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

 

Claiming a prairie sunset February 8, 2013

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MY HEART BELONGS to my native prairie. Always has, always will.

Even after three decades away from southwestern Minnesota, I remain connected to the sky and to the land, to the place that shaped me as a person, a writer, a photographer.

In an environment as stark as the prairie, you notice details.

Even in southeastern Minnesota, where I've lived for three decades, expanses of prairie exist like this sunset scene.

Even in southeastern Minnesota, where I’ve lived for three decades, expanses of prairie exist like this sunset scene.

And so, on a recent Saturday, as my husband and I traveled south and east from Cleveland to Kilkenny (that’s in southeastern Minnesota, not Ohio and Ireland), I observed daylight evolve into evening, the sun slipping in a slim band of rosy peach across the horizon.

In that moment my soul yearned for the land I left at age 17, the prairie, the place of my heart.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pizza & beer on a Saturday night in Kilkenny January 26, 2013

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I SUGGESTED WE STOP for directions at the corner gas station.

“How hard can it be to find this place in Kilkenny?” my husband responded.

He was right. Kilkenny, population around 150, in Le Sueur County, runs only a few blocks in all directions. Surely we could find “the bar on top of the hill with the really good pizza,” per our friend LeAnn’s recommendation.

Atop the hill in Kilkenny by the water tower, we found the Liquor Hole.

Atop the hill in Kilkenny by the water tower, we found the Liquor Hole.

Just up the road from Bud’s Service, we found the Liquor Hole.

I expect in warm weather, the front patio is a popular dining and drinking spot at the Hole.

I expect in warm weather, the front patio is a popular dining and drinking spot at the Hole.

We arrived Saturday evening as the last wisps of daylight faded, enough time for me to snap a few outdoor shots before entering the Hole.

Inside we found your typical small town restaurant/bar—pool table in the corner, stools ringing a horseshoe bar, neon beer lights blazing, televisions blaring, opened pull tabs littering the bar top, smokers stepping out to light up a smoke…

A section of the dining area.

A section of the Liquor Hole.

No pool players yet early on a Saturday evening.

No pool players yet early on a Saturday evening.

Be sure to follow the bar's pool rules.

Be sure to follow the bar’s pool rules.

Lots of neon beer signs.

Lots of neon beer signs.

But there were a few surprises, like the homemade wood sign announcing Kilkenny’s inability to afford a town drunk and a fat-bottomed girl print I refused to photograph.

Kilkenny bar humor posted below the Bud Light sign.

Kilkenny bar humor posted below the Bud Light sign.

And when Randy asked for a Schell’s FireBrick beer, the bartender/owner looked at him and said, “Come on, this is Kilkenny.”

Alright then. We both ordered a Nordeast to go with our $11 House pizza topped with sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, onion, mushrooms, green pepper and green olives. And just for the record, the pizza is not entirely homemade. The crust is pre-made. I asked.

The Liquor Hole's House pizza.

The Liquor Hole’s House pizza.

None-the-less, the pizza was thick and tasty, loaded with cheese and was delivered on a cardboard round with several small paper plates, plastic forks and a half-inch thick stack of napkins, most of which we used.

“Cuts down on the dishes,” Randy joked as he observed the disposable tableware.

But we didn’t mind. After all, in the bartender’s words, “This is Kilkenny.”

A last shot of the Liquor Hole before we got into the car and drove 15 miles back east to Faribault.

A last shot of the Liquor Hole before we got into the car and drove 15 miles back east to Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling