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Irish roots: Mike Pence and Paul Ryan to entertain the Taoiseach during shamrock trip

The Taoiseach is on a whirlwind tour of the east coast of America for St Patrick’s Day.

pjimage (28) Source: Press Association

I’m Irish. No, really. I am.

IT’S SOMETHING EVERY Irish person has heard said in an American accent at one time or another.

But if US Vice-President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan utter these words to the Taoiseach during this week’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, they won’t have to delve too far into their ancestry to prove it.

Enda Kenny is on a whirlwind trip of the east coast of America this week (with some calling it the farewell tour – he has indicated he will outline a timeline for his departure as Fine Gael leader after 17 March).

While in the US, he is visiting Boston, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Washington and New York.

He’ll be meeting many high-powered American politicians on his travels, such as those mentioned above, as well as US President Donald Trump (of course) and a handful of governors and business people.

Irish roots 

Just like his predecessor Joe Biden, former US congressman and governor of Indiana Mike Pence is central to this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Obama US Ireland St.Patrick's Day luncheon with House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2016. Source: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

He is the 2017 guest of honour at the American Ireland Fund Gala in Washington DC (which commands $1,000 dollars a seat).

He will also be hosting a special breakfast for the Taoiseach at his residence on 16 March (the day Trump will be presented with the traditional bowl of shamrock).

Obama President Barack Obama and Taoiseach Enda Kenny hold up a bowl of shamrocks during a reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington in 2015. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Kenny had high praise for the vice-president last year on Twitter, something he was widely criticised for:

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

Pence’s 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.

The vice-president has returned to his ancestral home on many occasions over the years.

In 2009, he told the Irish Voice newspaper how he remembers spending summers in Ireland, cutting turf and saving hay in Clare and Sligo.

Irish Central reports that Pence also has relatives in Doonbeg in Clare and last visited with his family in 2013, showing up in Morrisey’s Pub on one occasion.

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

Obama St. Patrick's Day Source: AP/Press Association Images

Hailing from Kilkenny

While Pence is to be guest of honour at Wednesday’s gala dinner in the National Building Museum, the Taoiseach will also meet House Speaker Paul Ryan while in Washington.

Irish Central reports that 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 Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan only last month.

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, writes Niall O’Dowd of Irish Central.

What will they talk about? 

The undocumented Irish is top of Kenny’s list of talking points during his visit.

With his Irish ancestry, Pence has a history of getting involved in immigration issues.

He was criticised by some Republicans in the past for meeting with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) during the immigration bill battle in 2009.

Whether he will discuss the issue with the Taoiseach – risking the same ire again – is yet to be seen.

The day the Taoiseach is due to meet Trump also happens to be the day the US president’s revised travel ban comes into effect.

The executive order bans entry visas from six Muslim-majority countries: Libya, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Kenny told TheJournal.ie that he will raise the issue with both Trump and Pence.

When his running mate first floated the idea during his campaign, Pence called the proposed ban on Muslims entering the US “offensive and unconstitutional”.

However, the vice-president has since defended Trump’s stance on the issue.

Flanagan has also raised the issue of Irish immigration with Ryan while on a recent visit to the US.

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

The guest speaker at the American Ireland Fund dinner is Senator George Mitchell – a man who was instrumental in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Taoiseach began his Stateside visit over the weekend, setting down in Philadelphia.

Obama St. Patrick's Day Guests crowd the East Room of the White House during St Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House in 2011. Source: AP/Press Association Images

He attended the city’s 247th St Patrick’s Day parade, and a reception a hosted by GAA, the Brehon, Law Society, Irish American Business Chamber and the Immigration Centre.

While in Philadelphia, Kenny announced that a referendum would be held to extend voting rights in the Irish presidential election to Irish citizens living outside the State.

Kenny is meeting with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker today, before making an appearance at a reception to mark the 100th anniversary of US President John F Kennedy’s birth in the JFK Library at Columbia Point, in Boston.

Tomorrow, he will enjoy an early business breakfast for the Boston College-Ireland Business Council Club, before stopping by  visiting TF Green Airport to mark the commencement of new transatlantic routes operated by Norwegian Airlines.

The Taoiseach will make his way to Washington DC on Wednesday.

TheJournal.ie’s political reporter Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Enda Kenny’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

Read: Donald Trump’s St. Patrick’s Day hat has been pulled from his website>

Read: Taoiseach says he will raise the new travel ban with Trump when he visits the White House>

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