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Remarks at a St. Patrick's Day Reception

March 20, 2012

President Obama. Hello, everybody!

Audience members. Hello!

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. 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; his mother Mary is here as well. And my favorite pub keeper, Ollie Hayes, is here with his beautiful wife. 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.

In return, I did take them out for a pint at the Dubliner here in Washington, DC, on Saturday. That's right, I saw some of you there. [Laughter] I won't--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-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: "Through gloomy shadows hang over 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--obviously, somebody didn't prepare. [Laughter]

To quote your first President, Douglas Hyde: "A word is more lasting than the riches of the world." And 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. Cheers!

[At this point, Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland made brief remarks, during which he presented President Obama with a certificate of Irish heritage and a bowl of shamrocks.]

President Obama. Well, thank you. First of all, this will have a special place of honor alongside my birth certificate. [Laughter] 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 fully reciprocated.

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.

Note: The President spoke at 7:04 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to his cousin Henry Healy of Moneygall, Ireland, and his mother Mary Healy; Ollie Hayes, owner, Ollie Hayes Bar in Moneygall, Ireland, and his wife Majella; and Gov. Martin J. O'Malley of Maryland. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced the President, and Prime Minister Kenny.

Barack Obama, Remarks at a St. Patrick's Day Reception Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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