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'I carry Ireland with me everywhere I go': Leo likely to indulge Pence and Ryan with talk of Irish roots

The Taoiseach is about to set off on a whirlwind tour of America for St Patrick’s Day.

I literally carry Ireland with me everywhere I go.

THOSE WERE THE words uttered by US Vice President Mike Pence at a St Patrick’s Day dinner attended by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny last year.

It’s fairly common for Americans to claim they have Irish roots (no matter how distant) – and to be honest, politicians are only too happy to let them.

With 93,800 trips by people from US and Canada last year – up 2,800 – they mean big money to the Irish tourism sector.

Money, business and tourism is what the shamrock trip is all about. So it will go ahead, despite objections to Irish taoisigh visiting Donald Trump.

And, when US Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan speak about their Irish heritage to the Taoiseach during this week’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Leo Varadkar will indulge them.

The Taoiseach is heading on a whirlwind trip of America today visiting Texas, Washington DC and New York.

Varadkar’s first trip to the White House as Taoiseach 

On his first St Patrick’s Day trip as Taoiseach, Varadkar, like his predecessors before him, will be meeting many high-powered American politicians, as well as the US President (of course) and a handful of governors and business people.

The vice president is central to the celebrations every year, with a breakfast hosted for the Taoiseach and his officials at his residence.

Former taoiseach Enda Kenny had high praise for the vice-president last year on Twitter, saying that he understood Ireland – a message Kenny was widely criticised for.

While pressure was on Kenny to raise the issue of immigration (his visit coincided with the date of Trump’s so-called immigration ban), this year there will be a focus on whether Varadkar raises the issue of LGBT rights with the vice president who has a documented history of approving legislation hostile to gay rights.

(Can’t view the video, click here)

However, it makes sense that Pence would take a central role this week as he does have bona fide Irish roots.

His grandfather emigrated to the US from Tubercurry, County Sligo in the 1920s, and it is understood he passed through immigration inspections at Ellis Island.

His great-grandmother came from Doonbeg, County Clare, home to Trump’s famous Irish golf resort. Pence is believed to have been quite close to his grandfather, someone he says was a great inspiration to him.

Summers in Ireland

The vice-president has returned to his ancestral home on many occasions over the years, spending summers in Ireland, cutting turf and saving hay in Clare and Sligo.

Although raised a Democrat by Irish-Catholic parents, Pence became a born-again Christian and shifted politically to the right.

Last year, Pence used his speech at the Ireland Funds dinner in Washington (for which he was guest of honour) to speak about the importance of his Irish heritage.

This is where he spoke about ‘carrying Ireland with him everywhere he goes’.

Pence was presented with an elaborate family tree and with the original roll book from the Co. Sligo school where his grandfather was educated in 1912.

Addressing the crowd at the gala, Kenny said;

“I know Vice President Pence has been a regular and diligent visitor to the old country, to our country, to Ireland.”

For his part, Pence recalled how on one of his first trips to Ireland he was allowed to help in the bar and he told an old woman that he was related to the owners. He said:

She looked at me and said, ‘You don’t have to tell me son, you’ve got a face like the map of Ireland’.

House Speaker’s Irish roots 

The Taoiseach will also meet House Speaker Paul Ryan while in Washington.

Ryan claims his Irish roots go all the way back to the Famine, explaining that his relatives hail from Kilkenny. His grandfather, James Ryan arrived in the United States in 1851, in search of the American dream.

Ryan identifies as Irish-American and even has a Kilkenny GAA jersey hanging in his office.

Clearly proud of his ancestry, he showed it off to Minister Charlie Flanagan when he visited Capitol Hill last year, and just recently, the Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghail paid him a visit.

Last year, Ryan spoke about his fondness for Ireland, stating that “he loved” St Patrick’s Day.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Revelling in the 2017 celebrations – the first of the Trump administration’s – he paid particular homage to the black stuff at the Capitol Hill luncheon with President Trump and the Taoiseach (former US Press Secretary Sean Spicer was also in attendance, as was Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams).

While Varadkar will be spending a lot of time with the two Republicans, he will also meet with many Democrats.

The undocumented Irish is always a talking point during the St Patrick’s Day visit, but the Taoiseach is likely to discuss the stalemate in Northern Ireland, and the threat Brexit is posing to the Good Friday Agreement and the border.

It is also expected that a special envoy to Northern Ireland (committed to in recent weeks by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) will be announced, with speculation that a new US ambassador to Ireland will also be announced.

TheJournal.ie’s political reporter Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Leo Varadkar’s visit to Washington this week, including his meeting with US President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Stay up-to-date by following @ChristinaFinn8@TJ_Politics  and TheJournal.ie’s Facebook page

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