Ronald Reagan picture

Toast at a St. Patrick's Day Luncheon

March 17, 1987

Speaker Wright, distinguished Members of the House and Senate, honored guests, it's a pleasure for me to be with you sharing in the spirit of this magnificent day. And talk about the luck of the Irish, I got over that case of the laryngitis that was plaguing me last week just in time for St. Patrick's Day. [Laughter] Looking around this room—especially when I see my old friend, Tip O'Neill—I can't help but feel that we're living testimony to the notion that Irishmen love a good scrap. Some of us have been in a few of them in our day, and before we leave Washington, I'm certain we'll be in a few more.

I remember my dear father once told me of a fella who walked into a saloon, pounded on the bar, and said in a loud voice, "Show me an Irishman, and I'll show you a wimp." And about a 6 1/2-foot Irishman stepped forward, rolling up his shirt sleeves as he did so, and said, "I'm Irish." The fella said, "Well, I'm a wimp." [Laughter]

Ah, yes, today everyone wants to be Irish. It's gratifying to find that so many of our friends and colleagues are Irish—at least for the day. There's Sean Byrd, Shamus Wright— [laughter] —and, of course, Paddy O'Dole. [Laughter] Today is a day for good fun and infectious happiness for all Irishmen. I should know—I've been Irish longer than almost all of you. But not all Irishmen are as witty as we would like to think. You know, there's the story of an Irishman who was walking down the road. He had a great sack tied over his shoulders. And a wise fellow along the road says, "If I can guess how many potatoes you have in that sack, can I have one?" And the Irishman replied, "If you can guess how many potatoes are in the sack, you can have both of 'em." [Laughter]

Seriously though, America's been blessed by her Irish children. One arrival earlier in this century—and I like to tell about it—it was his first day in New York and—a young fellow—and he started out across Broadway against the light. And a New York cop grabbed him and said, "Where do you think you're going?" Well, he said he was simply trying to get to the other side of the street. But when that New York cop heard that brogue, he warmed right up and he said, "Well now, lad," he said, "come back here. You stay right here." He says, "When that light turns green," he says, "that's for you to go to the other side of the street." So, he stood there waiting for the light to turn green. The light turned orange for a few seconds, as they do, and then turned green. He started out. He got about 10 or 12 feet out, turned back to the cop, and he said, "They don't give them damn Protestants much time, do they?" [Laughter]

Throughout our history, Americans of Irish descent have played such a role. The first St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston was recorded as far back as 1737. It's interesting to note that during the American Revolution, it was on St. Patrick's Day, 1776, when the British ended their occupation of Boston and evacuated the city. One can only wonder if it was the American cannons on Dorchester Heights or the thought of spending—enduring—another St. Patrick's Day celebration that demoralized them so. [Laughter] But seriously though, we Americans of Irish descent can be proud of the part our ancestors played in building this great country, even from its earliest days. Ben Franklin may have been the first to note the Irish influence. In 1784 he wrote, "It is a fact that the Irish immigrants and their children are now in possession of the government in Pennsylvania, by their majority in the Assembly as well as of a great part of the territory; and I remember well the first ship that brought any of them over." Benjamin Franklin said that. One wonders what old Ben would say if he were to be with us at this gathering today. Knowing that he was a man who loved a good time, I'm certain that he'd put on a shamrock and call himself Benjamin O'Franklin just for the occasion.

Our forefathers and mothers were people with a passion for liberty and justice. So, today let us remember them and live up to the great expectations they had for us and for this beloved country of ours. I came across something that is labeled as an old Irish curse or blessing: "May those who love us, love us. And those that don't love us, may the Lord turn their hearts. And if the Lord doesn't turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so that we'll recognize them by their limping." [Laughter]

Well, it's my privilege, if you will allow me-and please do this in the Philadelphia style, which is that you only rise to toast the dead. I'm still worried about your rising a moment ago. [Laughter] But to our guest, the Prime Minister of Ireland.

Thank you all. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:50 p.m. in the Speaker's Dining Room at the Capitol. Jim Wright, Speaker of the House of Representatives, hosted the luncheon. In his closing remarks, the President referred to Irish Prime Minister Charles H. Haughey.

Ronald Reagan, Toast at a St. Patrick's Day Luncheon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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