President Joe Biden is set to host Ireland’s prime minister on Friday, after the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the longstanding St. Patrick’s Day meetup two years in a row.
Leo Varadkar, known as the taoiseach, and his partner, Matthew Barrett, will attend a breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. Then they will head to the U.S. Capitol for a lunch with congressional leaders and Biden before the two leaders convene.
The meeting with one of the top U.S. allies comes after Biden said he plans to visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland this year, the 25th anniversary of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord, which helped end sectarian violence that had raged for three decades over the issue of Northern Ireland unifying with Ireland or remaining part of the United Kingdom.
The agreement came under increasing stress following the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, but a recent agreement between the U.K. and the EU addresses some of the issues that arose around commerce and goods that cross the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The White House said the agreement, known as the Windsor Framework, is an important step in maintaining the peace accord.
Varadkar took over in December for a second term as part of a job-sharing deal made by the country’s centrist coalition government. The two leaders are also expected to discuss the continued support of Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion.
Varadkar is expected to present Biden with an engraved crystal bowl of shamrocks, a tradition that began in 1952. The shamrocks made it to the Oval Office last year even though then-prime minister Micheál Martin didn’t. He came down with COVID-19 at an event and had to join the meeting virtually while he isolated in the nearby Blair House, where world leaders often stay when they come to visit the White House. Their first annual meeting was virtual, too, because of the pandemic.
Biden will also host a reception for Varadkar later Friday at the White House, which was itself designed and built by an Irish-born man, James Hoban. He oversaw the initial construction, rebuilding after it was burned down and adding renovations until his death in 1831.
Biden, who often speaks of his Irish heritage and is fond of quoting Irish poets, declared March Irish-American heritage month. The White House is even dyeing the South Lawn fountain green. According to the Census Bureau, roughly 31.5 million U.S. residents claim Irish heritage, second only to German.
“Ireland and the United States are forever bound together by our people and our passion. Everything between us runs deep,” Biden said in his proclamation.
The St. Patrick’s Day tradition has evolved, much like the turkey pardon or the Easter egg roll, into an annual affair.
“That’s what’s wonderful about this history of the White House,” said Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association. “It’s laden with rich traditions that are cultural, not just from our own country.”