|President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner &
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Credit: White House by Pete Souza)
The White House rocked to the sound of Irish traditional music and laughter last night as the annual St.Patrick’s bash took place.
Inside the main East Wing entrance a group of marines bedecked in kilts played Irish tunes and harmonies and had the toes tapping as the evening began.
Politicians of all stripes and states, Irish community leaders, all mingled and ate at the food stations in the beautifully appointed rooms waiting for the big moment when the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Obama appeared on stage in the East Room.
Outside the wet weather had given way to bright sunshine and there is no city as beautiful in early Spring especially from the White House.
How Irish is this White House in the era of the first black president? Well let him tell you himself as he proudly did last night when he appeared.
“We have way too many Irish and Irish American and wannabe Irish Americans in the house for me to name but I will say that the next four years are shaping up to be very green ones here in the White House. My new Chief of Staff is a McDonough. My National Security Advisor is a Donilon. Our new CIA Director is a Brennan. My new head speech writer is a Keenan. And Joe Biden has very kindly agreed to stay on as Irishman-in-Chief.”
With that kind of lineup there is no fear of the White House St.Patrick’s Day event winding down anytime soon.
Of all the names he mentions, Denis McDonough as his Chief of Staff is perhaps the most vital. He has been described as Obama’s alter ego who understands perfectly the president’s wishes.
During a brief conversation I had with him, McDonough made clear the commitment to immigration reform that rippled through almost every conversation on the night.
After years of despair comprehensive reform is back on the agenda in a big way. The view is that there could be as many as 70 votes in the senate for the legislation forcing the House to act on it.
More than one person pointed out it is because elections have consequences, that Republicans now know that they have to deal on this issue to have any chance of competing for minority votes across America.
The upbeat mood on the night contrasted with the last few and you could feel a sense of optimism. The Irish economy, as Prime Minister Enda Kenny made clear, is clawing its way out of a deep hole slowly but surely.
President Obama addressed the other issue that has dominated Irish American discussion lately, the extraordinary response in Ireland and among Irish America after Hurricane Sandy.
Here are his remarkable words;
“We saw that again in October, when Hurricane Sandy set off one of the worst residential fires in New York City’s history. Hundreds of homes were left charred and flooded, and many families were suddenly faced with the task of picking up the pieces and rebuilding their lives, including in Breezy Point, a neighborhood with a large Irish American population.
“In fact, more than half of Breezy Point residents can trace their families to the old country, and the folks back in the old country were not about to sit by and watch their American brothers and sisters struggle alone.
“So they pitched in. Gaelic rock stars raised money. Athletes from the Gaelic Games did construction work and brought the Sam Maguire chalice with them to lift spirits. The Irish Tenors came over to sing Christmas carols. The Irish government pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars, not just to help the residents of Breezy Point, but to help folks rebuild across the region. And the Taoiseach himself was in Breezy Point on Sunday to attend mass.
“As one official said, New York has been very good to the Irish; now the Irish are giving back to New York. And that’s the story of America and Ireland: We look out for each other, we have each other’s backs...and we recognize that no challenge is too great and no obstacle is too high if you’ve got a friend beside you and a nation behind you. That’s been our history; that will be our future.”
Indeed it will. The St.Patrick’s bash this year was short on time (Obama had to leave for Israel, Joe Biden was coming back from Rome) but long on substance and on the Irish contribution to America. Long may it continue.