Ireland’s first ambassador to the US to be honoured

John Hearne began tradition of presenting a bowl of shamrock to the White House

Ireland’s first ambassador to the US is to be honoured at a ceremony on Tuesday in Washington.

During John Hearne's decade in the role he began the tradition of presenting a bowl of shamrock to the White House on St Patrick's Day. Before that, he worked as a civil servant in the department of external affairs and was credited by Eamon de Valera as the chief architect of the 1937 Constitution which the ceremony will also recognise.

Hearne took up the ambassador post in 1950 when Ireland was in a difficult position on the international stage according to his biographer, Waterford historian Eugene Broderick. "We had been neutral in the second World War and to some extent he was trying to explain a policy that really didn't go down well with a lot of people. We kind of think that when John F Kennedy came to the White House that Ireland was very well got – it wasn't though. People couldn't really understand the policy from an Irish perspective, and Hearne had to make sure that communication lines were kept open and Ireland's cause could be served through soft diplomacy," he said.

Hearne had displayed imagination, Dr Broderick said, by seeing “an opportunity to establish a calling a card to the White House with the bowl of shamrock”.


The event will hold several connections to Hearne's home county of Waterford, where he was born in 1893. Its host, the Ambassador to the US Dan Mulhall is also a Waterford native and together with the Mayor of Waterford City and County will unveil a bust of the late diplomat designed by sculptor Liz O'Kane. A group from the Waterford Museum of Treasures, as well as members of Hearne's family will be travelling from Dublin, Switzerland and New York to the ceremony at the Irish Ambassador's residence in Washington.