WASHINGTON -- In a nod to bipartisan tradition and St. Patrick, President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) donned emerald ties to hear (and sing) a bit of Irish folk music during a Capitol Hill luncheon with Ireland’s prime minister.
It’s customary for Ireland’s leader to visit the United States ahead of St. Patrick’s Day and present the president with a bowl of shamrocks, a tradition dating back to President Truman. Obama met with Prime Minister Enda Kenny in the Oval Office on Friday morning, where he applauded Ireland for its support during the current crisis in Ukraine.
“Obviously on our minds right now is the situation in Ukraine,” Obama said. “Ireland has been a strong voice in the European Council for the need to send a clear message of support for Ukrainian democracy and self-determination, and a strong message to Russia that it should not violate the integrity and the sovereignty of its neighbor.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Obama referenced his own ancestral ties to the Emerald Isle. The president’s great-great-great-grandfather hails from the small village of Moneygall, which the president visited in 2011.
“Tell everybody in Moneygall I said hi,” Obama said.
Kenny began his day at a breakfast with Vice President Joe Biden, where he urged Congress to pass immigration reform, noting that 50,000 undocumented Irish live in the United States.
“And what we want is a process of legalization, where they pay their taxes, pay their way, raise their families, travel home and travel back,” he said.
Biden gave his own argument for reform and offered an “old Irish toast” to wrap up his remarks: “May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty.”
Later in the day, Kenny, Obama and Biden went to the Capitol for a luncheon with congressional leaders, a tradition begun in 1983 when President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill -- both Irish -- served simultaneously.
This year’s annual Friends of Ireland luncheon closed with a banjo and guitar performance of “Wild Rover,” a classic Irish folk song. The room, including Boehner and Obama, joined in for the chorus.