Today, Speaker Ryan hosted President Obama and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny at his first Friends of Ireland luncheon, a tradition dating back to 1983 that signifies America’s bipartisan commitment to peace and security in Ireland. Below are Speaker Ryan’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you all very much. I want to welcome you to the Capitol. I’ve been going to this luncheon for many years now. So it’s a real honor to be the host this time around.
“I’ve always taken a special pride in my Irish roots. My family comes from Graiguenamanagh in County Kilkenny. My wife and I took our kids there last year. And we went to one of the homesteads that my ancestors farmed.
“We also looked into my wife’s Irish roots. It turns out she’s descended from the Butlers, who lived in Kilkenny Castle, and my ancestors were the serfs who served them.
“I told my wife, ‘It’s funny how history keeps repeating itself.’
“‘Why yes it is,’ she told me, ‘and I don’t mind repeating it.’
“I’m also glad to welcome our two special guests, an Taoiseach and the President. One of them is the leader of a great nation with whom I share an ethnic heritage. The other is the prime minister of Ireland.
“Yes, you might not know it, but the president, like me, is of Irish descent. Then again, you probably should know it—because he mentions it every year.
“And yet for all this Irish blood between us, we don’t seem to have the luck that should go with it. I was astonished to learn that the Irish economy grew last year by an amazing 7 percent.
“So I asked an Taoiseach, ‘Enda, what’s your secret? Lower taxes? Better policies?’
“He told me, ‘No, better Guinness.’
"Anyway, we got to swapping stories. And I told him about our trip to Graiguenamanagh. While we were there, we walked through a graveyard where our ancestors were buried. And as we were walking, we came across a headstone with the inscription, ‘Here lies a politician and an honest man.’
“And my son said, ‘Wow. I wonder how they got the two of them in one grave.’
“There was also a big event to welcome our family. And dozens of people came to see it. Well, my cousin William O’Shea drove there, and he couldn’t find a parking spot. Finally, he got so frustrated that he prayed, ‘Lord, if you open a space up for me, I swear I’ll give up drinking me whiskey, and I promise to go to church every Sunday.’
“Suddenly, the clouds parted, and the sun shone on an empty parking spot. Without hesitation, he said, ‘Never mind, I found one.’
“If I could be serious for just a moment, I would say that the Irish have long been known as great storytellers. And I don’t think it’s an accident that some of our best presidents have been too.
“Storytelling is an act of defiance. It is a way of pushing back against the boredom, the tedium, the tragedy of life. It is how Lincoln fought off his sadness—how Reagan chased away his loneliness. And perhaps it is fitting that Kennedy, our first Irish Catholic president, was known for a sense of irony. If you ask me, it requires a certain detachment—a clear-eyed view of the world—to stare into the rush of events and see the joy in life.
“It seems to me what sharpened the Irish people’s keen sense of humor was many years of hardship. Irish jokes, of course, are based on Irish stereotypes—stereotypes I frequently heard about from my family elders—and they were not always told in good fun. But the Irish did not reject them. Instead, the Irish embraced them. They took what was meant as a badge of shame and turned it into a badge of honor. It was a brilliant turn—and a defiant one.
“The Irish are not the only people who have done this. Our country is full of them. But the Irish did it with such genius, such stamina, such undeniable dignity that they will always have our admiration. There will always be a special kinship between our two countries.
“And that is why we are here today: to show that admiration and to celebrate that kinship. It is an act of defiance to poke fun at your opponents . . . and then to break bread with them. It is going against the odds to work with your opponents . . . to joke with them . . . to pray with them.
“So I’d like to raise a toast to both of our two countries. May we continue to grow in friendship. And may the people of Ireland forever stand proud, defiant, and free. Thank you. Sláinte!”