Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen will begin his official St Patrick's Day visit to the U.S. today with a visit to Chicago.

Speaking to the Irish Times Cowen said "I'm very conscious of the fact, that, it's a great day for Ireland, having such access to the biggest powers in the land both in terms of the executive through the presidency and the vice-presidency and obviously on the Hill as well."

Although Cowen is meeting America’s key political figures, an important aspect of his visit is to pay homage to Irish America.

Cowen feels "there is a strong sense of kinship" amongst Irish Americans.

Cowen notes that Irish America encouraged Clinton's government to get involved in the Northern Irish peace process.

Irish America also exercised its business influence by attracting billions of dollars of foreign investment to Ireland.

Cowen said that St Patrick's Day for Irish Americans is a lot more than "some sort of sentimentality."

"We've seen, through the peace process, through the political contacts we've had with them, the economic dividend we've drawn from America, the terms of, not just foreign direct investment but how Irish business is internationalized in America."

Now, he says, there is a "growing, mutually beneficial trade relationship as well as being a strong political linkage" between the U.S. and Ireland.

Cowen will attend the Chicago St. Patrick's Day parade this weekend before flying to Silicon Valley and then on to Washington, where he will present a bowl of Shamrocks to President Obama on St, Patrick’s Day.

Cowen reiterated that President Obama would be always welcome to visit the land of his ancestor Fulmoth Kearney.

"He knows there's an open invitation there for him, I don't think it's necessary to continually refer to that. He's aware obviously of his Irish heritage and whilst it's some way back in his family history, he is conscious of it and he's aware of it and asks about it.

"We'd love to see him come but that's a matter for himself because he has a lot of things on his plate at the moment."



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