White House St. Patrick's Day Reception

March 21, 2012 | 23:14 | Public Domain

President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland speak at a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House celebrating the friendship between the United States and Ireland.

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Remarks by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Prime Minister Kenny of Ireland at St. Patrick's Day Reception

State Floor

7:04 P.M. EDT

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Well, welcome to the White House.  It’s great to see you all, and happy St. Patrick’s Day, or should I say, happy St. Patrick’s Week, the way it’s going.  (Applause.)

I’m lucky to be here with you all tonight.  I feel fortunate to have the honor to be able to welcome back Fionnuala Kenny and the Taoiseach.  They’ve been here before.  Some of you had a chance to meet them, and you’re going to get to see them again.

You know there’s and old Irish saying.  There’s all kinds of old Irish sayings.  (Laughter.)  At least my Grandfather Finnegan, I think he made them up, but it says, may the hinges of our friendship never go rusty.  Well, with these two folks that you’re about to meet, if you haven’t already, there’s no doubt about them staying oiled and lubricated here.  Ladies and gentlemen -- (laughter) -- now, for you who are not full Irish in this room, lubricating has a different meaning for us all.  (Laughter.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re here tonight to celebrate the friendship between two great nations, Ireland and the United States.  William Butler Yeats referred to Ireland as “a worldwide nation.”  Our Irish heritage has touched many, many people, many more people than could possibly fit on the beautiful Emerald Isle.

America and Ireland are the two nations that define me the most, and I expect most of you in this room.  Our countries share a bond that goes all the way back to the beginning of our country.  Eight Irishmen signed the Declaration of Independence, fully one-seventh of the signator.  Since then, half our Presidents have claimed Irish blood, including the one I’m about to introduce.  (Applause.)

And today our countries are tied together by 40 million Americans who descended from that beautiful island just across the sea, and -- but we share a lot more than blood.  And I think everyone here will understand this.  I think we share a set of values, a set of values that is sort of stamped into our DNA.

My mom, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, used to say -- (laughter) -- honey, to be Irish is about family.  It’s about faith.  But most of all, it’s about courage.  She said that -- one of her sayings was, without courage -- without courage, you can't love with abandon.

And, ladies and gentlemen, for me that's the essence of being Irish:  passion and being able to love with abandon.  That's why my mom liked Barack, the President.  That's why she liked him so much.  I think the President got used to my mom during the campaign, Mr. Ambassador, referring to him all the time as, honey.  (Laughter.)  She’d grab his hand and say, now, Honey. 

Well, she thought that the President embodied all the things that she thought made Ireland and the Irish special, particularly his courage.  Ladies and gentlemen, this President abounds in courage.  So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you my four friends and your friends, the President of the United States and Michelle Obama, as well as the Taoiseach and Fionnuala Kenny.

Ladies and gentlemen.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Hello, everybody! 


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, welcome to the White House.  This does not sound like a shy crowd.  (Laughter.) 

As you may have noticed, today is not, in fact, St. Patrick's Day.  (Laughter.)  We just wanted to prove that America considers Ireland a dear and steadfast friend every day of the year.  (Applause.)  Some of you may have noticed we even brought the cherry blossoms out early for our Irish and Northern Irish visitors.  And we will be sure to plant these beautiful shamrocks right away.

I want to welcome back my good friend, Taoiseach Kenny, his extraordinary wife, Fionnuala.  This has been our third working visit in just over a year, and each one has been better than the last. 

I've had the pleasure to welcome back First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Northern Ireland, as well. 

And, everyone, please welcome my new friends from Moneygall, my long-lost cousin, Henry.  (Applause.)  His mother, Mary, is here as well.  And my favorite pub keeper, Ollie Hayes, is here with his beautiful wife.  (Applause.)  He was interested in hiring Michelle -- (laughter) -- when she was pouring a pint.  I said, she's too busy -- maybe at the end of our second term.  (Applause.)

In return, I did take them out for a pint at the Dubliner here in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.  That’s right, I saw some of you there.  (Laughter.)  I didn’t take pictures.  And I've asked them to please say hello to everybody back home for me.

Now, while there are too many Irish Americans to acknowledge by name here tonight, I do want to thank Martin O'Malley and his band for rocking the White House for the evening.  It's said that the curse of the Irish, as the Governor must know, is not that they don’t know the words to a song -- it's that they know them all.  (Laughter.) 

