Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

So…I forgot about St. Patrick’s Day amid COVID-19 concerns March 18, 2020

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In March 2015, friends posted shamrocks in my yard on St. Patrick’s Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


IF LEPRECHAUNS REALLY EXISTED, perhaps we could dispatch them into the U.S. with their lucky charms. Oh, never mind. Travel bans went into effect at midnight March 16 keeping native leprechauns from entering the U.S. in efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

My apologies to all you Irish readers. I forgot yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. My mind has been elsewhere—on family indirectly affected by the coronavirus, on a work project, on anything but this day that honors St. Patrick.


Irish pride shows on the town water tower.


So here I am, a day late, sharing photos I took in late January while passing through Kilkenny. That would be Minnesota. Not Ireland.


Kilkenny’s gathering spot, Murphy’s Pub.


Kilkenny, a community of around 130 in Le Sueur County, doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Not on March 17 anyway. Rather, they celebrate Half-way to St. Paddy’s Day in September with a parade, car show, “World Famous Toilet Bowl Races” (don’t ask) and more.


A distant view of the Kilkenny, Minnesota water tower.


My recent drive through Kilkenny yielded minimal photos. I focused mostly on the Irish angle—the water tower and the local pub. I expect St. Patrick’s Day in Kilkenny was rather quiet this year given the state-mandated closure of all bars and restaurants by 5 pm Tuesday and continuing until March 27. Those establishments can still deliver and offer take-out, just not dine-in. But it’s not like you can order a mug of green beer or a shot of Irish whiskey and drive or walk away (which is a good thing).


Another view of Murphy’s Pub in Kilkenny.


It’s to the point where I can’t remember all the closures and cancellations that are happening. But, they are countless and, in Minnesota, include movie theaters, museums, craft breweries, bowling alleys and much more. Even the Mall of America has closed. Not that that affects me. I’ve never been there.


There he is. Now I see the leprechaun.


As I wrote this late Tuesday afternoon, the number of positive coronavirus cases in Minnesota stood at 60. None in my county yet. So perhaps a leprechaun did fly into Minnesota prior to the travel ban and passed through Rice County with his lucky charms while en route to Kilkenny.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A St. Patrick’s Day blessing March 17, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:01 AM
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The scene in my yard this St. Patrick's Day.

The scene in my yard this St. Patrick’s Day.

I CAN’T STOP SMILING even now, hours after I flung open my living room curtains to discover a crop of shamrocks growing in my front yard.


Shamrock, close-up


What a magical surprise on this St. Patrick’s Day, to see that my husband and I had been Sham “Rocked”ed.


Shamrock, trio of


We’re not even Irish. But who cares? We’re all Irish today, right? Plus, my favorite color is green.

And I love surprises. Don’t we all? What joy they bring into your day.

One little leprechaun signed his name.

One little leprechaun signed his name.

Immediately I suspected one of two young families for creating a memorable St. Patrick’s Day. Little Jack made sleuthing unnecessary. He printed the message, ‘YOU ARE SMART,” and signed his name. Thanks. No detective work necessary.

The leprechaun even shamrocked our van.

The leprechaun even shamrocked our van.

And Mrs. Leprechaun, aka my dear friend Tammy, whom I phoned to thank, revealed that her husband, Jesse, came up with the idea to “shamrock” us. This morning, before leaving for work in the Twin Cities metro, he crept into our yard and planted those lucky clovers on our lawn and on our vehicles.


Shamrock, super close-up


If I wasn’t so happy about this act of kindness, I think I would be crying. Crying at having friends who are dear and thoughtful and loving and kind and, above all, an incredible blessing in my life.

To Jesse, Tammy, Noah, Hannah, Jack, Amelia and baby Benjamin:

A Wish for a Friend

Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers—
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours—
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too,
And a host of friends that never ends
Each day your whole life through!

An Irish blessing, author unknown

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Irish for an hour in historic Wabasha March 17, 2014

Holy water on the bar of The Olde Triangle Pub in downtown Wabasha, Minnesota.

Holy water on the bar of The Olde Triangle Pub in downtown Wabasha, Minnesota.

I POSSESS NOT AN OUNCE of Irish blood and I am not Catholic.

T-shirts on the pub ceiling.

T-shirts on the pub ceiling.

But green is my favorite color.

The Irish national flag flies outside the pub.

The Irish national flag flies outside the pub.

My Uncle Robin hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He married into a family of Germans.

The Olde Triangle's hearty Irish stew.

The Olde Triangle’s hearty Irish stew.

I like potatoes. And Irish stew.

The pub's fish and chips.

The pub’s fish and chips.

My husband likes fish and chips. And beer. Me, too, but not whiskey.

I have no idea what "the year of Kathleens" means. Anyone care to enlighten me?

I have no idea what “the year of Kathleens” means. Anyone care to enlighten me?

My name, Audrey, of course, is not Irish. But I know a lot of Kathys and a few Kathleens.

Performing at The Olde Triangle Pub Sunday afternoon.

Performing at The Olde Triangle Pub Sunday afternoon.

I can’t dance an Irish jig nor name an Irish tune. However, I enjoy music in an Irish pub.

The pub's Triquetra, Celtic (Trinity) knot, symbolizes the three parts of a good life: friendship, food and drink.

The pub’s Triquetra, Celtic (Trinity) knot, symbolizes three parts of a good life: friendship, food and drink.

And I’ll return to The Olde Triangle Pub. Sunday marked my second time dining here on a visit to Wabasha. I love this cozy, and I do mean cozy, spot in the heart of this historic Mississippi River town.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, Irish or not!

