If it’s St. Patrick’s Day, you can expect even the White House to wear the green, wink at domestic Irish political power and greet Ireland’s leader on the annual pilgrimage to the United States.
President Obama, who has acknowledged his generations-back Irish roots, greeted the Taoiseach, or prime minister, Enda Kenny at the White House. Obama announced that he will visit Ireland in May, part of his trip to Britain and France for the G-8 summit.
At one time, Irish immigration created the great political machines that ran urban centers such as Boston, New York and Obama’s home of Chicago. Those machines have faded in power, but the Irish have remained a major presence, with about 37 million Americans claiming some degree of Irish descent and tens of millions more claiming some form of social kinship, even if it is just an agenbite of inwit.
Kenny made the usual pitch for business development, and Obama chipped in, noting that Ireland is bouncing back from the recent economic crisis that rocked the financial world. Both men wore the obligatory green ties.
Obama praised the “incredible bond” between their two countries, noting the United States has “the strongest possible relationship with Ireland.” Kenny began his day with a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast with Vice President Joe Biden, then he was headed to a luncheon and a reception later back at the White House.
Obama said he plans to visit places of family importance during his visit to Ireland. The president has known for years that he had an ancestor who fled the potato famine in 1850.
According to a study by Ancestry.com. released to the Associated Press, Obama can claim 28 living relatives of the president’s ancestor, Falmouth Kearney, who arrived in the United States on March 20, 1850.
At the luncheon at the Capitol, Obama took note of his ancestry -- and of the controversy created by some conservatives about his birthplace. Obama was born in Hawaii, but some opponents argue that he was born in a foreign country, making him ineligible to be president.
“Now, speaking of ancestry, there has been some controversy about my own background,” Obama said to laughter at the luncheon. “Two years into my presidency, some are still bent on peddling rumors about my origins.
“So today I want to put all those rumors to rest. It is true my great-great-great-grandfather really was from Ireland,” he said to applause. “It’s true. Moneygall, to be precise. I can’t believe I have to keep pointing this out,” the president said as the audience laughed.