Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota
Jannet L. Walsh writes book on Minnesota and Irish Family History
Higgledy-Piggledy Stones, October 24, 2023 release, Shanti Arts Publishing
Murdock, Minnesota – July 26, 2021 – Jannet L. Walsh, a rural Minnesota-based photographer, writer and educator, is to be a first-time published author of a creative nonfiction quest narrative “Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota” about her Minnesota and Irish heritage. Publication is October 24, 2023 by Shanti Arts Publishing, of Brunswick, Maine, a small press publisher of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.
Walsh is an award-winning photojournalist and photographer with more than 20 years of experience in still photographs and video. She is 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). Walsh most recently served as assistant professor of strategic communications and multimedia at St. Cloud State University, SCSU.
Walsh’s creative nonfiction quest narrative focuses on her Irish American heritage set in Minnesota and Ireland. Walsh’s family was among the first in a series of Catholic colonies established in 1876 by Archbishop John Ireland in De Graff, Minnesota. Her ancestors were chosen to be part of the rural community in 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.
Walsh researched her manuscript for more than a decade, starting gradually after her 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. Her 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.
“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, Minnesota, population 278. A handwritten card gave hints about the photograph, calling me to immediate active duty as a family historian,” said Walsh.
“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 on a dirt farm road near Killarney town, located in County Kerry, Ireland, a farm associated with my family dating back to at least 1820 or before. Helping me were family, friends, archivists and numerous Irish folks I befriended along the way, including sides of roads when I was lost. From these interactions, I put together the best possible story of 200 years of my family’s origin from the island of Ireland, before settling in rural Minnesota, part of an Irish Catholic colony established by Archbishop Ireland. We have large Irish crosses in the cemetery, green shamrock serving as logos, and townships named after Ireland here in Murdock, and Swift County.”
“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 my 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.”
“While visiting Killagha Abbey, not far from Killarney, I walk in the footsteps of ancestors, as I must believe, and Saint Colman (530-606 AD) 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 only had a stone to mark their graves, no engraving, something reserved for the wealthy or gentry. The stones in this graveyard are associated with my ancestors, but I can’t say which stone.”
“Jannet Walsh’s Higgledy-Piggledy Stones knits continents and centuries together. From her home base in rural Minnesota, Walsh uses research to take readers from the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin, to an 1862 Civil War battle in Arkansas, to Bishop John Ireland’s nineteenth-century efforts to resettle Irish Catholics in North America—safe from persecution and famine. Full of wide and wheeling revelations, this memoir pins moments across decades, and sews personal genealogy to world history. Punctuated with original poems, archival letters, and official documents, this engaging narrative is also a treatise on the value of remembering, recovering, and preserving. Walsh finds the extraordinary hiding in plain sight, affirming that history lives beside us in our own homes.”
—James Cihlar, author of The Shadowgraph
“Jannet Walsh grasps each new life situation with pluck and adventure. This time, Walsh tracks down her family’s Irish roots by traveling to the native land. In her ventures and exploits she obtains valuable information from pub locals as well as clergy, historians, librarians, hotel clerks, and a welcoming family. In her ‘you are there’ memoir, readers travel with Walsh as she remembers and lives out family loyalties—while leaving no (blarney) stone unturned.”
—Cheryl Alberts Irwin, retired journalist, writer, and editor
“Like her great-grandmother’s handwritten cookbook, stowed away safely in the kitchen of a century-old family house on the edge of the world, Jannet Walsh has stewarded her family’s stories across two continents and a hundred years. Though the particulars of the story of the Brennans, Foleys, and Walshes are specific to the Irish-American experience in rural Minnesota, the sweeping, entertaining, and touching way Walsh tells it points the way for any reader to consider how they engage with the legacy of one’s family.”
—Andy Sturdevant, author of Closing Time: Saloons, Taverns, Dives, and Watering Holes of the Twin Cities
“The remarkable journey of one Irish Catholic family from poverty, hunger and religious discrimination to well-respected, God-fearing citizens and toilers of the soil in a new land and community. The research is remarkable, and the stories of the journey, both in the United States and in Ireland, come vividly to life through extraordinary writing and historical and cultural understanding. A must read for all amateur genealogists and for all present-day descendants of the great people who left the Emerald Isle.”
—Rev. Gary E. Mills, Th. D., director, Swift County Historical Society, Benson, Minnesota
“Jannet Walsh’s Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota is a journey told with poetry, grace, and love of her ancestors. It pays both homage to her family and the ancient places from whence we inherit our strength, faith, and spiritual ties with the Earth. Walsh follows in the footsteps of her family’s origins, investigating their travels from Ireland, to Canada, to America, where she retraces with acute perspective, their enduring courage and strength, creating a timeless mythology not only of her descendants but of humanity. From the obscure ancient Butter Roads of Ireland, to Holy wells, and fairy myths left from centuries of connecting to the land and nature, Walsh lets her passionate research guide her. We journey with her through the unmarked country side where glacial formed mountains, sacred places, and Irish folklore bridge her past with her present Minnesota origins. Higgledy-Piggledy Stones is an ethereal tour through time and a delight.” —Tracy Ross, poet and writer
BOOK SUMMARY: This is a creative nonfiction quest narrative by Jannet L. Walsh of Murdock, Minnesota, about her Irish American heritage set in Minnesota and Ireland. Walsh’s family was among the first in a series of Catholic colonies established in 1876 by Archbishop John Ireland in De Graff, Minnesota. Her ancestors were chosen to be part of the rural community in 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 their old world in Ireland, Canada and other lands. Descendants of these setters continue to live and work in the rural farming community in Swift County. What is presented here explores the author’s quest to understand her family as pioneers in Minnesota, as well as their places of origin mainly near Killarney town in County Kerry, Ireland.
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About Jannet L. Walsh
Jannet L. Walsh, Murdock, Minnesota-based photographer, author, educator, is a first-time published author of a creative nonfiction quest about her Minnesota and Irish heritage. Walsh received a 2022-2024 McKnight Foundation Grant for writing about her family’s Irish Canadian roots on Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.In this endeavor, Walsh combines Irish family detective skills with creative nonfiction narration. Readers imagine they are walking with her in rural Minnesota, in Ireland, and in Canada, in her ‘you are there’ writing genre, inherited from her family’s oral tradition.Walsh has written on technology, travel, religion, and was a newspaper columnist on career, workforce, and business. Her writing appears in IrishCentral.com as a correspondent on topics related to the Irish Diaspora. Her photos and videos have been featured by CNN, CNN iReport, HLN, The New York Times Company and the California Academy of Sciences. Walsh served as assistant professor of strategic communications and multimedia at St. Cloud State University. She holds a Master of Arts from Ohio University in photography, and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Augsburg University. “Higgledy Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota” is her first book.
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*Jannet L. Walsh of Murdock, Minnesota is a photographer, writer, and educator. She is the author of the forthcoming creative nonfiction quest narrative “Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota,” scheduled for publication in 2023 by Shanti Arts Publishing. Walsh is recipient of a Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Growth Grant funded by the McKnight Foundation, 2022-2024. You can follow Walsh on Facebook and Twitter, and on her other social media channels, with the hashtag #IrishFamilyHistoryDetective.