PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, happy St. Patrick's Day to everybody.
I want to welcome Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his lovely wife
on their first visit to the White House for this wonderful
St. Patrick's Day tradition.
This is the first for both of us, and with a little bit of
luck, I'm sure we'll get it right.
We are pleased to be joined by a statesman who worked as hard as
anybody to usher in an age of peace in Northern Ireland, and
that is my now Middle East envoy -- because he's a glutton for
punishment -- Senator George Mitchell.
I am also proud today to announce that I am
naming a great friend, Dan Rooney, co-founder of the
Ireland Fund, unwavering supporter of Irish peace and
culture and education -- not to mention the owner of the Super
Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers -- as the United States
Ambassador to Ireland.
He will be an outstanding representative.
Just a private note here.
Dan is a great friend.
He and his family are as gracious and thoughtful a group
of people as I know, and so I know that he is just going to do
an outstanding job.
And the people of Ireland I think will benefit greatly from
him representing the United States there.
Now, before I turn it over to the Taoiseach, it turns out that
we have something in common.
He hails from County Offaly.
And it was brought to my attention on the campaign that
my great-great-great grandfather on my mother's side came to
America from a small village in County, as well.
We are still speculating on whether we are related.
I do share, though, a deep appreciation for the
remarkable ties between our nations.
I am grateful to him for his leadership of Ireland.
The bond between our countries could not be stronger.
As somebody who comes from Chicago, I know a little bit
about Ireland, and the warmth, the good humor, and the fierce
passion and intelligence of the Irish people is something that
has informed our own culture, as well.
And so that's why this day and this celebration is so
So, with that, what I'd like to do is let Taoiseach say a few
And then I believe he's got something to give me.
TAOISEACH COWEN: Well, thank you very much
Mr. President, Secretary of State, senators, distinguished
members of Congress, members of the Irish delegation, members of
the press, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, Mary and I would like to thank you, President and
First Lady, for your very warm and gracious welcome to the
White House this morning.
Your invitation to me today and to host this ceremony honors
Ireland and all her people at home and abroad.
And I want to, in the first instance, greatly welcome your
appointment of Dan Rooney and we look forward to Dan and Pat
coming to Ireland.
They will be very welcomed.
They are regular visitors, they know Ireland so well.
And Dan has been a great personal friend of mine down the
years, too, and I really very much welcome his appointment.
And I know how great an honor it is for his family.
Mr. President, you were saying you were trying to work out
if we're related or not.
I just want to say that I have checked, and unfortunately,
there are no Kearneys on the electoral register anymore in my
(Laughter.) But if there were, I assure you, I'd have them on my
(Laughter.) I hope, of course, some day to reciprocate your
great hospitality by welcoming you and Mrs. Obama to Ireland,
where we will offer you the warmest of Irish welcomes, I can
Mr. President, during your election campaign you captivated
the hearts and minds of millions of people.
On the island of Ireland, across Europe, and across the
continent, indeed, your story and your message of hope were
truly inspirational and universal in their appeal.
We offer you our warmest congratulations, our good
wishes, and our steadfast support.
Mr. President, St. Patrick's Day is a time of joy and pride for
all Irish men and women everywhere.
Today when Irish America is bound together by a green thread
woven through the great cities and into the heartland and
length and breadth of this great country, it is a day, too, of
reflection on our immigrant history, of our sense of place
and of our need to connect.
St. Patrick, of course, was an immigrant to our shores.
He brought with him the great gift of faith, and in doing so
he changed our country so much for the better.
The Irish, in turn, brought this message of hope and his values
of generosity around the globe, including to this great nation.
We are proud of our Irish community in America, of how
they have preserved their Irish culture and heritage, and how
they have helped build this great country.
They have lived and worked here, and they have succeeded.
They've enriched Ireland and they have enriched America.
And on this St. Patrick's Day, in these most difficult times,
we remember the enormous trials and deprivations experienced by
our immigrant peoples in times past -- times of poverty,
oppression and famine, and the Troubles on a scale unimaginable
to us today.
Their achievements inspire us with the strength of the human
spirit and the certainty that we will succeed, and that we will
manage our way together to safer and better economic times.
It is my firm conviction that America's leadership, your
leadership, will be at the heart of that global resurgence.
