The ties that bind our two countries are deep and historic. And Ireland and the United States have a unique relationship that goes back to the earliest days of the original 14 colonies. Irish foreign military officers assisted George Washington to win that war of independence. Indeed, they’ve fought in every war for America since then. And this very house was designed by James Hoban from Kilkenny, modeled in part after the Leinster House in Dublin, where the Irish parliament has met on our own independence since 1922.
It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick and his legacy. He, too, of course, was an immigrant. And though he is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland, for many people around the globe, he is also a symbol of, indeed, the patron of immigrants.
Here in America, your great country, 35 million people claim Irish heritage, and the Irish have contributed to the economic, social, political and cultural life of this great country over the last 200 years. Ireland came to America because, deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed, four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the “wretched refuse on the teeming shore.” We believed in the shelter of America, and the compassion of America, and the opportunity of America. We came, and we became Americans.
We lived the words of John F. Kennedy long before we heard them: We asked not what America could do for us, but what we could do for America. And we still do. We want to give, and not to take. We know the Irish have built the bridges and the roads, protected the public as firefighters and police officers. We’ve cared for the sick in hospitals, entertained as poets, as singers and writers, as politicians, as judges and legislators. And as entrepreneurs, they provided hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans, including most recently, in exciting technology companies.
To Irish-Americans coast to coast, I say, these days especially, we hold you in our hearts. And tonight, I thank you again for your warm hospitality.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, may I wish you and your lovely families every good wish and blessing on this very special day. Indeed, I’m reminded in many ways of the dream of another American President — which Ireland will work with you for — when he spoke the words and said, “My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last, best hope of Earth.” Spoken by Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. President, Ireland will help you build on that foundation to achieve the ultimate dream. Thank you, sir. And God bless you.