St. Patrick’s Day & The Presidents: Shamrocks, Leprechauns, and Some Visits to the Old Sod

President Reagan walking back to the oval office after a St. Patrick’s day luncheon at the U.S. Capitol. March 17 1988. Since the days of Thomas Jefferson, various, individual Presidents have chosen to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day. For much of the 19th century and early 2oth century, it was a matter intended less to honor Irish-Americans and more to seek the support of their political power as it grew, particularly after the Civil War and particularly within the Democratic Party machine of northern cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Eleanor Roosevelt in an affectionate gesture towards her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt on St. Patrick’s Day in the Oval Office, which was also their 36th wedding anniversary. It was not until the latter half of the 20th century that Presidents began to participate in a ceremony with the Irish Embassy, involving the presentation of shamrocks to mark the day. It’s uncertain just who presented Franklin D. Roosevelt with his box of shamrocks in 1937, which also happened to be the day of his wedding anniversary, but it is established that Harry Truman was the first to accept such a gift, though not in person. A box of the Irish symbol was sent by John Hearne, Ireland’s first Ambassador to the U.S., helping establish the first diplomat relations between the two nations. In 1961,Kennedy became the first President to accept shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, starting a new tradition. Everything changed with President John F. Kennedy, the only chief executive who was of full Irish ancestry and a Catholic. In 1961, less than two months after his inauguration, President Kennedy welcomed the gift of shamrocks presented in Waterford Irish crystal bowls and vases, and a scroll detailing his Irish ancestry. From that point on, the custom became a tradition. Ronald Reagan also participated in a unique custom. Reagan and Tip O’Neill shake on St. Patrick’s Day. Despite his famous rivalry, which sometimes became combative, with Democrat and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, each year the President accepted the Speaker’s invitation to join him for a lunch of corned beef and cabbage at the U.S. Capitol. Said Reagan at the time, beneath their political differences, they were both just “fellows who love to give each other a bit of blarney.” The President enjoying a cold one on St. Patrick’s Day. ( During their incumbencies, five Presidents have made visits to the

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Categories: Diversity, Holidays, St. Patrick's Day, The Clintons, The Kennedys, The Nixons, The Obamas, The Reagans

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