WASHINGTON (AP) — Irish eyes were smiling on the White House a few days early this year.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny kicked off the St. Patrick’s Day holiday at events across Washington Friday, including a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
“I think it’s fair to say that there are very few countries around the world where the people-to-people ties are so strong,” said Obama, who donned a green tie and sprigs of four-leaf clovers on his lapel.
The two leaders then headed to Capitol Hill for a lunch. Sitting alongside House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Obama and Kenny were entertained by a two-man Irish band and a bagpiper.
Kenny started his day with a breakfast at the residence of Vice President Joe Biden, who has an Irish background. Biden and Kenny dined on eggs, potatoes and Irish soda bread.
Obama joked that Biden “lobbies me every week to go to Ireland.”
The president has his own distant family ties to Ireland. In 2011, he visited the village of Moneygall, the hometown of his great-great-great grandfather.
“Tell everybody in Moneygall I said, ‘hi’,” Obama said.
The celebrating continued at a White House reception Friday evening, where Obama noted the holiday was still a few days away.
“None of you seem particularly bothered by this. At least you’ll have a weekend to recover,” he joked said as the guests, many of whom wore shades of green and included Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., laughed.
Amid the festivities, Obama and Kenny addressed the political crisis in Ukraine, where voters in the Crimean Peninsula will hold a referendum Sunday on whether to join Russia. Moscow moved military forces into Crimea after Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader fled amid popular protests.
“We continue to hope that there’s a diplomatic solution to be found,” Obama said. “But the United States and Europe stand united not only in its message about Ukrainian sovereignty but also that there will be consequences if, in fact, that sovereignty continues to be violated.”