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Sunday 25 February 2018

White House bowled over by gift of friendship that's lasted six decades

Caroline Crawford and Fergus Black

IT all started when a seasoned Irish diplomat sent a small box of shamrock to US President Harry Truman.

More than 60 years later, that gesture by Ireland's ambassador to the US John Hearne in 1952 has grown into one of the biggest parties at the White House with the celebration of the traditional Shamrock ceremony.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will continue the tradition when he presents a bowl of shamrock to President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday.

To mark the build-up to the annual event, 'St Patrick's Day at the White House', an eight-minute promotional video and photo gallery charting the history of the ceremony has been produced by the US embassy in Dublin.

It features photos of former Taoisigh, including Dr Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey, John Bruton, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny, handing over shamrock at the White House.

The build-up to the St Patrick's Day celebrations comes as an Irish potter was left speechless after her work was chosen as a gift to be presented to Michelle Obama at the White House.

Mary Staunton, from Kylemore, Co Galway, has spent over 35 years handcrafting Irish pottery.

"It's so exciting, I'm absolutely thrilled. I had heard some rumours but I only officially heard about it this week, it's just wonderful," she said.

The hamper will include six mugs, a milk jug and sugar bowl, all handcrafted and carrying the famous Fuchsia design of the Kylemore pottery.

While Ms Staunton has crafted thousands of pieces that have sold around the world, she admits that the newest owner of the pieces is by far the most exciting.

"It's just amazing to think that it will be on Michelle Obama's table. I really couldn't believe it when I heard. I'm hoping that sales will skyrocket as a result," she said.

Ms Staunton, who works alone, was trained by a Benedictine nun Sr Agetha Martin in 1977 and has continued on the tradition ever since.

The potter works throughout the summer creating the pieces before taking the winter season off. She is due to return to work next week but is planning an earlier visit to inspect the pieces chosen from America's first family.

"I definitely want to see the pieces they've chosen before they go. I'll be inspecting them closely because I may not agree with their choice," she said.

A spokesman for Kylemore Abbey said they were delighted the pottery had been chosen to be presented to the First Lady.

"We were asked to send some items to the Taoiseach's office and we were informed the pieces had been chosen.


"The pottery will represent the West," she said.

The pottery is a huge attraction with tourists who visit the Abbey and it is immediately recognisable all around the world.

"We constantly get people returning to Kylemore to pick up more pieces. Garret FitzGerald took a keen interest in it and used to buy pieces and I've even seen pictures of it in Enda Kenny's home," said Ms Staunton.

Irish Independent

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