It's Easy Being Green: Obama & Biden Get Their Irish On | NBC New York

It's Easy Being Green: Obama & Biden Get Their Irish On

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    Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen presents President Barack Obama with a bowl of shamrock during the annual shamrock ceremony at the White House March 17.

    They may only be a fraction Irish but today President Barack Obama and veep Joe Biden are fully embracing their Celtic roots.

    Obama, whose great-great grandfather hailed from the Emerald Isle, is hosting two lavish St. Patrick's Day bashes in Washington, D.C., to ring in the holiday.

    He started the day on a serious note, hosting bilateral talks along with Joe Biden and leaders from Ireland and Northern Ireland to discuss the recent violence that erupted in Northern Ireland, which threatens a decade of peace in the region.

    The president's affinity for the Irish bubbled over.

    "This is an affirmation between one of the strongest bonds between peoples that exists in the world," Obama said as he met in the Oval Office with the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen.

    Obama joked about his Irish ancestry with Cowen.

    "We may be cousins," he said. "We haven't sorted that through yet."

    To remind the president of his roots, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen planned to hand-deliver a photograph to Obama along with parish records from the church where his ancestors were baptized ahead of the St. Patrick's Day blowouts, the Belfast Telegraph reported

    Obama also named Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney to be the U.S. ambassador to Ireland. The 76-year-old Republican is the recipient of the American Ireland Fund's lifetime achievement award and endorsed Obama during the Democratic primary.

    But later in the day, President Obama will likely lift a pint or two in celebration as he hosts more than 400 guests at the White House for the extravagant St. Patrick's Day parties.

    Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon from Northern Ireland was expected to attend the gala and Maggie McCarthy, a traditional Irish dancer and musician from Cork, and vocal group Celtic Thunder were also invited.

    Even the water in the fountains outside the White House have been dyed green -- the first time the fountains on the White House grounds would bubble green water for the holiday. Michelle Obama is said to have come up with the idea.

    "It turns out I have Irish heritage," Obama said during a St. Patrick's Day dinner in Scranton, Pa., last year. "It never hurts to be a little Irish when you're running for president of the United States." 

    The president's great-great grandfather lived as a shoemaker in a small Irish town an hour west of Dublin until he emigrated to America in 1850 -- which makes Obama 3.1 percent Irish.

    "He's as much Irish as he is Kenyan," Irish American Democrats President Stella O'Leary told Politico last week. "He's been very wrapped up in his African-American heritage. But we will welcome him with open arms." 

    Coincidentally, Joe Biden's relatives were also shoemakers -- though they hailed from separate counties and the vice president's family emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1949, the DC Examiner reported.

    A historian refused to rule out the possibility that the two political powerhouses didn't have a distant relative in common.

    "They come from slightly different parts of the country," Ancestry.com chief historian Megan Smolenyak told the Examiner. "And the surnames don't match up. But never say never."