[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[March 17, 1995]
[Pages 371-372]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Saint Patrick's Day Reception
March 17, 1995

    Is the microphone on? Now it is. Taoiseach and Mrs. Bruton, let me 
say again, welcome to the White House. Ceade mile failte.
    We have been breaking out the green for many years on St. Patrick's 
Day, but this is truly an historic St. Patrick's Day. For the first time 
we have invited leaders of all the major political groups from Northern 
Ireland to join us, and I am delighted that so many are here tonight. 
Those who take risks for peace are always welcome under this roof.
    President Kennedy, with his marvelous Irish understatement, once 
pointed out, and I quote, ``The observance of St. Patrick's Day is 
almost as old in America as the Irish themselves. And some say they 
arrived in the 6th century.'' Actually, the first recorded mention of 
St. Patrick in America was in 1636, when an Irish ship bearing that name 
sailed into, where else, Boston Harbor. It, however, did not receive a 
warm welcome. The Puritans were not well disposed toward the Catholics, 
but as history shows, it was only a temporary setback as--[laughter].
    During the Revolutionary conflict, George Washington even paid his 
own compliment to the holiday in 1776. On March 17th, he ordered that 
the password of the day be ``Boston,'' and the response, ``St. 
Patrick.'' By the way, the Colonies' general at that time was a 
    A few months later, at least a dozen Irishmen signed the Declaration 
of Independence, and another, Mr. Dunlap of Philadelphia, printed the 
Declaration for the first time. He also lost the original copy. 
[Laughter] But that setback, too, was temporary because the Irish knew 
then how to back winners.
    The Irish first became a force in our politics in the 1790's when 
they supported Thomas Jefferson. To their eternal credit, many of their 
descendants have seen fit to back his Democratic descendants in the 
years since. Taoiseach, as you know, I am on my mother's side Irish; her 
name was Cassidy. What you may not know was that the decisive battle for 
the nomination for President in 1992 was in Illinois and Michigan on St. 
Patrick's Day.
    It is said that Ireland's greatest export is its people. No country 
has benefited more from that export, Catholic and Protestant, than the 
United States. These two traditions have been intertwined, and together 
have contributed immensely to our success as a nation and to our 
greatness as a people. More than a dozen Presidents descended from Irish 
ancestors, from Andrew Jackson, the son of immigrants from Carrickfergus 
near Belfast who was our first President of Irish-Protestant heritage, 
to John Kennedy, the great-grandson of a cooper who left County Wexford 
and was our first Irish-Catholic President. I might say we're honored to 
have his sister as our Ambassador to Ireland and his brother and two of 
his nephews in the United States Congress today. They're now seeking to 
expand their stranglehold; one of his nieces is the Lieutenant Governor 
of Maryland. The next thing you know they'll insist on a position on 
every city council in America. They have enough relatives to fill that. 
    In the fight for our independence and in the fight to preserve our 
Union, there were Irishmen from both traditions serving side by side in 
all-Irish units. In both wars, they were among the most feared warriors. 
They put freedom over faction, and they helped to build our Nation.
    Finley Peter Dunne, the great Irish-American humorist, wrote that a 
fanatic is someone who is sure God would be on his side if only He knew 
all the facts. [Laughter] Today, with good humor but complete 
seriousness, I urge all our guests from Northern Ireland and all the 
parties concerned to put aside all extremism for the common good of 
    The Prime Minister of Ireland and the Prime Minister of Great 
Britain, at no inconsiderable risk to themselves, have paved the way to 
a new era of peace. I urge all of you to follow that path. The tough 
tasks of compromise still lie ahead. The hard, unending work of 
democracy is never easy. Even here, after all these years, two centuries 
of it, we still have our difficulties from time to time, living with 
those who differ from us. But as you work to forge a new future, free of 
violence, free of intimidation, with the participation of all the people 
of Northern Ireland, the United States will stand by you.
    American has received so many gifts from Ireland, so many people who 
have enriched our

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Nation, people who continue to come to the present day. We perhaps have 
many to give back. Some are perhaps financial in nature, but maybe the 
most important thing we could give to Ireland and, indeed, to a very 
troubled world today is the example of what is possible when people find 
unity and strength in their diversity.
    We know from our own hard experience, from the blood we have shed on 
our own land, from the struggles we have been engaged in for a long time 
and the joys that we draw every day from the increasing diversity of our 
people, that strength can be drawn from differences, differences which 
are celebrated, respected, appreciated. That kind of strength can build 
a future worthy of all the people of Northern Ireland.
    Tonight our hopes and our prayers are with all the people of Ireland 
and especially with you, Mr. Prime Minister, and with your fine wife and 
your family. We loved having you here. We love every St. Patrick's Day, 
but this one especially we will remember above the rest.
    Thank you. Godspeed.

Note: The President spoke at 10 p.m. in the East Room at the White