09/11/2014 Minister Humphreys remembers Irish who died building New Basin Canal and victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans

Minister Humphreys remembers Irish who died building New Basin Canal and victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, will tomorrow (Sunday) remember the Irish people who died constructing the New Basin Canal in New Orleans in the nineteenth century.

The Minister will dedicate a new park, the ‘Hibernian Memorial Park’, to their memory as she concludes her visit to New Orleans for the 2014 International Famine Commemoration. Minister Humphreys is attending the event as Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee.

Prior to the dedication, Minister Humphreys will lay a wreath at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial in memory of those who lost their lives during the Hurricane which devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Speaking in advance of the events, Minister Humphreys said:

“I am looking forward to officially opening the Hibernian Memorial Park, which honours those Irish workers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the construction of the New Basin Canal.

“We know that many Irish settlers worked on this project which would go on to take six years to complete.  Their work came at a high price.  The manual labour on the canal was difficult and dangerous.

“The immigrant workers faced danger and disease on a daily basis.  Conditions on site were often treacherous and diseases such as cholera were rampant.  Many workers were killed through accident or disease, trying to provide a future for their families.

“However, the experiences of these men did not deter other Irish people from making the journey across the Atlantic.  From the plight of the New Basin Canal workers, to immigrants fleeing famine and disease, we know that Irish immigrants from all backgrounds were determined not only to survive but to succeed.

“It is a credit to their fortitude that later generations of the Irish Diaspora made their mark across America and elsewhere and reached the top in every sector of the new countries in which they settled and indeed continue to do so.

“We know that many of these people created successful lives in business, politics, sport and the arts across the globe.

“Here in New Orleans, the Irish community were tight-knit and supported their families and each other and I see that this continues today. This wonderful Park – and the Celtic Cross erected 24 years ago where the New Basin Canal once flowed – are poignant tributes to those brave workers who lost their lives building the canal.  Indeed it is a tribute to all of our Irish ancestors who contributed so much to the economic and social fabric of this vibrant city.

“This event marks my final engagement in these 2014 International Famine Commemorations – my first as Minister – and the Irish community in New Orleans have set a very high standard for future years and future host cities.

“The way in which this community has come together to deliver events which remember both the victims of our Great Famine and celebrate the achievement of our emigrants – and those who stand on their shoulders – is a wonderful testament to the resilience and class of this city and its Irish community in particular.”


Note to Editors:

Please see further details of the Minister’s schedule in New Orleans for Saturday and Sunday below

Saturday November 8th:

  • Visit to Kingsley House, renowned as the oldest Settlement House in the South.

It has served more than half a million people since it was founded in 1896. Today, nearly, 7,000 infants, children, youth, parents and disabled and elderly from throughout Southeast Louisiana participate annually in a comprehensive array of nationally accredited and state certified programmes.

  • Charity Walk with Red Cross New Orleans
  • Series of Irish community events, including opening Irish Channel Feis Irish Dancing Competition and Gaelic Football Tournament
  • Wreath-Laying at Margaret Haughery monument.

The Margaret Haughery memorial is the second public monument dedicated to any woman in American public life.  The memorial remembers the contribution of this Leitrim-born woman to helping the disadvantaged in New Orleans through the 1840s and subsequent years.

  • Irish Network of New Orleans Fundraiser Ball

Sunday November 9th:

  • Wreath-laying at Hurricane Katrina Memorial
  • Hibernian Memorial Park Dedication – New Basin Canal

Further details on Hibernian Memorial Park and the New Basin Canal 

At the heart of the new Hibernian Memorial Park project is a Celtic cross of Kilkenny marble that was erected nearly a quarter of a century ago to honour the Irish labourers who built the greatest public works project of 19th century New Orleans.

In 1832 Irish diggers began work on a 6-mile waterway that linked the Faubourg St. Mary, now the Central Business District, and Lake Pontchartrain.

Harsh working and living conditions made the Irish immigrants susceptible to frequent and fatal outbreaks of cholera and other diseases as they dug through the cypress swamps to the lake.

Many succumbed from their labour. For over 100 years the New Basin Canal was a significant transportation corridor that contributed to the economic vitality of the city.

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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