Shamrock reprise: Trump will meet Kenny at White House

Annual St Patrick’s Day tradition of presenting bowl of shamrock to continue in 2017

US president-elect Donald Trump has promised to continue the tradition of inviting the Taoiseach to the White House for the presentation of a bowl of shamrock on St Patrick's Day next year.

The practice began in modest fashion in 1952 when then Irish ambassador to Washington John Hearne dropped in a box of shamrock to president Harry S Truman, who, as it happened, wasn't there on the day.

Before that it had been customary to present boxes of shamrock to the cabinet, senators and members of US Congress.

After the initial White House presentation in 1952, the ceremony became more elaborate the following year when the shamrock was presented, in a cut glass bowl supplied free of charge by Waterford Glass, to newly elected president Dwight D Eisenhower.


A memo from chief of protocol at Iveagh House, Thomas Horan, to the secretary of the department of the taoiseach, Maurice Moynihan, in 1953 said the ambassador had not been instructed to make the presentation on behalf of the president of Ireland.

However, Eisenhower assumed it had been so made and sent a note of acknowledgement to then president Sean T O’Kelly.

Annual event

It was thus elevated to an annual event and in 1956, taoiseach John A Costello, on a visit to Washington, made the presentation in person to Eisenhower.

In 1959, President O’Kelly himself did the honours during an extended official visit to the US and had what was described as a very enjoyable dinner with Eisenhower.

During the 1960s the presentation reverted to a diplomatic event, with the ambassador of the day doing the needful.

It was not until Ronald Reagan became president of the US that the practice of the taoiseach going to Washington to present the bowl of shamrock and having an official meeting with the president became an annual event.

Garret FitzGerald was the first taoiseach invited to the White House by Reagan.

Successive presidents have continued the practice and all of the taoisigh since then – Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton, Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny – have made the annual St Patrick's Day pilgrimage to the White House.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times