An hour after the Leprechaun fun kicked off Kilkenny’s seventh annual Half-Way to St. Paddy’s celebration Saturday morning, organizer and City Administrator Janice Sellner was expecting this year’s event would be the city’s best ever.
“Because it’s year number seven — luck of the Irish — we’re expecting it to be a good turnout, but there are a couple of things going on extra this year that gives it a really good feel,” she said.
First off, Martin Brett, who was elected Mayor of Kilkenny, Ireland for the fifth time after not serving for five years and was present at the first Half-Way celebration in 2013, made a return trip. The two cities signed a formal twinning, an official document that declared the Kilkennys “sister cities.”
“Since he is back this year, people were looking forward to that,” Sellner said.
She also expected more people to pour into the town of 200 for the car, motorcycle and tractor show.
“Knish Kustomz, down the road here, works on interiors and upholstery. He (owner Dan Knish) is doing major jobs for people all over the United States, and I think he’s going to have a couple of his show cars out here, and he has advertised for us and has a real big following on Facebook, so that’s going to help us a lot.”
Finally, Sellner said, unlike other years, this year, Kilkenny’s celebration wasn’t competing with New Prague’s Dožínky (Czech Harvest) Festival or Northfield’s Defeat of Jesse James Days.
“All of those things have come together,” she said. “Everybody has a real good upbeat feel. We expect it to be a good year.”
Sellner was right. Besides the attendance at the vehicle show and fun run, a large crowd came for the early afternoon parade, the music, food and craft fair in the square and the signature toilet bowl races nearby. After sunset, there were fireworks.
All the while, the weather cooperated, not too not nor too cold, and not raining as it was earlier in the week.
Mayor Brett said that he and Kilkenny, Minnesota Mayor Kevin Taaffe’s work to twin the cities has been rewarding.
“When you look at where we are, there is only one Kilkenny in the (United States) and only one Kilkenny in Europe,” Brett said. “When that was brought to our attention, we thought that was a lovely fit, so I came out here in 2013 — I was mayor at the time — and we put it together and signed the papers, and what has happened is a great level of friendship has developed. Every year, someone comes back here, and they engage with the people in Minnesota.”
And the population of Kilkenny, Minnesota has been receptive, he said.
“From my perspective, I would say the people in Minnesota don’t understand how nice they are themselves,” Brett said. “This is a beautiful part of the world, but it’s people who make the part of the world.”
But the Half-Way celebration is also an excellent way to connect the past with the present, added Brett.
There’s an old Irish statement: ‘The day you forget where you came from is the day you never know where you’re going.’ Where I come from and where the people who actually founded this place, there’s only about eight miles between us, and to think I came 6000 miles to come over here the first time I came over here and to see what it is all about, that is awesome.”
Minnesota’s Kilkenny was settled by a group led down the Dodd Road by Dennis Doyle, who was born and raised in Cuffs Grange, County Kilkenny Ireland. He and the other settlers founded the settlement as a place for Irish immigrants to be with their people and to begin new lives of prosperity. With its rolling green hills reminding them of home, the group christened the settlement “Kilkenny.”
The name Kilkenny is the anglicized version of the Irish Cill Chainnigh, meaning Cell/Church of Cainneach or Canice. This name relates to a church built in honor of St. Canice on a hill where now sits St. Canice’s Cathedral.
Kilkenny holds the Half-Way celebration in mid-September so as to not interfere with March St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in nearby towns.