Eastern Kentucky and Ireland do have much in common. Now, happily, one of those things is Pearse Lyons, a philanthropist and the founder and leader of a successful global agriculture and nutrition company based in Nicholasville.
While Lyons' Irish heartstrings may have pulled him toward Kentucky's mountains, his head has little use for investments that don't promise solid returns. So, Alltech's plans to invest in the region should stir optimism.
Lyons' example also should inspire others seeking ways to make good while doing good with their capital.
At last week's 30th annual Alltech Symposium, which attracted 1,700 people from 59 nations to Lexington, Lyons only intimated at the full scope of his ideas, which he said will soon be unveiled in detail.
He has confirmed that Pikeville will become home to a distillery, brewery and visitors' center, similar to the complex in Lexington where Alltech makes Kentucky Ale and Town Branch bourbon and that is a stop on the popular Bourbon Trail.
One goal is to make Pikeville a destination, and if that happens visitors may be surprised at how much this ambitious small town already has to offer.
Lyons also is looking for ways to build on Alltech's innovations in agriculture and nutrition, fish farming, perhaps, or biomass for energy.
Lyons — who warned those at the Alltech Symposium of the challenges to food production that climate change is bringing — comes to the mountains as a fresh breeze, focused on the future and unencumbered by past connections to the coal industry that has dominated the region in so many ways.
Like Ireland, Eastern Kentucky has been treated as a colony by the larger nation to which it belongs.
In the 1840s when the potato crop failed, the Irish watched ships loaded with food, produced by their labor, leave under armed guard bound for England while the Irish starved.
As America's energy colony, Eastern Kentuckians saw the fruits of their labor and land leave the mountains on coal trains while the region remained one of the nation's poorest.
In both cases, outsiders used derogatory stereotypes of the people to justify exploiting them.
Despite the material poverty — or perhaps because of it — Appalachia and Ireland produced colorful, distinctive cultures, including great music. Both places exert powerful holds on people's imaginations disproportionate to their small size.
While such assets are hard to measure, they are assets nonetheless. We're glad Lyons is building on them in both places.