Vice President Mike Pence.Flickr / Gage Skidmore

Vice President Mike Pence will be the keynote speaker at the Ireland Funds dinner in Washington, DC on March 15 at the National Building Museum, IrishCentral has learned.

It is an impressive coup for the worldwide philanthropic organization and shows that access to the White House for Ireland may not be as difficult as many feared. With so many organizations seeking access to Pence, it represents a major victory for the Funds.

Traditionally Irish governments have had more in common with Democratic elected officials than Republicans, but the government now has no choice but to seek links to politicians of both parties given the Washington reality.

While opinion on Donald Trump is harshly critical in Ireland, Pence is far less a lightning rod.

The Ireland Fund will now be recognizing two sitting US Vice Presidents in 9 months. They honored Vice President Joe Biden last year.

Pence has a strong Irish background and credits his grandfather, Richard Cawley from County Sligo, with his success in America. He has a plaque with his grandfather's date of arrival on his wall in his office.

Irish government sources, disheartened by the anti-immigrant tone and worried about their 50,000 undocumented, are hopeful Pence can play a positive role.

The Vice President was not always such a hardliner on immigration. In 2006 Pence, who calls himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order," pushed a relatively liberal immigration plan at a time when his party was coalescing behind hardliners.

Mike Pence photographed at a St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Mike Pence photographed at a St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Pence’s plan called for the undocumented to return home, but to be allowed to then get legal visas to come back if they passed a security check. It was called touch back and Pence was suddenly deeply unpopular with his conservative base, some of whom likened him to Benedict Arnold.

At the time, Pence was undaunted by the criticism. “It’s a test of the character of the conservative movement in the 21st century,” he said. “We are either going to prove that we believe in the ideas enshrined on the Statue of Liberty or the American people will go looking elsewhere.”

Pence’s bill, an attempt at a compromise between a Senate / Bush White House bill and a House of Representatives bill, called for 12 million undocumented to self-deport then be allowed back in as legal guest-workers after security checks.

On a campaign-style trip to push his idea in 2006, The New York Times noted that Pence quoted the Bible and Ronald Reagan. He stood sweating in a tomato field beside Mexican workers and when asked why an Indiana congressman was focused on the border, he responded with a ready phrase: “April 11, 1923.”

That is when his Irish grandfather, Richard Michael Cawley, a Chicago bus driver, arrived at Ellis Island. “We were especially close,” Pence said and added that he saw his grandfather’s thrift and hard work in today’s immigrant generation.

Pence's bill went nowhere, but strangely a version of it has been mentioned by Donald Trump on the campaign trail, when he talked about illegals all leaving but then many being allowed back.

If, by some miracle an immigration bill was passed granting work visas, it could be a tribute to the impact one Irishman had on Mike Pence.

Pence was deeply impacted by Richard Cawley, born 1903 in Tubbercurry, County Sligo who came through Ellis Island in 1924 after a stint in the Irish Army during the Civil War. He became a bus driver in Chicago.

In a speech in 2014 in Chicago Pence traced those Irish roots.

“I really owe a debt of gratitude to Chicago that springs from my own personal history. When my grandfather got off a boat on Ellis Island in about 1923, he caught a train to Chicago and he drove a bus in this city for about 40 years,” Pence told the crowd.

“My mom and dad both grew up on the Southside of Chicago, down around 55th and Honore. In fact, we have family that goes to school and lives and works in this community here today.”

The religious conservative also noted how especially meaningful it was to be addressing the City Club during December, the time of year he often traveled to Chicago as a child.

“It’s very personal when I’m in this city. I feel very at home. My story is I was raised by two big city kids in a really small town in southern Indiana,” said Pence, who grew up in Columbus, IN and represented the area in Congress before becoming governor in 2013.

“Particularly this time of year the Pence family would find themselves in the back of a station wagon making the long trip up what was then Highway 31 to the Southside of Chicago to hearth and home and family and friends. It’s a blessing to be here this time of year with all of you and reflect on those deep memories.”

Historian graduate Robert C. Theiss from Arlington, VA researched more about the life of Pence's grandfather. "Passenger arrival records show Richard Cawley, aged 20, a miner, arriving in New York on April 11, 1923, on a ship called the Andania, which had set sail from Liverpool. The passenger arrival record shows Richard Cawley's place of birth as Doocastle (on the Mayo/Sligo border near Tubbercurry).

The passenger arrival record shows his last place of residence as having been Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancs., England.

"The arrival record shows as his final destination Chicago, where he would be joining a brother, James Cawley (1899-1982), already living in Chicago. Richard Cawley's death certificate shows he died on December 24, 1980, aged 77, in Columbus, IN. He had relocated from Chicago to Columbus to live with his daughter Nancy Pence and family following the death of his wife Mary Elizabeth just several weeks previously.

Mike Pence, photographed with his Irish cousins in 2013, outside Morrissey's pub, in Doolin, County Clare.

Mike Pence, photographed with his Irish cousins in 2013, outside Morrissey's pub, in Doolin, County Clare.

“The death certificate further shows that he was born in Ireland on February 7, 1903, his parents were Richard Cawley and Ellen Marren." It is possible that by the time Richard Cawley emigrated to America in 1923, the family were residing in Tubbercurry. Mike Pence's maternal grandmother, Richard Cawley's wife, was Mary Elizabeth Maloney.

She was born on March 22, 1907, in Chicago. She died in Chicago on November 1, 1980, aged 73, just weeks before her husband Richard died. She was the daughter of Irish immigrants, but from a different part of Ireland. Her father, James Michael Maloney, was born on February 1, 1872, in Killaloe, Co. Clare, and her mother, Mary Anne Downes, was born on July 16, 1880, in Doonbeg, Co. Clare, which is where Donald Trump owns a golf resort.”

Read more: Irish Vice President Mike Pence, one heartbeat from the presidency