Tuesday, March 20, 2012

President Obama Hosts 2012 St. Patrick's Day Reception At The White House

Taoiseach Kenny presents a special gift...
St. Patrick's Day at the White House was a "weeklong" celebration, Vice President Joe Biden told a cheering crowd on Tuesday night during the annual reception as he welcomed hundreds of guests in the East Room. The 7:00 PM event was complete with flowing drinks and long-winded but heartfelt toasts as President Obama and Taoiseach Enda Kenny of Ireland capped a day of celebrating the "strong bonds" between the US and the Emerald Isle. They had shamrock stuffed into the breast pockets of their dark suit jackets, and Kenny bore gifts: A Waterford crystal bowl laden with more shamrock, and an "official certificate" of Mr. Obama's Irish ancestry, displayed in a frame (above).

"These are rare, as rare as the man himself," Kenny said, pulling a drape off the certificate to unveil it.

"This will have a special place of honor, beside my birth certificate," President Obama quipped without skipping a beat.

The President's maternal Irish roots date back to the 1790s; his great-great-great-grandfather, a shoemaker named Falmouth Kearny, emigrated from the tiny village of Moneygall in County Offaly during the Great Famine. More than 30 million Americans--a hefty voting bloc--claim Irish ancestry. (Above: The Taoiseach presents the President with Shamrock)

The crowd, their phonecams raised to catch the action, cheered. First Lady Obama, clad in a pale green shirtwaist dress with a gold belt, her hair down, stood beside the Taoiseach's wife, Mrs. Fionnuala Kenny, on the side of the stage and clapped.

President Obama, for the third time of the day, noted that Tuesday was not St. Patrick's Day.

"We just wanted to prove that America considers Ireland a dear and steadfast friend every day of the year," he said, to cheers.

On Saturday, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, the President quaffed a pint of Guinness at DC's favorite Irish pub, The Dubliner. He was joined by his Irish cousin Henry Healy, who got a shoutout during his toast. The President raised a pint glass of water rather than Guinness as he hailed Kenny. (Above: Mrs. Kenny, Mrs. Obama, and Biden)

"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," he said.

As he left the stage, the President jokingly admonished the rowdy crowd: "Don't break anything."

During his long response toast, Kenny spoke of Ireland's past calamities, which brought so many to America in the 19th century, and the recent economic struggles since the great economic crash in 2008--now in the past, he said.

"May the blessings of St. Patrick be with you, your families, and the American people," Kenny said.

He lauded President Obama as an inspiration, and quoted Henry David Thoreau: "Things do not change, we change."

"We have swapped the confines of our fears for your audacity of hope," Kenny said.

"When you came last May to that small intimate homecoming...you, the young president, stood in front of the old Irish House of Lords and promised you would ‘stand by us’. Sir, America has kept its word," Kenny said.

They toasted again with pints of water, to cheers from the crowd.

Guests (sham)rocked to the tunes of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's Celtic rock band O'Malley's March during the reception. Biden, who also has Irish roots, had hailed Ireland's longstanding impact on America, noting that eight of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were Irish, and half of our Presidents claim "Irish blood."

"There's no doubt of them staying oiled and lubricated," Biden said of the President and Taoiseach as he introduced them.

On Tuesday morning, Biden hosted a breakfast for Kenny and his wife at the Naval Observatory. Mid-day, all attended the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill, this year hosted by House Speaker John Boehner.

The transcript of the toasts.

*Photos by Reuters/pool