Fáilte, purveyor of all things Irish, finds a new home

Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but what about the other 364 days a year?

Irish people are Irish. And when they live an ocean away from home, they miss a lot of things, especially when they're hungry: rashers, black and white puddings, Irish beans, biscuits, special chocolates and a whole lot more.

For many of the several hundred Irish immigrants living in Central Kentucky, that means a trip to Fáilte Irish Imports shop, where owner Liza Hendley Betz can provide them with the tastes of home.

Betz left her native Dublin in 1996 to follow a boyfriend to Lexington. That relationship didn't last, but she fell in love with Kentucky. It's a lot like Ireland: horses, green fields and stone fences. Sure, there's no sea coast, but the weather is a lot better. The food, however, is just not the same.

While working at McCarthy's Irish Bar, Betz decided there was a business opportunity in importing Irish food, especially the meats and other products that expats couldn't legally bring back on the plane when they traveled home.

In December 2001, she opened Fáilte (pronounced FALL cha) Irish Imports on South Limestone. Fáilte — which means "welcome" in the traditional Irish language — moved earlier this month to South Upper Street, two doors down from McCarthy's.

One reason for the move was the Limestone reconstruction project, which has closed the street since July.

"Every time you opened the door, there was dust and gravel," she said. "We had a bad Christmas, and with St. Patrick's Day coming up, I knew I had to do something."

Betz also saw advantages to moving into the circa-1860 building with McCarthy's, which is renovating the space on the other side of her shop to serve Irish food. "McCarthy's is a better location because that's where a lot of my customers go," she said.

To broaden the shop's appeal, Betz has added all kinds of Irish products and souvenirs, including tweed caps, Celtic jewelry, Guinness T-shirts and Belleek china. "We get a lot of people coming in talking about their Irish ancestors," she said.

Still, Irish food and soft drinks account for more than half of her sales. Betz stocks brown bread mix, Bewley's and Barry's teas, and Chef and HP steak sauces, which many Irish use like ketchup.

"I sell a lot of Irish beans; they're totally different from American beans," probably because they are canned without sugar and meat, she said. The most popular items are Irish rashers (bacon), sausages, mince meat pies and "puddings" — black, made with animal blood, and white, made without blood.

"It's a lifeline," said Catherina McDonnell, another Dublin native, who has lived in Lexington since 1988. "It's a great resource for the community; you can go in there and get the things you miss from home."

Avena Kiely Joyce, a native of County Waterford, who has owned Harvey's Bar for five of her 10 years in Lexington, can't live without her Irish chocolate. "There's just some difference in the chocolate from Ireland and what you get here," she said.

"I like to have an Irish breakfast every Sunday, and her shop is the only place you can get everything for it," Joyce said. The fresh eggs are local, but everything else comes from Ireland: rashers, sausages, black and white pudding, and even Brennans white bread, which Fáilte sells in frozen loaves. "That's the toast I grew up with."

Betz cherishes her Irish heritage, but she's developing deep Kentucky roots. In December 2006, she married Michael Betz, who is finishing a horse veterinary residency in Ocala, Fla., and will soon be moving back to Lexington. His father, Bill Betz, was one of the breeders of last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird.

Other Lexington groceries — even some of the supermarkets — are catching on, Betz said. They are beginning to stock some Irish foods, especially cheeses and tins of biscuits that Americans would call cookies.

"But I have a lot more variety, and I'm a one-stop shop," she said.

Besides, in her new location, Betz hopes Fáilte will become even more closely tied to the Irish community.

Now, on the first Thursday of each month, when Lexington Celtic Association members gather at McCarthy's for traditional dancing with the band Liam's Fancy, they can grab some groceries on the way home.

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