President Obama Turns Up the Irish for St. Patrick’s Day
By Susan Davis
Wall Street Journal Online
March 17, 2009
Today he is President Barack O’Bama.
The president spent St. Patrick’s Day steeped in all things Irish, using the powers of the office to make a pivotal appointment affecting Ireland and Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans by nominating the NFL team’s owner, Daniel Rooney, to serve as his ambassador to Ireland.
“Dan Rooney is an unwavering supporter of Irish peace, culture, and education, and I have every confidence that he and Secretary Clinton will ensure America’s continued close and unique partnership with Ireland in the years ahead,” Obama said in a statement.
(It also probably helps that Rooney, a life-long Republican, switched parties and publicly backed Obama in his primary fight against Hillary Clinton last year.)
Also today, Obama—sporting a requisite green tie–hosted Ireland’s Taoiseach (Irish for “Prime Minister”) Brian Cowen in the Oval Office to discuss U.S.-Ireland bilateral relations and global issues.
The president took the opportunity to boast of his home city’s Irish roots, praising the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Chicago’s South Side as “one of the greatest events in America.”
The president wasn’t in Chicago this past weekend to witness the annual tradition of dying the Chicago River green, but the fountain on the White House’s South Lawn was seen spouting green water today.
The Taoiseach extended an open invitation for Obama and his wife, Michelle, to visit Ireland “where we will offer you the warmest of Irish welcomes.”
Obama and Cowen also participated in the annual presentation of the Waterford bowl of shamrocks in the White House’s Roosevelt Room with Catholic lawmakers including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), Sen. Bob Casey, (D. Pa.,) and Rep. Peter King (R., Pa.) in attendance.
“Now, before I turn it over to the Taoiseach, it turns out that we have something in common. He hails from County Offaly, and it was brought to my attention on the campaign that my great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side came to America from a small village in County Offaly, as well,” Obama said, “We are still speculating on whether we are related.”
Cowen responded: “I just want to say that I have checked, and unfortunately, there are no Kearneys on the electoral register anymore in my electoral district. But if there were, I assure you, I’d have them on my campaign team.”
The president and Cowen also made a trip to Capitol Hill to attend the annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch, hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is Italian. But the tradition started with former Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan).
The president was greeted by bagpipes before a lamb lunch was served in Statuary Hall where Obama joked that he was “on the path of earning that apostrophe” in his name, and noted his own distant Irish roots.
The luncheon speakers made a point of noting the absence of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) who is being treated for brain cancer. Obama praised the senator as “the hardest-working Irish American we know.”