St. Patrick's Day at the White House
At the White House sometime today, the Irish ambassador will present President Obama with a ceremonial gift of shamrock, and the sprouts – flown in from Ireland for the occasion -- will probably arrive in a Irish crystal vase. St. Patrick's Day wasn't always so dignified at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In 1952, when Irish ambassador John Joseph Hearne arrived to present a box of shamrock, President Harry Truman was out of town, according to a CNN recounting of the holiday. So the ambassador simply dropped the box off and went his way.At the time, St. Patrick's Day was celebrated largely by the Irish community in New York with the world's oldest and largest parade. In Washington, the ambassador would simply go to mass and invite some dignitaries to dinner on the holiday.
After Ireland became an independent republic and Hearne its ambassador, the events of the day became more political. Ireland wasn't in the United Nations or NATO, so a photo op with the president not only pleased Irish-Americans, it was a way to unofficially gain favor with the United States during the Cold War.There were economic motives as well, according to the CNN report. Ireland was looking to encourage American tourism.
It was during the Eisenhower Administration that St. Patrick's Day took on more importance, and the box of shamrock became a custom-made Waterford crystal vase.Ronald Reagan took things up a notch because of his Irish roots. And Bill Clinton used the day to highlight his commitment to peace in Northern Ireland. George W. Bush toned things down as a signal that he would not be so involved in Northern Ireland affairs.
The results of 60 years of St. Patrick's Day at the White House?Warm relations between the two countries. And a heck of a lot of Waterford crystal in the White House.