Washington, D.C. -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted President Barack Obama and Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Brian Cowen of Ireland at the annual congressional St. Patrick's Day Luncheon in the Capitol. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
“My colleagues, earlier we had the opportunity to welcome the President of the United States and the Taoiseach to this St. Patrick's Day lunch. My colleagues and Members of the United States Senate who are present, let us now extend a warm welcome to the visiting delegations from Ireland and from Northern Ireland. Thank you all for being with us. We are honored by your presence.
“Today, we celebrate the life of a saint -- Saint Patrick -- who had been exiled from Ireland. And when he travelled back, he travelled throughout the island, bringing prayers, faith and good works. Ireland is indeed blessed by St. Patrick.
“Centuries later, the Irish had a journey of their own, many of them to America, where they brought the exuberance of the Irish spirit, hopes and optimism for a better future, dreams for their children, to our country.
“Over 40 million Americans claim Irish heritage, many of them in this room. And America has truly been blessed by that contribution.
“Today, on behalf of the Congress of the United States, we are all honored to welcome the Taoiseach to the Capitol of the United States. The Taoiseach is here with his wife, Mary, and we want to give a special welcome to Mary Cowen. While this is the first Congressional St. Patrick's Day lunch for the Taoiseach, his leadership in Ireland has enjoyed a long history.
“As a very young man, he succeeded his father as Dáil, and he would rise to serve as Foreign Minister and later Finance Minister before succeeding Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach last May. We are honored that he is with us today.
“It is a great honor to be hosting this Congressional St. Patrick's Day Luncheon, and it has a proud tradition. As I know the President knows, and many of you who have come over the years know, it began with Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan celebrating St. Patrick's Day here in the Capitol.
“And here we are today, not too long after that and we have an Italian American woman Speaker and we have a multi-hyphenated Irish African-American as President of the United States.
“So here we are, celebrating a heritage, strengthening a bond, and enjoying each other's company on the feast of St. Patrick.
“Now, I can't claim Irish heritage as the President can, and as so many of you can. But I have Irish grandchildren: Sean, Liam and Ryan. And when they visited their grandfather in Ireland this year they were told in the Irish pubs, it's ‘O'Bama.'
“I was just in Italy myself we were claiming a vowel at the end, Obam-a, in Italy.
“One great son of Ireland who isn't with us today -- but I know we will all want to send our best wishes to -- is Senator Ted Kennedy. His work as a lion in the Senate with an unsurpassed record of leadership to our country. His family is one of Ireland's proudest boasts in America. Patrick, please give your father our best regards.
“I told you about my Irish grandchildren, and those of you who've been here before since I became Speaker know that I like to extend their Irish blessing to all of you. I thought it was a special Kenneally family blessing, treasured by them and shared only with their closest friends -- until I went to Shannon Airport and saw it plastered all over the walls.
“And he says this:
‘Dance as though no one is watching
Love as though you have never loved before.
Sing as though no one can hear you.
Live as though heaven is on earth.'
“And I think all of us in America and Ireland can live as if heaven is on earth in our two great countries. And this great legacy from Ireland to America with more than 40 million claiming heritage forms a bond that brings us together, and our futures we will always be intertwined as we go forward.
“And now it is a great pleasure for me to introduce the President of the United States, Barack Obama.”