And every country has its own pressures and difficulties; we
must each face up to them, and to our own problems.
But we also have to stand together in partnership.
In Ireland you will find, Mr. President, the most
steadfast of friends.
Time and again in our history, we have looked to America for
leadership on the long and often difficult road to peace.
At the darkest moments, the United States has been a
constant source of hope, a reservoir of support, and a
steady and trusted guide.
The contribution of the United States has been immeasurable.
And some of those who played a central role in our peace
process are with us today, including your Secretary of
State, Hillary Clinton, and, of course, our dear friend, Senator
I wish them well in their work for peace in the Middle East.
And I know that their work in Ireland will help to give them
the strength and wisdom they will need in the months and
We all know that the process of peace-building and of
reconciliation takes patience and perseverance.
In recent days, an evil, unrepresentative and tiny
minority has challenged the democratic institutions which we
have built together in Ireland.
The people of Ireland, north and south, have risen to that
They have spoken with one voice.
They have rejected violence and division.
They have stood by peace, reconciliation, democracy, and
Mr. President, there is a phrase in the Irish language --
"Is féidir linn" -- it may seem familiar.
It translates as "Yes, you can."
In that spirit, and in the spirit of friendship
between our two countries, I am pleased to present you this bowl
I thank you once more for your kind welcome to the White House,
and I wish a very happy St. Patrick's Day to you, to
your family, and to the American people.
Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the -- let me try that
again. Is féidir linn?
TAOISEACH COWEN: Is féidir linn.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Is féidir linn.
I got that.
(Laughter.) Yes, we can.
I want to thank the Taoiseach and the people of Ireland for
this beautiful bowl of shamrocks.
Not only does it symbolize the deep and enduring bond between
our peoples, but it serves as a hopeful reminder that whatever
hardship the winter may bring, the eternal promise of
springtime is always around the corner.
The contributions of the Irish to the American story cannot be
Irish signatures are on our founding documents; Irish blood
has been spilled on our battlefields; Irish sweat went
into building our greatest cities.
We are better for their contributions to our democracy,
and we are richer for their art and their literature, their
poetry and their songs.
Rarely in world history has a nation so small had so large an
impact on another.
Tens of millions of Americans trace their roots back to the
Emerald Isles, and on St. Patrick's Day, many millions
more claim to.
(Laughter.) On behalf of them -- (laughter) -- and all Americans,
I thank the Irish people for this gift, and for all that
they've contributed to the chronicles and the character of
And I do want to share briefly a few words about the recent
attacks in Northern Ireland.
Almost 11 years ago, the world watched with wonder as brave men
and women found the courage to see past the scars of
generations of violence and mistrust, and come together
around a future of peace.
We watched with hope as the people of Ireland and Northern
Ireland went to the ballot box and overwhelmingly endorsed such
a peaceful future.
But every peace process is challenged by those who would
seek to destroy it.
And no one ever believed that this extraordinary endeavor
would be any different.
We knew that there would be setbacks; we knew that there
would be false starts.
We knew that the opponents of peace would trot out the same
old tired violence of the past in hopes that this young
agreement would be too fragile to hold.
And the real question was this: When tested, how would the
people of Northern Ireland respond?
Now we know the answer: They responded heroically.
They and their leaders on both sides have condemned this
violence and refrained from the old partisan impulses.
They've shown they judge progress by what you build and
not what you tear down.
And they know that the future is too important to cede to those
who are mired in the past.
The thoughts and prayers of Americans everywhere go out to
the families of the fallen.
And I want everyone listening to know this: The United States
will always stand with those who work towards peace.
After seeing former adversaries mourning and praying and working
together this week, I've never been more confident that peace
Now, today is a day for all the people of America and Ireland to
celebrate our shared history and our shared future with joy and
So I can't think of a better place to take the Taoiseach for
lunch than the Congress.
(Laughter.) We'll be -- (laughter) -- that was good,
TAOISEACH COWEN: That was good.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You like that?
(Laughter.) We'll be heading there shortly for the annual
Speaker's St. Patrick's Day luncheon -- a tradition in which
Democrats and Republicans put aside partisanship and unite
around one debate only: who is more Irish than whom.
(Laughter.) So I thank the Taoiseach in advance for
bringing relative peace to Washington for at least this
(Laughter.) Thank you very much.