Think of Ireland and it's easy to picture a far-away land of rolling green hills. But a little slice of the Emerald Isle exists in Lexington's backyard in a tiny neighborhood on the west end of town that has as much claim to Lexington as its thoroughly Celtic heritage.
Hipsters and business developers may call it The Distillery District, but to its natives it will always have one name: Irishtown.
Today, many of the residents are wondering whether its name will be remembered amidst the winds of change. Roland Taylor is one of them. His great-great grandmother built a house on Perry Street in the 1840s, and the house has been in Taylor's family ever since. It's right in the heart of Irishtown and it's the one Taylor lives in today.
"Don't pretend the area doesn't already have some history," he said in reference to the trendy new Distillery District label businesses have been slapping on the neighborhood.
"Yes, it's known for the distilleries, but without the Irish immigrants who worked in those distilleries and worked on the railroad, the distilleries wouldn't exist," he said. Taylor's ancestors were likely some of these. He is descended from Jane and Samuel Ritchie who emigrated from Dublin, Ireland to Lexington in the 1700s.
His cousin Kathy Rutherford, who Taylor and most of the neighborhood affectionately call "Sissy," is another whose roots are deeply embedded in the area. She grew up in a shotgun-style house West of Perry Street that has since been torn down, and she left the neighborhood for almost 25 years.
Five years ago after she retired, she and her husband decided to build a new house a stone's throw from the spot where she grew up. Now neighbors with Taylor, she talked about the reasons why she loves the place.
"We're a close-knit family and we do look out for each other. I love the closeness of the people," said Rutherford.
Not everyone shares the views of Rutherford and Taylor, however. With its proximity to Newtown Pike, Rupp Arena and downtown, Irishtown has been the subject of discussion and development for businesses, government and non-profits in recent years.
Some residents are wondering what will happen next.