy who had this heavy
distortion on his guitar. He’s like, [makes guitar sounds]. I remember one
part where the wall was partly missing and just a bunch of black visqueen
nailed over the side because somebody forgot to put his car in reverse when
trying to back out of the place. Getting some really good, very real
experiences in my formative years before, not only Cajun music started
getting wildly known, but also Irish music before what people called it,
Celtic Tiger. Later on going to Ireland right at the cusp before it started
getting extremely popular and all of a sudden riverdance invaded everyone’s
minds. Nothing wrong with riverdance, I’m a fan of Bill Whelan.

George: Let’s talk a little bit about that because Irish music is a very
generic genre. You say that and it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s kind
of like saying the word jazz.

Beth: There’s so many different things, you can say, “Irish music” and you
could mean a ballad singer, and that ranges from people who collect the old
obscure ballads and the folklorists, to people who play the more popular
things like “Whiskey in the Jar” and a lot of stuff that most people want
to hear that, unfortunately, have become associated with the green plastic
bowler hats. It can mean anything from the really popular ballads of the
Clancy Brothers to some of these old Alan Lomax type things. Basically when
I studied [inaudible 14:10] musicology at University College Cork in Ireland, there were four classes. You’re supposed to take one every year, but since I was there for just a little over a year, I took them all. One was an overview, but it talked about three major facets of Irish music, one of them being the dance music tradition, the jigs and the reels and things like that, which you would hear while people are doing the stiff armed dancing or the [shan] nosed dancing, which is more lose and carefree. You would hear the ballad
tradition and then the harp tradition, which is considered to be the classical music.

George: It seems that your studies has some sort of influence on your music
playing because you were able to read about it, but instead of staying in
the books, you actually put it to practice.

Beth: There were. That’s my excuse for going out to the pubs and drinking
all that Guinness. That was field research. It’s one thing to hear about
it, there’s one thing to read about it and conceptualize it and it’s
another thing to go out and completely experience it because, whether
you’re playing Irish music or Cajun music, or sitting around jamming with
people at these international festivals, mixing up Turkish music and Polish
accordions and things like that. Sitting around with people that you don’t
even speak their language. There’s a certain kind of unifying lunacy of it
all because I found that no matter who you’re playing with, there’s a
certain kind of mentality amongst musicians that crosses cultures.

George: You brought your instrument, your bouzouki, and we’re going to hear
a song right now. Tell us about the song.

Beth: This is a song called “Wishbone.” The full studio version is going to
be more of a reggae dance hall influence, but with just the bouzouki and
me, this is going to be more stripped down, more naked.

George: I love the fact that music is malleable like that, though. You can
create different feelings depending on your setting and here you are just
you and your instrument.

Beth: Just me and my bouzouki.

George: Let’s hear it.

[song]

Sunpie: Instead of beads, during the New Orleans St. Patrick’s Day
parade we throw cabbage and potatoes from the float that you can take home
to cook for dinner. That’s one way to make groceries. Mikko talks to
Terrence Ryan, the Vice President of the Downtown Irish Club about why
there’s no place like New Orleans for St. Patrick’s Day.

Mikko: One thing you can count on with the Irish is that they’re going to
pull through. After the horrible potato famines of the 1820s and ’30s a lot
of these Irish families came to New Orleans and to New York, and let’s face
it, they’re still the party people. You might be paraded out right now but,
I tell you what, we have more parades coming up in the next month and I’m
going to talk to someone today whose involved with the Downtown Irish Club
and he’s going to speak about the St. Patrick’s Day and other festivities
around it with his club. Hello. My name is Mikko and today, I’m with
Terrance Ryan, the Vice President of the Downtown Irish Club. Terrance,
welcome. How are things going with the Irish club these days?

Terrence: Things are heavenly, Mikko. They’re terrific. Once again, we’re
raising money all year long to try to get the parade put on the street and
we’re there. We’re just about there.

Mikko: What’s your route? Where do you run?

