Jannet L. Walsh writes book on Minnesota and Irish Family History

Higgledy-Piggledy Stones scheduled for 2023 release, Shanti Arts Publishing

Jannet L. Walsh, of Murdock, Minnesota, poses in front of Crosstown Cottage, near Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland, June 1, 2018, before heading to the railway station in Killarney. Walsh spent most of May 2018 living in the historic cottage researching and writing about her family’s Irish roots, connecting with local Irish culture and people. Photo by Olive Horgan.

By Jannet L. Walsh
July 26, 2021

Murdock, Minnesota – I’m excited to announce my forthcoming book, a creative nonfiction quest narrative Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota about my Minnesota and Irish heritage. Scheduled publication is 2023 by Shanti Arts Publishing, of Brunswick, Maine, a specialized press publisher of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. 

This will be my first book, and can’t be more excited to work with Shanti Arts Publishing!  From signing the contact to publishing and on my shelf, the journey will be about 18 months — perhaps less.  I’ll certainly be learning along the way before holding a book in my hands.

I’m a rural Minnesota-based photographer, writer and educator, located in the farming community  of Swift County.  There’s no need for a stop light in Murdock. Everyone knows to move for the plethora of pickups  during planting and harvest season, with tractors, trucks, and grain wagons whizzing past my front steps while heading off to the grain elevator a few blocks away, next to the railway.   Weather is always a topic of conversation, especially pumping gas at Dooley’s, the only store in town, and it’s likely why weather is a part of my writing.

My family was among the first in a series of Catholic colonies established in 1876 by Archbishop John Ireland in De Graff, Minnesota. My ancestors were chosen to be part of the rural community, now Swift County, dedicated as farmers, stewards of the soil and Christian faith.  Early settlers proved up their farmlands to become U.S. citizens, renouncing ties to  Ireland, Canada and other lands. Descendants of these setters continue to live and work in the rural farming community in Swift County, myself included.   

Collection of photos from the family of Jannet L. Walsh.

Research for my manuscript spans more than a decade, starting gradually after my return home to Minnesota in 2010 to care for elderly family members, making at least five trips to Ireland, with four recent trips for research.  The original nonfiction manuscript was part of a Master of Fine Arts thesis program for Creative Writing at Augsburg University, Minneapolis, with the purpose of preparing a manuscript for publication for my 2019 graduation. As a MFA student I  met numerous authors, such as renowned Minnesota author Kao Kalia Yang,  inspiring me to tell my family’s story and heritage, and most importantly, allowing me to ask how she went about her writing.  Howling Bird Press, student publishing house at Augsburg, introduced me to Lisa Van Orman, KateLynn Hibbard, Jean Harper, and many more authors than I can list now, and many of whom were my professors.

Jannet L. Walsh stands on a farm road in Townland Dromkerry, County Kerry, Ireland, December 30, 2018. This farm is a place her Irish ancestors lived and worked before the Great Famine. Photo by Olive Horgan.

In 2010, I returned home to Minnesota after working in Florida.  At this time, I had two elderly family members residing in nursing homes both named Margaret Walsh, an aunt and my mother, for whom I was caring.  The distraction to search my family’s forgotten Minnesota and Irish heritage was welcomed.  I didn’t know the future would include standing one day one a dirt farm road near Killarney town, located in County Kerry, Ireland, at farm associated with my family dating back to at least 1820 or before. With the help of family, friends, archivists and numerous Irish folks I befriended along the way — including sides of roads when I was lost — I put together the best possible story of 200 years of my family’s origin from the island of Ireland, before settling rural Minnesota, part of an Irish Catholic colony established by Archbishop Ireland. We have large Irish crosses in the cemetery, green shamrocks serving as logos, and townships named after Ireland here in Murdock, and Swift County.

On a cold January day in 2011, I found a black and white portrait of my Great-Great Grandmother Ellen Brennen Foley hidden away in a yellowed pillowcase, tucked inside a plastic floral shopping bag, deep in an attic closet at my home in Murdock, population 278. A handwritten card gave hints about the photograph, calling me to immediate active duty as a family historian.

As a little girl I heard about Ireland, especially from my late father Martin J. Walsh Jr., as he is the first known member of our family to visit Ireland, making his trip in 1953. I learned of  the Great Famine, and that my family emigrated to North America, first to Canada and on to the United States, to survive. Like many immigrants, the stories and fine details are missing for many reasons, one being two centuries of forgetting in order to make new lives in the new world. This is where I wanted to play my part in telling our story.

Photo by Martin J. Walsh Jr, of Murdock Minnesota, Kodachrome, removed from mount for scanning. Information written on slide: Dublin, Ireland. near Trinity College. Note the left hand drive. May 1953. Photo provided by Paul M. Walsh. View more from 1953 trip to Ireland.

While visiting Killagha Abbey, not far from Killarney, I walked in the footsteps of ancestors, as I must believe, and Saint Colman (530-606 AD) who was known to have built an earlier monastic foundation on the same site according to historical information at the abbey. A retired Irish school teacher tells me the graves are all higgledy-piggledy, in reference to the disorder of the burial sites with piles of stones marking graves. Prior to about 1820 or so many people had only a stone to mark their graves, no engraving, something reserved for the wealthy or gentry.

I hope you will be interested to follow me on this journey – and the one to come in my first book venture.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS Jannet L. Walsh, of Murdock, Minnesota, is an award-winning photojournalist and photographer with more than 20 years of experience in  still photographs and video. A former employee of The New York Times Company, working at a regional newspaper, Star-Banner, in Ocala, Florida. Nominated for a Chairman’s Award (Chairman of The New York Times Company). I most recently served as assistant professor of strategic communications and multimedia at St. Cloud State University, SCSU.

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