Washington, D.C. -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted President Barack Obama and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen of Ireland at the Speaker's annual congressional Saint Patrick's Day Luncheon in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
“Thank you all for being here. We come together to celebrate the feast of Saint Patrick. We honor him for his faith and his good work as he is an inspiration to us.
“We have the honor of honoring the friendship between our two great nations. Ireland has been the adopted homeland of Saint Patrick. We claim him. The Italian-Americans claim him. We all claim Saint Patrick. [Laughter.]
“I was telling the Taoiseach earlier that I was speaking to a young gentleman who just moved here from Turkey and he told me that his children went to school today wearing the green. So this has been a very unifying feature of our lives in America. America is the great melting pot. Saint Patrick, certainly, was important to the mix, bringing us all together.
“The first Saint Patrick's Day parade, you may wish to know, was in 1737. Taoiseach, Dublin didn't have its first parade until 200 years later. So we're very proud in leading in the way with the enthusiasm of the Irish-Americans. [Applause.]
“George Washington, commanding soldiers of Irish descent in the Continental Army, gave them a holiday, a day off, on March 17 in 1780. It took Ireland until 1903 to give its citizens a day off in honor of Saint Patrick. I want you to know how much this means to us.
“Again, nearly 40 million Americans trace their ancestry back to Ireland, and many, many more claim to the Irish today wearing green.
“As a symbol of the enduring friendship between the United States and Ireland, we're honored to be joined by the Taoiseach -- Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Taoiseach Cowen, this tradition began as a small one, many years ago with the President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill and was held in a small room all at one table. Over time, it has grown and it was enhanced enormously with the idea that the Taoiseach could join the Saint Patrick's Day celebration. It's grown so much that we're pretty cozy here today. It's almost as full as it can be, but with many more clamoring to claim Irish heritage ancestry -- real or imagined. I, myself, have Irish grandchildren as my connection.
“But I want to welcome all of our friends who are here. And let's give a special welcome to our friends from Northern Ireland. [Applause.]
“I talked about the history of this lunch -- its beginning. Let me say, here today, sadly, that this is the first Saint Patrick's Day luncheon that is not attended by Senator Ted Kennedy. We are honored to be joined by Vicki Kennedy and Patrick Kennedy who are with us. Thank you. [Applause.]
“Senator Kennedy said: ‘We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.' Thank you for being with us. We promise to honor that heritage.
“The future is one of great optimism: optimism for continued peace in Northern Ireland, and great optimism for the lasting friendship, of course, without question, between the United States and Ireland.
“So now, I now have the high privilege, distinct honor, and personal pleasure to introduce the leaders of our countries.
“I do so proudly in the presence of our Democratic Leader, Steny Hoyer, and our Republican Leader, John Boehner, who is with us. And we're so proud that the Vice President is here as well, and his granddaughter Finnegan who is interning. [Laughter.]
“So many friends and Members of Congress. Saint Patrick has brought Democrats and Republicans together today and we all will join in giving the most enthusiastic welcome to the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. [Applause.]
“So enthusiastic are we about introducing the Taoiseach, that the President wants to join in that welcome as well. It is my high honor, distinct privilege, to present the President of the United States.” [Applause.]