On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone around the world is Irish. Our patron saint is feted on every continent with parades, festivals and glorious, green decorations. But one group of people is famous for leaving Ireland on our big day: our elected officials. While Dublin throws a massive party featuring top North American marching bands, our politicians head to the USA, Canada, Australia as well as locations across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Officially, they are promoting Ireland for tourism and trade. But it would be hard not to have some fun on such a trip.
The most high-profile trip is that of the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. Traditionally, the leader of the Irish parliament visits the president of the United States and presents him with a crystal bowl filled with shamrock. Today, this is a big photo op for both leaders. American presidents want to curry favor with Irish American voters, and Irish taoisigh want to improve Ireland’s standing with the USA. But it was not always the ceremonial, lavish meeting it is now.
The tradition began in 1952. The USA and other allies were not best pleased with the fledgling Irish nation’s decision to remain neutral in World War II, and the Irish economy was struggling mightily. St. Patrick’s Day was not the global celebration it is today. New York City had a huge parade, but in most of the world it was an ordinary day. The Irish ambassador to the USA, John Joseph Hearne, made a small gesture to show Ireland’s warm feeling to the USA. He dropped a few sprigs of shamrock off at the White House. President Harry Truman wasn’t even there. Although in fairness, he was the first American president to attend the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade.
A Tradition Was Born
But the very next year, the seeds Hearne planted began to sprout. The ambassador did present the shamrock to the newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower. The humble box of 1952 morphed into an ornate crystal bowl, and over the years the event grew. Both sides saw the obvious advantages to themselves. Ireland inched onto the global stage, joining the United Nations in 1955. And American presidents realized the importance of the Irish American vote.
Ambassador Hearne’s gesture was quite clever, and it has snowballed. This year, 36 Irish officials will visit 35 different countries. Taoiseach Varadkar will be in Washington D.C., and seven other ministers will visit different American cities. Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughton and Minister for Procurement, Open Government and eGovernment Patrick O’Donovan will go to Canada. Minister for Justice and Equality Charles Flanagan will head to Australia with Minister for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly. (Strangely, Ireland does not have a Minister for Ridiculously Long Job Titles.)
Other countries on the list include Mexico, Argentina, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Kenya, UEA, Oman, Lebanon, Cyprus, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Scotland, France, Italy, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and the Czech Republic.