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St. Paddy's in Washington: Irish Chief Picks 'Quiet Week' to Visit White House

4 years ago
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Prime Minister Brian Cowen of Ireland didn't come up short on the blarney during his visit to the White House on Wednesday.

"We decided to come on a quiet week," Cowen told President Barack Obama. "We knew there wasn't much going on." No, not much, just a critical juncture for health care reform and passage of an $18 billion jobs bill.

Cowen, who wore a sprig of shamrock in his lapel, knew about that, of course. He also knew that the Irish prime minister has for many years been a welcome guest at the White House on St. Patrick's Day.

The taoiseach (first chief) began his day with a breakfast at Vice President Joe Biden's residence on Massachusetts Avenue, where a harpist played "The Foggy Dew," a song celebrating the Irish rebellion against the British.

At the White House, Cowen said that U.S. investment was responsible for 90,000 jobs in Ireland, a country that has been suffering through an economic downturn, similar to that of the United States, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The improved situation in Northern Ireland was also on his mind. "We are deeply grateful for the continuing and deep commitment (to the peace process) shown by the Obama administration, by the president himself, and by Secretary of State Clinton."

Obama said Ireland "punches above its weight on a whole host of critical issues" -- including the campaign to fight world hunger and providing facilities in Ireland for transport of U.S. military troops in Afghanistan.

Later at a luncheon for Cowen hosted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Obama said "few nations so small have had such an enormous impact on another" country: in the United States 36 million people claim Irish ancestry.

Including the president, apparently. Obama informed Cowen of his own Irish bona fides. He said that he could trace his ancestry on his mother's side to County Offaly, Ireland, which happens to be taoiseach's home turf.

"I believe it was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather," Obama said to good-natured laughter. "This is true. He was a bootmaker, if I'm not mistaken."

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