Obama celebrates extended St Patrick’s Day, honors Irish Prime Minister

Olivier Knox

President Barack Obama is itching to get back to Ireland—he just has to get through that "little matter" in November, visiting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny joked Tuesday.

Kenny's comments came as he met with Obama in the Oval Office, part of an extended St Patrick's Day celebration that included a rendition of "Danny Boy," a toast made with water rather than Guinness, and green neckties all around — even if White House press secretary Jay Carney had to borrow the one he wore.

"You'll notice that even though technically it is not St. Patrick's Day, we like to prolong the party around here. Technically, most of the Americans who celebrate St. Patrick's Day aren't Irish anyway so we shouldn't go on technicalities," Obama quipped.

The president had ducked out to Washington, D.C. Irish pub The Dubliner for a Guinness on Saturday—potentially becoming the first husband in recorded history to actually only go out for "one beer."

Turning serious, Obama expressed his "confidence" in Kenny's "ability to get Ireland moving again" after an economic collapse that has left the Emerald Isle struggling with an unemployment rate of 14.2 percent.

The prime minister—known as the Taoiseach in Gaelic—said he had given Obama "a rundown on the decisions taken by my government in the last 12 months to stabilize our public finances and to put our own house in order, but also to play a part, clearly, in the European Union," as it grapples with its debt crisis.

Kenny said he had told Obama of "signs of confidence returning to the Irish economy. But we still have a very long way to go."

"We've had a good, solid start but clearly there are challenges ahead," Kenny said in remarks that might sound familiar to anyone tracking Obama's reelection message.

"We referred to the possibility of an opportunity to travel again to Ireland, and the president has confirmed that in due course. Obviously, he's got a little matter to attend to here in America between this and that," the prime minister quipped.

At a luncheon in Kenny's honor at the Capitol, Obama thanked Vice President Joe Biden as "our top Irishman in the White House" as well as Republican House Speaker John Boehner, the event's host.

"I always think about how every Taoiseach must leave this luncheon marveling at how cheerful and bipartisan Washington is. It's remarkable. And that's something worth aspiring to, even during an election year," Obama said.

Singer David O'Leary serenaded the group with—what else?—"Danny Boy."

Biden kicked off the day's festivities with a breakfast in Kenny's honor. The vice president offered a toast—"You're not supposed to do this with water," noted Biden, who does not drink alcohol. "May you all look back on your past with as much pleasure as you look to the future," he said.

Things almost did not go as smoothly for White House press secretary Jay Carney, who confessed as he opened his daily briefing that the tasteful and timely green tie he wore was a last-minute loan from his deputy, Josh Earnest.

"He came to my aid, and I appreciate it," Carney said.

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