- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

President Obama chose St. Patrick's Day to announce that he’s adding Ireland to the itinerary for his trip to Europe in May.

Mr. Obama made the announcement as he welcomed new Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the White House for an annual ceremony of Irish-American solidarity.

He joked that Vice President Joseph R. Biden was “envious because he wants to go first.”

The president said Ireland is “bouncing back” from its economic crisis and that Mr. Kenny had shared his economic recovery plans.

Mr. Kenny said Ireland was “open for business” and that Mr. Obama’s plans to visit represent “a significant statement of confidence” in the country.

Bagpipers play Thursday as President Obama leaves a St. Patrick's Day lunch with (from the left) House Speaker John A. Boehner, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Rep. Peter King. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)
Bagpipers play Thursday as President Obama leaves a St. Patrick’s Day lunch ... more >

Mr. Obama already had announced plans to make a state visit to Britain from May 24 to 26, just ahead of the Group of Eight summit in France.

The prime minister, who took office last week, began his day with breakfast at the vice president’s residence and had lunch with Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and congressional leaders at the Capitol, where the entertainment included an Air Force bagpipe band.

At the luncheon, Mr. Obama joked about his Irish ancestry - pointing to a great-great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side from Moneygall - and said the meal set a good bipartisan tone. He added: “I hope we can summon the spirit of this day and work together with renewed commitment to bring about better days for all of our people.”

Mr. Biden’s office also called attention to the vice president’s Irish heritage, referring to him in a statement as “the first Irish-American U.S. vice president.” The Associated Press did a quick fact check on that claim and determined: not even close.

Many previous vice presidents have had family trees linked back to Ireland. John C. Calhoun, who held the office from 1811 to 1817, had parents who both immigrated to South Carolina from Ireland’s County Donegal. Chester A. Arthur, who moved from vice president to president after the assassination of James Garfield in 1881, had an Irish father. More recently, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Al Gore have claimed Irish as part of their lineage.

Irish-Americans marked the day with celebrations across the country.

In New York City, up to 2 million spectators awash in green lined Fifth Avenue for the city’s 250th such celebration on a balmy day previewing spring. Best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark served as grand marshal of the parade, whose officials expected about 200,000 marchers.

Among them were Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had gotten a less-than-warm welcome at a St. Patrick's Day parade in Queens earlier this month. Some parade-goers were angry about the mayor’s joke last month that he usually saw “people that are totally inebriated” at the American Irish Historical Society in Manhattan. Mr. Bloomberg apologized shortly after making the comment.

Asked about the matter again before Thursday’s parade, Mr. Bloomberg said, “I told a joke some people didn’t find funny. But the reception I got so far puts a smile on my face.”