PROFESSOR & AUTHOR
(above) Kelley at the Alzheimer’s Association Annual Fundraiser
Laura D. Kelley was born in New York City but spent her childhood in Mexico, her teen years in Texas, Alaska, US Virgin Islands and her twenties in Europe and California. The desire to travel the world runs through her veins courtesy of her Irish ancestors and she assumed that moving every few years to a new locale would continue ad infinitum. However, after moving to New Orleans to complete her Ph.D., she realized she had finally found a place to call home.
Her Irish roots dictated the focus of her study, and Irish luck lent a hand when she met on her first day in the Crescent City a man from “da Channel”- the Irish Channel – with an unusual accent reminiscent of New York City even though he was born and raised in New Orleans. Unbeknownst to many outsiders, Kelley included, the city had and still has a significant Irish community. Kelley realized then and there that she had found the subject and specific focus of her research.
Since that “aha” moment twenty years ago, Kelley has developed numerous classes about the Irish as well as the culture, history and foodways of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana. In addition, she has directed several research projects with St. Alphonsus Art and Culture Center as well as Save our Cemeteries. These projects have uncovered different facets of Irish history of the city using traditional and non-traditional primary sources. She considers herself fortunate to live in a city that contains such a rich culture and such rich archival resources. A lifetime is not long enough to explore all these opportunities.
Kelley spends her time, researching, teaching, and travelling. She lives in New Orleans with her partner, art historian Thomas M. Bayer, and in typical Irish (as well as New Orleans) fashion her immediate and extended family live within walking distance. Typical of Irish chain migration practices, other members of the Kelley family have followed Laura, and by now a new generation of this clan, born in Orleans Parish, has further strengthened the roots of this Irish American family in this city.
(left) Kelley giving the keynote address at the Historic New Orleans Collection for the International Irish Famine Commemoration November 2014 (photo by Carroll Grevemberg)