Terrence: We start at Bud Rip’s Bar in the Ninth Ward, the old Bud Rip’s
Bar and we go down to Royal Street, hit Markey’s Bar and then we go down to
Esplanade and over to Decatur and up Bougainvillea and back to Bourbon
Orleans. And that’s where we stop. We hit, I think this year we have six
stops along the way.

Mikko: You ever worry that you’re not going to make it to the sixth stop?

Terrence: There have been occasions that I haven’t made it in my younger
years.

Mikko: It’s interesting you stop at Markey’s. Roy Markey was one of the
founders of your club.

Terrence: Roy Markey Sr. and Bud [Rapoli], and out of a thought that
went with Jim Monaghan.

Mikko: Jim Monaghan, the owner.

Terrence: Yeah.

Mikko: Jim Monaghan the owner of Molly’s

Terrence: Molly’s and several other, they had a [fill out], one day,
they didn’t live in the Irish Channel so they couldn’t be grand marshals.

Mikko: The Irish Channel, for those that aren’t entirely familiar with New
Orleans, is where a lot of the Irish families settled. This is uptown New
Orleans along the river roads there. We basically have a parade up in the
Irish Channel, we have a parade down where you all do it. The other guys,
they throw cabbages and carrots and brussel sprouts, you could actually
just go with a box and get your dinner for the week. Do you guys have any
special throws that you throw?

Terrence: No. We just have the regular green and white pearls, stickers,
the balloons, sometimes for our club and we also have medallions with our
grand marshal on it.

Mikko: Do you do the flowers for a kiss kind of thing?

Terrence: Basically, everything you see on a float but you have to carry it
because you march. We walk the entire way so whatever you can carry, that’s
what you’re throwing.

Mikko: I like the walking kind of parades because they’re more intimate. I
like the big ones too, but the walking ones seem more like what it was 150
years ago when these guys may have done this off the cuff.

Terrence: We don’t encourage this, but a lot of times, as we’re marching
through the neighborhoods, people will walk with us for a little while.
They don’t walk the entire route but they’ll walk with us for a little
while and that’s what makes it unique.

Mikko: We’re on a webcast, people can’t see you but you look so Irish. You
got the sandy hair and the ruddy complexion and you’re wearing a Celtic
football club green jersey. It seems like you’re just the perfect guy in
this perfect job. A lot of clubs in New Orleans do other things. Another
hallmark of the Irish influence in New Orleans is their generosity. Tell me
about the Christmas ride.

Terrence: Every year for 12 or 13 years now, we’ve had, what we call a,
Christmas ride and that’s where we collect gifts, mainly stuffed animals.
We will ride around the city of New Orleans to all the old folks homes and
visit and they look forward to us coming every year and it’s a very
enjoyable time. It’s a wonderful thing.

Mikko: What day does your parade run?

Terrence: We are the only club in the city that runs on St. Patrick’s Day
proper. So if it’s a Tuesday, we’ll be out there Tuesday.

Mikko: So March 17th, you guys will be going through the Ninth Ward and, I
believe, the next day is the Irish Channel parade and then two days later
they have the Irish/Italian parade.

Terrence: There’ll be two on St. Patrick’s Day. There’ll be one in the
morning, at noon, the Irish Channel, and then we will kick off at 6:00 p.m.
out of Bud Rip’s. So we’ll be the evening one. We’re always the evening
one.

Mikko: There’s a morning and an evening and then two days later, because of
St. Joseph’s Day, which is important to Italians, we have the Irish/Italian
parade and it never ends in New Orleans?

Terrence: No. It does not and it’s a wonderful place to be.

Mikko: Thank you, Terrence.

Terrence: Thank you.

Sunpie: GoNOLA Radio is a production of New Orleans Tourism and
Marketing Corporation in conjunction with FSC Interactive. Music by Cale Pellick. My name is Sunpie. Tune in next week by subscribing to GoNOLA Radio on
iTunes or gonola.com.

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