As you may know, I finally got to spend a day in Ireland with Michelle last May.  I visited my ancestral village of Moneygall, saw my great, great, great grandfather's house.  I had the distinct honor of addressing the Irish people from College Green in Dublin.  And when it comes to their famous reputation for hospitality and good cheer, the Irish outdid themselves.  Michelle and I received absolutely the warmest of welcomes, and I've been trying to return the favor as best I can.

There really was something magical about the whole day -- and I know that I'm not the only person who feels that way when they visit Ireland.  Even my most famously Irish American predecessor was surprised about how deeply Ireland affected him when he visited in his third year as President.  "It is strange," President Kennedy said on his last day in Ireland, "that so many years and so many generations pass, and still some of us who come on this trip could feel ourselves among neighbors, even though we are separated by generations, by time and by thousands of miles.”

I know most of you can relate to that.  I think anyone who’s had a chance to visit can relate.  And that’s why Jackie Kennedy later visited Ireland with her children and gave one of President Kennedy’s dog tags to his cousins in Dunganstown.  And that’s why I felt so at home when I visited Moneygall.

When my great, great, great, great, grandfather arrived in New York City after a voyage that began there, the St. Patrick’s Society in Brooklyn had just held its first annual banquet.  And a toast was made to family back home enduring what were impossibly difficult years:  “Though gloomy shadows, hang o’er thee now, as darkness is densest, even just before day, so thy gloom, truest Erin, may soon pass away.” 

Because for all the remarkable things the Irish have done in the course of human history, keeping alive the flame of knowledge in dark ages, outlasting a great hunger, forging a peace that once seemed impossible, the green strands they have woven into America’s heart -- from their tiniest villages through our greatest cities -- is something truly unique on the world stage. 
And these strands of affection will never fray, nor will they come undone.  While those times and the troubles of later generations were far graver than anything we could fathom today, many of our people are still fighting to get back on solid ground after several challenging years. 

But we choose to rise to these times for the same reason we rose to those tougher times:  Because we are all proud peoples who share more than sprawling family trees.  We are peoples who share an unshakeable faith, an unbending commitment to our fellow man, and a resilient and audacious hope.  And that’s why I say of Ireland tonight what I said in Dublin last May, this little country that inspires the biggest things -- its best days are still ahead.

So I propose a toast to the Taoiseach and the people of Ireland.  Do I have any -- where’s my drink?  (Laughter.)  Here it is, here it is.  All right, here we go.  It’s only water but  -- (laughter) -- obviously, somebody didn’t prepare.  (Laughter.)

To quote your first President, Douglas Hyde:  “A word is more lasting than the riches of the world.”  Tonight, grateful for our shared past and hopeful for our common future, I give my word to you, Mr. Prime Minister, and to the people of Ireland:  As long as I am President, you will have a strong friend, a steadfast ally, and a faithful partner in the United States of America. 

Ladies and gentlemen, Taoiseach Kenny.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER KENNY:  Mr. President, Vice President Biden, Michelle, ladies and gentlemen, these have been an extraordinary few days in the relationships between Ireland and America.  Thank you for your warm invitation and for this warm welcome. 

(Speaks Irish)  May the blessings of St. Patrick be with you, your families and the American people. 

Ireland actually picked the best time of year for its national celebration.  (Laughter.)  It’s the time of year when the Earth turns at the Spring Equinox, and as they say, the sea spreads it far sun crop to the north.

This, indeed, is a blessed time, a time when we are thankful for our blessings, blessings of being a proud and noble Irish people; the blessings of a dazzling generosity of heart and mind, and of a glittering imagination; the blessing of our children, our families, our friends -- friends like America.

As Taoiseach, a year into this new government, I’m proud, indeed, to bring good news from home.  Thanks to the courage and the resilience and the sacrifice of the Irish people, the Irish ship of state now faces in the right direction.  Our economy is stabilizing.  Our exports are thriving.  Our international reputation is being restored.  Ireland is building itself a better future.

Today, Mr. President, Ireland thanks America.  We thank you for the centuries where you gave us shelter and refuge and opportunity, and above all, where you gave us hope.  (Applause.)

In the Irish language, we have many phrases, one of them is -- (Speaks Irish) -- That means:  Hope cures every misery.  It was that miracle -- hope that brought millions of Irish people to your shores yearning for a better life.  Not everybody survived that journey.  It is said that 80,000 Irish souls were lost in the Atlantic, victims of long hunger, of fever and of destitution.  Indeed, an ocean, a tide of lost ancestors, a bitter benediction of the waters dividing the old life and the new.

