Washington (AFP) - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny caused a stir at the White House on the eve of Saint Patrick's day Friday, pointedly telling President Donald Trump that the festival is in honor of an immigrant.
Before a sea of green-clad revelers in the East Room of the White House Thursday night, Kenny made a pointed reference to controversies over Trump's immigration policies, as the president looked on.
"It's fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick and his legacy. He, too, of course, was an immigrant," Kenny said.
The saint is believed to have been born somewhere in Britain.
"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," Kenny said.
Around 35 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, ensuring that successive presidents have put on a green tie and greeted the Irish prime minister -- or Taoiseach -- to the White House on or around Saint Patrick's day.
Trump praised Ireland as "a truly great country" and the Irish as "tough." "I know a lot about the Irish -- they fight. They're tough," he joked.
This year Saint Patrick's falls on the day that Trump's ban on refugees and migrants from six majority Muslim countries was due to have gone into effect.
The ban was halted by a federal judge, but Trump has vowed to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Kenny, amid controversy in Ireland over whether he should have met Trump at all, pressed his point further.
"The Irish have contributed to the economic, social, political and cultural life of this great country over the last 200 years," Kenny said.
The Irish "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','" Kenny said.
"We believed in the shelter of America, and the compassion of America, and the opportunity of America. We came, and we became Americans."