Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating Minnesota Irish via stops in Kilkenny, St. Patrick & St. Thomas March 17, 2023

Photographed in Kilkenny, Minnesota, in January 2020, this pub no longer exists. I loved the name, the sign, the graphic in this Irish community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020)

ENCLAVES OF IRISH scatter throughout Minnesota from unincorporated settlements to small towns to big cities.

In my wanderings through southern Minnesota, I’ve discovered Irish pockets, including in nearby Kilkenny. The Le Sueur County community of just over 100 residents traces its name to Kilkenny County, Ireland, birthplace of early immigrant settler Dennis Doyle.

Kilkenny, proud of its Irish heritage, maintains a twinship with Kilkenny County in the Old Country. And each September, the community celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with Half-Way to St. Paddy’s Day complete with parade and, in the past, toilet bowl races. I’ve never attended, but need to and document this event.

Irish pride on Kilkenny, Minnesota’s water tower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020)

Three years ago while out and about on one of those rural drives I so enjoy, Randy and I passed through Kilkenny, marked by a signature silo style light green water tower decorated with a shamrock. There was no doubt we were in an Irish proud small town.

Murphy’s Pub was once Kilkenny’s gathering spot. It closed, replaced by The Toy Box Saloon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020)

At the time, Murphy’s Pub centered the core of Kilkenny, which, as I recall, is about a handful of businesses. Today that Irish-tagged pub with the memorable ale drinking leprechaun signage is closed, replaced by The Toy Box Saloon. That doesn’t quite hold the same Irish appeal as the name Murphy’s Pub. But you will still find Irish brew, like Finnegan’s Irish Amber.

St. Patrick’s Bonin Field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo summer of 2015)

In Scott County to the north, in unincorporated St. Patrick, I discovered a strong Irish enclave centered around a church, cemetery, ballpark and tavern. St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church and its surrounding cemetery sit high atop a hill across from St. Patrick’s Tavern and next to the ball field. The ballpark, St. Patrick’s Bonin Field, is named after Father Leon Bonin, a strong supporter of local baseball.

The appealing leprechaun signage on St. Patrick’s Tavern. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo summer of 2015)

That this rural place is proud of its Irish heritage is clear. I need to return to St Patrick, perhaps pop into the bar for a brew. Make that an Irish stout.

St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church and cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo summer of 2015)

During my one and only visit in the summer of 2015, I mostly wandered the cemetery. I find cemeteries historically and artistically interesting.

Irish immigrants buried in the St. Thomas Church Cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2018)

Back in Le Sueur County, I meandered through the St. Thomas Church Cemetery in the unincorporated settlement of St. Thomas. During my March 2018 visit, I found plenty of Irish buried here.

A closed Irish-named bar in St. Thomas, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2018)

Down the road a bit, I spotted an apparently abandoned Callahan’s Bar.

An appropriately-named township hall in an Irish enclave. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2018)

And then I saw Derrynane Town Hall, Derrynane being a small village in County Kerry, Ireland. Ah, yes, Irish roots run deep in pockets of rural Minnesota.

This St. Patrick’s Day I celebrate Kilkenny, St. Thomas and St. Patrick. What a delight to have found these backroad places of Irish heritage in rural southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Celebrating Minnesota Irish via stops in Kilkenny, St. Patrick & St. Thomas”

  1. beth Says:

    what wonderful finds. I always find it fascinating where different groups settled and made a life when they came to America. happy st. pat’s

  2. May the Luck of the Irish Be With You & Blessings 🙂 I drove through St. Patrick for years on my commute from work to home. The little hamlet I live in here is Scottish and they do Celtic dancing and bagpipes all through out the year. The kids start young in learning the dancing as well as the bag pipes. The hamlet is known for their Madi Gras as well as St. Patty’s events and then have the Christmas festivities too (Santa comes in via fire truck and then goes throughout the neighborhoods for weeks before Christmas via fire truck). May your drink be green today – Cheers! – Happy Weekend – Enjoy

    • What fun to experience Scottish and Celtic. Love that music and dancing, especially. I didn’t expect any of my readers to know the location of St. Patrick, Minnesota. But here you are, in the know. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, cheers and blessings!

    • The good ole tavern, ball park, church, and cemetery of St. Patrick. I am familiar with Kilkenny too – camped around that area in Waterville and Morristown. Our family trip to Ireland a few years back landed us in the area my father-in-law’s family came from – Crossmolina in County Mayo. We also found the family name in the cemeteries at the Rock of Cashel in Cashel County and Pluckerstown in Kildare County.

  3. Gunny Says:

    Great finds! Two American state flags are similar, one is exact, to the old Irish National flag. I have two strains of Irish, one from my maternal side and one from my paternal side. My surname can be tracked back 4 generations and one hits a “wall”. My surname is of Irish origin though most do not recognize it as such. However, one genealogist traced it from Ireland then Scotland, then to Normandy, France (about the year 1000), then to Iceland! Then before that, Norway! One Irish-American had her DNA tested. While she can trace her roots straight back to Ireland for a number of centuries, she is 85% Norwegian. Average Norwegian woman today is more like around 60% Norwegian. The Top of the morning to you all and may you all have a Blessed and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and may the Luck of the Irish follow you through your life.

  4. Interesting, wonder if these communities started from off shoots of the larger St Paul Irish communities.

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