President Joe Biden hosted Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House on Friday, resuming the St. Patrick’s Day tradition for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic and for the first time since Biden, who often notes his Irish roots, has been in office.
The St. Patrick’s Day festivities, complete with a green-dyed White House fountain, come ahead of an anticipated presidential trip to Northern Ireland to mark the upcoming anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement – which the United States helped broker a quarter-century ago to bring an end to decades of sectarian violence. Biden said earlier this week that he intends to make the visit, although formal details have not been announced by the White House.
At a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with the Taoiseach, also known as the Irish prime minister, the president called the visit “a big day.”
“Ireland and the United States share friendship and long, long traditions,” Biden said.
The president spoke of his support of the Windsor Framework and said the two would be discussing it in their meeting. He also thanked Varadkar for his partnership on the Ukraine war and on economic issues.
Later Friday afternoon, Biden attended the Friends of Ireland Caucus St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon on Capitol Hill, using the moment to wax poetic about his family ties to Ireland and seek common ground with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“I agree with the speaker. There’s no reason why we can’t find common ground,” the president said at the luncheon. “There’s no reason why we can’t hope to change this direction of extremes (in) both parties are pushing … I think it’s really important and that is the power of friendship. I think it’s a power of strength of our partnership if we work at it, and simply put, I think it’s the Irish of it.”
On Friday evening, the White House hosted Varadkar again for a Shamrock presentation and reception, where former One Direction star Niall Horan also performed and bagpipes were played.
Alongside Cabinet members, diplomats and members of Congress, the president pointed out that a few of his “distant Irish cousins” were in the room – including Irish rugby player Rob Kearney.
The Taoiseach said he earlier presented the president with a jersey and an Irish flag was flown at an event in Waterford to mark the 175th anniversary of the first flight of the flag of Ireland.
Vice President Kamala Harris welcomed Varadkar to the Naval Observatory Friday morning.
The Irish Taoiseach typically has had a standing invitation to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.
Biden and former Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin met virtually for their annual St. Patrick’s Day gathering in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. And last year, Martin tested positive for Covid-19 while attending a gala in Washington at which Biden spoke the night before the scheduled White House St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
A presidential visit to Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the landmark Good Friday accord has long been the subject of speculation. The last US president to visit Belfast was Barack Obama in 2013.
In the bilateral meeting on Friday, Biden did not mention his upcoming trip. But after Varadkar said the two leaders would be discussing the plans for the trips Biden replied, “I look forward to that as well.”
For Biden, a visit to Ireland will mark a symbolic return for a president who frequently makes reference to his Irish roots, sometimes quoting lines of verse from William Butler Yeats or Seamus Heaney in his speeches.