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


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


Redefining luck as blessings March 17, 2019

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


BECAUSE ST. PATRICK’S DAY falls on a Sunday this year, I feel inclined to share with you a post I wrote for Indiana-based Christian publisher Warner Press. I’ve been blogging for Warner for nearly a year now and became the blog coordinator there in January.

This opportunity with Warner Press has blessed me in multiple ways by growing my writing ministry, faith family and personal faith and also financially.

As part of my job, I develop blog post ideas with the marketing team, then assign or write those posts. I assigned myself a St. Patrick’s Day blog post that emphasizes blessings over luck, a word often associated with this Irish celebration.

So in the spirit of the Irish, even though I’m 100 percent German, I invite you to click here and read my post, Redefining Luck as Blessings. Feel free to comment. Scroll down a bit and you will find the comments section.

And to you, my dear readers, thank you for blessing me with your presence here, for appreciating my blog, for connecting and for creating a sense of community that I value. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A lot of Irish in Saint Thomas in Derrynane Township March 20, 2018


I APPROACHED THE BEAUTIFUL brick church with the full expectation that the doors would be locked. They were. There would be no getting inside St. Thomas Catholic Church on this St. Patrick’s Day. I felt disappointment, but not surprise.




A hot pink sign tacked onto the church sign notes an Easter vigil here on March 31.


Even though shut out, Randy and I still explored, circling this immense church with stained glass windows and with tower steepling to a cross.



We crunched across crusty snow to look at gravestones that bear the Irish history of this place in names like O’Malley, Shea, O’Connell and noted ancestral roots in Cork County, Ireland and elsewhere.


Driving into Saint Thomas, Minnesota.


This village lies in the middle of farmland with this farm site on the edge of Saint Thomas.


This ag business sits right next to the cemetery.


Then comes the town hall.


And, finally, Callahan’s, which appeared no longer in business.


Saint Thomas is through-and-through Irish, based on our observations of this unincorporated village along Le Sueur County Road 28 just north of Le Center in Derrynane Township. We found this settlement via an atlas that is our guidebook to mostly unknown places in Minnesota. With a name like St. Thomas, we expected a Catholic church and not much more.



The church, built in 1883, closed in January 2011, just another among many rural Catholic churches shuttered and merged. Mass is still held occasionally at St. Thomas.



I often wonder how long such mostly vacated churches will stand. St. Thomas appeared well-cared for still. At least on this St. Patrick’s Day in 2018. But when those who once worshiped weekly here are gone, will their descendants care? Will they still tend the cemetery, swing open the doors for an Easter vigil? I hope so.


© Copyright 2018 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


Some green bling to wow you on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:32 PM
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I AM A JEANS AND T-SHIRT kind of girl woman. Casual attire defines my wardrobe.

I dislike shopping, especially for clothes and jewelry, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially my next-youngest sister. She received my hand-me-downs when we were growing up. Fashion was not my forte, she will tell you.

She would be right. I want comfort and casual in clothes and if those clothes also happen to be fashionable, well then that’s a bonus.

The same goes for jewelry. I’m your basic wedding/engagement ring, earrings and wristwatch kind of accessorizing woman. Sometimes I’ll throw a necklace or scarf around my neck when I dress up. Typically those accessories have been given to me by the daughters who have considerable more fashion sense than me.

Likewise, my husband seems to possess a certain ability to choose jewelry that appeals to me. Just look at these earrings he gave me for our 30th wedding anniversary last May.

My “Sweet Romance” 30th anniversary earrings.

My mouth gaped when I saw all this sparkly bling in my favorite color, green. I was speechless for a moment as I viewed the “gems” (no, they are not “real”) which remind me of my mother’s vintage rhinestone earrings and necklaces. I love, love, love these earrings.

However, I have nothing fancy enough in my limited wardrobe to match their beauty. But I don’t care.

This morning after church I pulled on a green plaid flannel shirt and jeans. Then I slipped designer Shelley Cooper’s “Sweet Romance” earrings into my pierced ears and thought of my sweet husband who has a knack for mostly (there was that scented hot pad) choosing gifts I love.

And what’s not to love about Cooper’s jewelry line? According to her website, this Californian…

…is a jewelry artist, designer, historian, and businesswoman who has nurtured a love of antique jewelry into a flourishing design and manufacturing company that exquisitely produces the original collections of Sweet Romance. Her designs, derived from a life-long study of antique and vintage jewelry, radiate the authenticity and spirit of many eras of fashion history.

The collection’s legacy designs enfold stories and memoirs about jewelry, the women who inspired it, and the historical times that gave it expression. These storylines illuminate the lives and times of queens and consorts, fashion doyennes and socialites, vamps and starlets, dreamers and romantics, and our great-grandmothers.

I’m no queen or consort, fashion doyenne or socialite, vamp or starlet, or even a grandma. But I suppose, as a writer, I could be considered a dreamer and a romantic. And now I have the earrings to prove it.

FYI: This unofficial endorsement of Shelley Cooper’s “Sweet Romance” jewelry line was unsolicited and written solely because I love the earrings. My husband paid full retail price for the earrings purchased at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota and Ms. Cooper certainly does not know me, a mostly unfashionable Minnesota blogger.

© Copyright 2012 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