President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted their fifth annual St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House on Tuesday evening, joined by hundreds of green-clad guests gathered in the East Room to celebrate the annual shamrock ceremony with Taoiseach Enda Kenny of Ireland and his wife Mrs. Fionnuala Kenny. (Above, the President and Taoiseach)
"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," President Obama told the smartphone-wielding guests.
The White House buffet was a menu of savory and sweet Irish-inspired small bites, including crispy pork belly with Bushmill glaze and braised cabbage; mint Shepherd's pie; crushed carrots and parsnips with soda bread; gingerbread pudding with poached pear; and apple tarts with crystallized violets (full menu below). Wine, champagne, and beer flowed.
The President had spent much of the day reminiscing about his own Irish roots at earlier events, wearing a green tie with a sprig of shamrock tucked into his breast pocket. He noted that Ireland has had an enduring impact on America, and ticked off the members of his Administration who have Irish roots.
"The next four years are shaping up to be very green ones here in the White House," President Obama said, to applause.
"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."
Vice President Biden is returning home from Rome for the investiture of Pope Francis, the President noted.
"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," the President said to laughter, emphasizing the word that is a trademark of Biden's.
Small tables adorned with green floral tablecloths and floral arrangements of green flowers were set up in the back of the East Room. Guests included the President's closest Irish relation, eighth cousin Henry Healy, visiting from Moneygall; outgoing Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Sens. Patrick Leahy, Bob Casey and Bill Nelson; Reps. Steny Hoyer, Joe Kennedy and Gerry Connolly; Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and TV host Chris Matthews. First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Northern Ireland, and the Irish Ambassador to the US Michael Collins--spending his last St. Patrick's Day in Washington--got special notice from the President.
"This day has served as a reminder of just how many threads of green are woven into the red, white, and blue," President Obama said.
"And in times of war and peace, good times and bad, Americans have always found a way to celebrate that heritage."
During the Civil War, the President said, "a quartermaster for the Irish Brigade was sent to Washington to secure a St. Patrick’s Day dinner consisting of a side of roasted ox, a pig stuffed with boiled turkeys and 35 hams." But he hasn't been able "to convince" the White House chefs to continue the tradition, the President noted.
He saluted Ireland and Americans of Irish heritage for helping during times of crisis and peace, praising the long relationship between the two nations that had an exemplary moment during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when the Breezy Point community was devastated by fire. More than half the residents can trace their root to Ireland, the President said.
"Gaelic rock stars raised money. Athletes from the Gaelic Games did construction work and brought the Sam Maguire chalice with them to lift spirits," President Obama said. "The Irish Tenors came over to sing Christmas carols. The Irish government pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars, not just to help the residents of Breezy Point, but to help folks rebuild across the region. And the Taoiseach himself was in Breezy Point on Sunday to attend mass."
The guests cheered appropriately.
"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," President Obama said. "That’s been our history; that will be our future."
He closed simply: "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," President Obama said.
"We’ll see if that works tonight. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everybody."
The Taoiseach took the podium to applause and cheers, and also spoke of the long relationship between the two nations as he thanked the President for his hospitality, switching between Gaelic and English and noting that the Irish economy is roaring back to life. Kenny congratulated the President on winning a second term, and made reference to Ireland's economic troubles.
"We still have a long way to go," Kenny said, but added that "confidence is returning to our country and our people."
"For generations, now, there’s been a very special relationship between the President of the United States and the Irish people," Kenny said, noting President John F. Kennedy's visit to Ireland in 1963 when he spoke to the Parliament about the Irish Brigade, the Fighting 69th.
"From Bull Run to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg, the Fighting 69th distinguished themselves on the battleground, showing outstanding courage and resilience and intelligence," Kenny said. " And for you, Mr. President, their battle cry in Irish was, “Fág an Bealach.” "Clear the way." Can you say that? Fág an Bealach."
The President repeated the words. Kenny then presented him with a crystal bowl filled with bright green shamrock, an annual tradition dating back to President Harry Truman.(Above, Kenny presenting the shamrock to the President)
"This bowl here was made by Sean Egan, unemployed four years ago," Kenny explained. "He spent 300 hours creating this in a labor of love."
"It sparkles with the story of who we are now. It glistens with the story of what we once brought here on the risky yet life-giving journey to America, not only those memories of place and home and family, but our songs, our music, our stories, sung and recited until they were threadbare so that new generations--many of you here--could actually make them your own."
The Taoiseach went on to discuss Irish astronauts, those lost emigrating from the great famine, and the enduring relationship between the two nations and the lasting "reserves" of good will it generates "in finance, in politics, in business or economics."
"And as we celebrate St. Patrick and St. Patrick’s Week, let us build on those reserves to build better nations, better people and a better world," Kenny said. "They're here, Mr. President. The sun is new every day. And may it shine brightly on our peoples and on all that we undertake together in the cause of each other."
Paddy Moloney, of the traditional Irish group The Chieftains, entertained the crowd ahead of the President's arrival.
The President and First Lady briefly greeted guests along the ropeline before the President departed fairly rapidly at 6:11 PM. At 7:55 PM, President Obama set off on his four-day trip to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan, departing from Andrews Air Force Base. He was still wearing his suit and green tie from the reception as he jogged up the steps onto Air Force One, followed by Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and his Chief of Protocol, Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall.
On Tuesday morning, the President met with Kenny during an Oval Office bilateral where there was more shamrock-drenched love, and afterwards they attended the Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill, hosted by House Speaker John Boehner.
The 2013 White House St. Patrick's Day Menu
with Irish Goat's Cheese
Crushed Carrots and Parsnips
Irish Smoked Salmon on Potato Crisp
Chive Creme Fraiche
Crispy Pork Belly with Bushmill Glaze
Potato Boxty with Baby Kale
Mint Shepherd's Pies
with Poached Pear
with Crystallized Violets
Lemon-Rosemary Glazed Tea Cakes
Chocolate Bites - Irish Collection
Blackberry Mint Apple
*The transcript of the President's remarks.