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Deputy Consul General of Ireland visits Mountain State

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It's not an exaggeration – there are a lot of people of Irish ancestry in West Virginia. In fact, the only states with higher populations of Irish-Americans are Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

And Peter Ryan, deputy consul general of Ireland, made his first visit to West Virginia Dec. 6, saying his stay of a few days was the start of a connection for the Mountain State's Irish roots.

Ryan said there are 250 Irish companies in America employing 100,000 Americans, and West Virginia needs to get in on the action.

"Irish companies invest very heavily around the world," Ryan said. "It's interesting, we have natural gas, not unlike the Marcellus, so the opportunity to partner, share expertise and encourage Irish companies to invest, but it's a two-way street."

Ryan said he'd like to see a trade mission from West Virginia to Ireland, and he'd especially like to see some of the Mountain State's mountain music transplanted there as well.

"There are all sorts of ways to connect with Ireland," he said. "You know, the only other place in the world called Ireland is in West Virginia? It's important for us to connect with one another."

Ryan said Ireland's economy is made up of many small businesses, similar to the Mountain State's economic makeup, and several cultural similarities exist as well, such as the hospitality when a visitor needs directions.

"Our great advantage, much like yours, is that we're small, and we want to leverage that more," he said.

During his visit, Ryan met with politicians and businessmen, and he even took the drive from Charleston to Wheeling when he heard about an event the Ancient Order of the Hibernians was hosting at the Knights of Columbus.

"What we're trying to do is make sure we connect with the Irish American community because there's an opportunity there to encourage business and Ireland as a place to invest and do business," he said. "I say we've got to connect continents to one another.

"By virtue of our history, we are uniquely placed, and because of our history, there are a large number of Irish in America."

Ryan said there are 70 million Irish in America, and Irish companies are growing – investing heavily in China, South America and the Caribbean.

"People come to Ireland to do business in Europe," he said.

And while the first Irish business most Americans might think of is Guinness Beer, Ryan said several software companies are based in Ireland, such as one for retina testing and every Intel Pentium chip.

"We don't really make anything anymore," Ryan said. "It's all brain power."