Before the War, the New Orleans Daily Delta was not a pro-Irish immigrant newspaper. The Delta had published a series of articles condemning the Irish for causing all sorts of ills in the city. The Irish, said the Daily Delta, were forever “kicking up rows and breaking heads.” Yet, that same newspaper reported the consecration of the Irish Flag to be borne by the Montgomery Guards. The Montgomery Guards were named for Gen. Richard Montgomery, Irish born, who served in the Continental army during the American Revolution. He had risen through the ranks of the British army, and took up the patriot cause. He fell at Quebec. For the Irish in the 1850’s, he was a great Irish-American hero.
By March, 1861, Louisiana had already seceded. Ft. Sumter and Lincoln’s levy of 75,000 troops had not yet occurred. But, by St. Patrick’s Day, war looked very likely. The Montgomery Guards were the oldest Irish militia in New Orleans. In the 1800’s, militias were more than martial organizations. They served a prominent social role, as well. And, the Montgomery Guards were at the top of the Irish social ladder. Indeed, they had been criticized over the years for the expense of their uniforms. That large expense limited their membership to only the most prosperous Irish immigrants.
In times like war, the Irish turned to their trusted institutions. In 1861, the Montgomery Guards celebrated St. Patrick’s Day be seeking the blessing of the church on their flag. The flag was beautiful. It was green with fringe. On one side, there was a wreath of cotton plants, with the words, “Montgomery Guards, organized 8th January, 1861.” On the other side, there was a wreath of cotton plants, with the words, “Louisiana, our home: her cause is ours.”
St. Patrick’s Day
On St. Patrick’s Day, the Guards marched with their flag from their armory in what is now downtown New Orleans to St. Alphonsus church. St. Alphonsus is uptown in the area now known as the Irish channel. St. Alphonsus was largely erected and built by Irish labor. It is said that the Irish workers would come home from their various jobs and then go work as volunteers on the church after hours.
At the church, the esteemed Fr. Duffy blessed their flag. Representatives from other militia units attended. The commander of the Louisiana Greys, Capt. Dean, attended. Sponsors of the flag included two Misses Redmond, Ann Farrell, two Misses O’Neil, Miss O’Shea, Gen. E.L. Tracy, Gen. Denis Cronan, Capt. C.D. Dreux (Orleans Cadets), Capt. C.E. Girardey (Louisiana Guards), and Capt. Dean. Fr. John B. Duffy exhorted the Montgomery Guards that defending their country with the spirit of a Christian soldier was to serve God. The female sponsors may have been the women who made the flag.
After the blessing, the Guards marched around town and returned to their armory. They held a celebration which likely included food and drink. The Daily Delta said this was the only St. Patrick’s Day celebration that year. The Irish may have left their country, but they brought much of their country with them.
New Orleans Daily Delta, March 19, 1861, p. 2, col. 6
New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 19, 1861, p. 4, col. 6
Earl Niehaus, The Irish in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), pp. 88