Well, tonight I remember them.  We honor them here in this White House -- designed by an Irish architect -- and in our national hearts.  (Applause.)  Because they were the price of a new life.  In the new country, in this new country of miraculous plenty, the survivors -- among them, one Falmouth Kearney -- walked straight off those ships.  But ironically, they never stopped looking back.  Because our research shows that while their fellow arrivals saw emigration as an opportunity, for the Irish it was always a tragedy.

There were the dispossessed -- their hearts, their minds in Ireland; their hopes and their futures in America -- the least likely of any nation ever to return home.  Which is why what makes the Irish and what they did for America all the more heroic, all the more remarkable, all the more noble.

Despite their longing for home, they gave their hands to work, their faith in God, their future to this United States of America.  They became heroes of their own stories, and, as a consequence, of America's story.

Mr. President, today, the Irish people are heroes of our own story.  Today, persistent and determined and proud, we answer your question of belief in ourselves, because we believe that our country and our nation will succeed. 

When you came last May to that small, intimate homecoming in College Green -- (laughter) -- just the two Obamas, half of the U.S. Secret Service -- (laughter) -- 100,000 enthralled Irish people -- you, sir, the young President, stood in front of the old Irish House of Lords and you promised that you would stand by us.  Well, sir, you and America have kept your word.  For Ireland, your door has been and is always open.  And for that we thank you.  (Applause.) 

That memorable day was also made very special by your trip, as you said, to the home of your ancestors in the village of Moneygall -- Henry VIII is almost as famous as yourself.  (Laughter.)  That’s because for all people of Irish heritage, the most important part of their visit to our country is always the trip to the homeplace. 

And as a prominent reminder, and on your behalf of your historic homecoming, Mr. President, it is my honor to present to you, on behalf of the Irish people and of the government, this formal certificate of Irish heritage.  (Applause.) 

THE PRESIDENT:  Look at that!  I love it.  That’s great.

PRIME MINISTER KENNY:  These are very rare.  (Laughter.)  As rare as the man himself.  (Laughter.)   

Next year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the homecoming of another one of our sons, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  Next year, Ireland will gather her global family to herself in a year-long celebration of the ties of heart and hope and history that bind us and allow us to imagine together a better, brighter richer future.  We call it simply "The Gathering."

These are our new departures of hope and confidence and success.  And these are the new departures from which there will be no going back. 

This evening, Mr. President, I bring our current emigrants to the heart of these celebrations here in the (speaks Irish) of the White House. 

As you see, a light burns brightly within every one of these emigrants, and that’s the light of opportunity, of ambition, and of confidence.  But it is also the light of home.  Especially in this week of St. Patrick, my message to their parents and their families is this:  My work and that of my government, with your work and your government, is aimed at ensuring that these children -- Ireland's children -- can live and work at home if that is their intention and their desire.
Mr. President, the great American philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, "Things do not change.  We change."  And since your visit to us last year, Ireland has changed dramatically.  We have swapped the confines of the old fears for your audacity of hope. (Applause.)  And every day we work to create a better, more confident, more determined future.  We know our challenges are tough, but we meet those head on.

And because we know that every nation becomes what it envisions, we are forging success -- this time, a more authentic success.  We take the old advice and the old adage that in the calm ahead we use the strength of purpose that we found in the storm.

Mr. President, like you, we believe that Ireland's best days are still up ahead.  And like you, we believe that our greatest triumphs are still to come.  When you came to Ireland, like your predecessor, President Kennedy, and President Clinton, you made us dream again.  On these days of St. Patrick, we hope that you will be able to fulfill your promise to come home again in the springtime.

May God bless you, Mr. President, in the work you do for global peace and security.  May he guide you in your efforts to keep our world a safer place.

Mr. President, Michelle, and your two lovely daughters, Sasha and Malia, happy St. Patrick's Week.  (Laughter.)  And remember, as we always do:  (Speaks Irish) -- "The sun always shines after the rain."

And now it's my privilege, on behalf of Ireland, to present President Obama with the traditional Bowl of Shamrock.  May it bring him good luck in the time ahead.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you.  First of all, this will have a special place of honor alongside my birth certificate.  (Laughter and applause.)  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  The shamrocks have brought good luck to our garden over the past few years.  And I am extraordinarily grateful to you, Taoiseach, and Fionnuala, for just being such wonderful hosts to us when we were there.  But I think that you get a sense from this crowd that you have a second home on the other side of the Atlantic, and that good cheer and warmth is probably reciprocated.  (Applause.)

So happy St. Patrick's Week, everybody.  God bless you.  May God bless both our countries.  Have a wonderful time while you're here.  Don't break anything.  (Laughter and applause.)

7:25 P.M. EDT

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