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Irish President Sean T. O’Kelly Addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress

March 18, 1959
Irish President Sean T. O’Kelly Addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress Image courtesy of the Irish Embassy The President of the Republic of Ireland, Sean T. O’Kelly, became the first elected representative of the Republic of Ireland to address a Joint Meeting of Congress.
On this date, the President of the Republic of Ireland, Sean T. O’Kelly, became the first elected representative of the Republic of Ireland to address a Joint Meeting of Congress. A day earlier, President Dwight D. Eisenhower wore a green necktie when he greeted O’Kelly at National Airport. The two Presidents were applauded by onlookers as they traveled the St. Patrick’s Day parade route through the streets of Washington, DC. At noon on March 18, an enthusiastic crowd welcomed O’Kelly to the House Chamber. Admission to the gallery required a special green ticket, and notable guests included President Eisenhower’s Cabinet, Chief Justice Earl Warren and the entire Supreme Court, and assorted ambassadors and other officials from foreign governments. Members arrived in the chamber wearing green carnations on their lapels, and Representative John Francis Shelley of California pinned one on President O’Kelly. “Applause thundered through the hall” when O’Kelly entered the House Chamber, wrote the Boston Globe, and “Capitol officials of long standing said they had never seen anything like it.” In his brief introductory remarks, Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas declared that it was “a high privilege to present to you the representative of a great and a proud people, a people who have fought for freedom and liberty the world around.” The 76-year-old O’Kelly reflected on the history of “enduring friendship and close kinship” between the people of the United States and Ireland. O’Kelly told his hosts of the warm welcome given to Benjamin Franklin during a 1771 visit to the Irish Parliament in Dublin and praised those of Irish descent who contributed to the American Revolution. He also recalled the 1880 reception held for Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell, who addressed the House concerning the poverty and hunger then afflicting his nation under British rule. For O’Kelly, the United States “continued to symbolize for Ireland the freedom toward which our people never ceased to aspire.” The “sympathy and understanding of our American friends,” he added, “helped us, and still helps us, toward the goal for which we have always striven: Ireland united and free.”

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