By Ed Forry
President Obama welcomed government officials from Ireland and Northern Ireland to the White House last month for the traditional presentation of a bowl of shamrocks. Participating in the East Room ceremonies for the third consecutive year was Ireland’s leader, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who earlier in the day had joined the President and Speaker John Boehner at a St. Patrick’s luncheon in the Capitol building. Also appearing at the early evening ceremony on March 19 were First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Northern Ireland. Obama told the audience that he was looking forward to visiting the island again when the G8 summit meets in County Fermanagh in June.
“We have way too many Irish and Irish American and wannabe Irish Americans in the house for me to name but I will say that the next four years are shaping up to be very green ones here in the White House. My new Chief of Staff is a McDonough. My National Security Advisor is a Donilon. Our new CIA Director is a Brennan. My new head speech writer is a Keenan. And Joe Biden has very kindly agreed to stay on as Irishman-in-Chief.”
The president told the audience that Biden was unable to attend the event due to an overseas trip. “He is on his way back from the installation of Pope Francis in Rome. For those of you who know Joe, literally the only thing that could keep him away from St. Patrick’s Day at the White House is the installation of a new pope. So he sends his best.
“Looking out on this room, it’s clear just how much America owes to our brothers and sisters from across the Atlantic, and how many of us – myself included – wouldn’t be here if it were not for the brave souls who set off for the New World with no earthly idea of what awaited them on the other side.
“And it’s a reminder of just how many trials the people of Ireland have endured, from hunger and troubles, to the economic challenges of recent years. It’s yet another reason why we need to build an immigration system for the 21st century that works for families and businesses and our economy. But it’s also a tribute to the incredible resilience of the Irish character and the enormous power of faith – in God, in one another, and in the possibility of a better life.
“It was that faith that brought millions of Irish to our shores, but that faith alone didn’t join our two nations in common cause. It was how the Irish put that faith into practice in their new nation. They wanted a government of and by and for the people, so they helped us design one. And they understood the importance of saving the Union, so they fought and died for the cause. They saw potential in our railways, bridges and skyscrapers, so they poured their sweat and blood into building them. And they believed that each of us has an obligation, not just to ourselves, but to each other and to our country. So that’s how they lived their lives here in America.
“A great nation is one that contributes more to the world than it takes out, and by that definition, America owes a profound debt of gratitude to the great nation or Ireland. And together, our people have never stopped dreaming of a better future and never stopped working to make that dream a reality.
… “And that’s the story of America and Ireland: We look out for each other, we have each other’s backs, and we recognize that no challenge is too great and no obstacle is too high if you’ve got a friend beside you and a nation behind you. That’s been our history; that will be our future.
“So I hope everyone has a wonderful time. There’s an old Irish saying that the recipe for a long life is to leave the table hungry, leave the bed sleepy, leave the bar thirsty. We’ll see if that works tonight.”