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Historical Highlights

The Origins of the St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon

March 17, 1983
The Origins of the St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon Image courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office Though often political adversaries, Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill and President Ronald W. Reagan share a light moment at the 1983 inaugural St. Patrick's Day lunch.
Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill of Massachusetts hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day lunch. President Ronald W. Reagan and other House and Senate Members attended the event. The House arranged the festivities to ease tension between the two Irish-American leaders, who embodied distinctive conservative and liberal political persuasions. By excluding the press for most of the event, O’Neill fostered the feel of an informal bipartisan celebration rather than a political summit. “I’m going to cook you some Boston corned beef and I’m going to have an Irish storyteller there,” O’Neill promised Reagan. “I’ll have to polish up some new Irish jokes,” the President quipped. The luncheon became an annual event on Capitol Hill for people of all political affiliations and ethnicities. It did not, however, mark the first celebration of St. Patrick’s Day at the Capitol. In 1884, Members donned green ribbons—distributed on the floor by Representative John O’Neill of Missouri—in honor of the Irish holiday.

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