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A mini St. Patrick’s Day parade in Faribault March 17, 2012

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Grandma Jean gave grandson Landon a wagon ride on a perfect summer-like March day in downtown Faribault. Walkers and bikers and joggers are out all over enjoying record warm temperatures on this St. Patrick's Day.

THEY WERE A TWO-PERSON PARADE, Jean and Landon, on this St. Patrick’s Day in downtown Faribault.

The pair didn’t plan it that way. But when Landon tuckered out before a 4 p.m. Irish parade at a local restaurant, his grandma decided to head for home.

About that time I caught up with the duo, after pursuing them for two blocks—first along Fourth Street where I’d initially spotted them on a bench—into the heart of Faribault’s historic Central Avenue.

They obliged when I asked to photograph them, even though Landon wasn’t so sure about me and my camera.

Little Landon shows me the shamrock stamped on his grandma's hand.

We're all dressed in green. That's grandma Jean reflected in the left lens and me in the right with my camera. As a bonus, you can also see some of our historic buildings reflected.

Landon was just too darned cute dressed in green and blue (the color originally tagged to Ireland) clothes accessorized with blue shades and green crocs.

After a short (probably too long for Landon) photo shoot, I thanked the pair and sent them on their way.

The two continued on down Central Avenue, heading home.

It was a perfect day for a walk in Faribault with Luck of the Irish weather. Can it get any better than 81 degrees on St. Patrick’s Day in Minnesota? I think not.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


St. Patrick’s Day at one of Minnesota’s oldest Irish Catholic parishes March 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:05 AM
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A sign on the old St. Patrick's Parish Hall, circa 1910, photographed several years ago.

SOME MIGHT CALL it the luck of the Irish that St. Patrick’s Church—Shieldsville, has persevered through two devastating fires.

Or perhaps St. Patrick’s, one of Minnesota’s first Irish Catholic parishes, established in 1856 in rural Rice County, could be considered unlucky given those two inferno-inducing lightning strikes upon church buildings nearly 100 years apart.

Bad luck or good luck, these strong Irish Catholics have withstood the tests of their faith, rebuilding after fires in 1888 and in 2002.

The congregation's newest church and fellowship hall, built in 2004 after lightning presumably struck and burned the previous sanctuary to the ground in 2002. The Brazil-Dudley Fellowship Hall, linked to the new church, is the site for the annual St. Patrick's Day meal.

This weekend they’ll celebrate their heritage and patron saint namesake at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, going strong at 18 years. Beginning with an 11 a.m. Mass, the Irish, and even those who aren’t, will gather to worship.

Starting at noon, congregants and guests will meet in the social hall for the annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch of Mulligan Stew, coleslaw, Irish soda bread, buns and dessert. All homemade.

For those over 21, “Irish libations” will be available. I assume that means green beer and not Irish whiskey.

No reservations are needed to dine with the Irish and no fee has been set for the meal. Give a free-will offering.

While I’ve never dined at the St. Patrick’s Day lunch, this may be the year to imbibe. I’m talking food here, not beer, although I could possibly be persuaded to swig an ale. I’ve been to enough church dinners to know that you’ll find some of the best and tastiest homemade food in parish halls.

For those of you who enjoy Irish music, the Twin Cities-based band, Reverse Cowboy, will present its interpretation of traditional and contemporary Irish music during a 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. concert.

The circa 1910 parish hall, photographed several years ago, once served as the social hub of Shieldsville. Folks congregated here for Saturday night dances, card parties hosted by the Ladies' Rosary Society, St. Patrick's Day plays, an annual chicken dinner and bazaar, and for other events. Confirmation classes were also taught here and grain was once stored in this building. When St. Patrick's 1882 stone church burned to the ground in 2002, parishioners gathered here for worship services.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS, if any, for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day?

Click here for more information about St. Patrick’s Church—Shieldsville. 

Situated along Minnesota State Highway 21 about 10 miles northwest of Faribault, Shieldsville is not an incorporated city, but rather a township. It was one of Minnesota’s first Irish settlements. St. Patrick’s Church is located at 7525 Dodd Road. To learn more about Irish history in Minnesota, click here. 

As long as we’re talking Irish history here, historians consider Jessenland Township north of Henderson in rural Sibley County to be Minnesota’s first Irish agrarian settlement. You’ll find St. Thomas Catholic Church here, built in 1870 and on the National Register of Historic Places. The first church was built in 1855. Click here to read more about the Irish in Minnesota and specifically those who settled in Jessenland.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Dancing the Irish jig at St. Patrick March 17, 2011

I’M NOT IRISH, not one cell of me. But I am the niece of an Irishman from Northern Ireland who married in to our German family. Does that count for anything on St. Patrick’s Day?

Despite the fact that I’m not Irish and I don’t celebrate St. Paddy’s day, in the spirit of the day, I’m posting these images of a lovely old building I discovered in 2009 while photographing a veterans’ memorial in Shieldsville for a magazine feature story.

Shieldsville is a tiny community along Minnesota Highway 21 west of Faribault. But it’s more than just a pause in the road. This town lays claim as Minnesota’s first organized Irish settlement, dating back to 1855.

If not for my fondness for meandering, I never would have discovered this quaint circa 1910 parish hall belonging to, ta-da, the Church of St. Patrick.


The old parish hall at the Church of St. Patrick, Shieldsville, is now used primarily for storage.

‘Tonight the parishioners of St. Patrick, and others who wish to be Irish, will gather across the street from the old parish hall in the new parish hall. There they’ll dance an Irish jig. They’ll feast on mulligan stew and Irish soda bread. And they’ll drink green beer in a toast to their ancestors.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Sign above the parish hall door.


The front entry to St. Patrick's Parish Hall, photographed in 2009.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling