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Cowen brushes off gloom to paint the town green at Obama's St Paddy shindig

BREAKFAST with the Bidens, lunch with the Obamas, and a St Patrick's Day hoolie in the White House should take Taoiseach Brian Cowen's mind off the troubles of home.

Thousands of miles from yet another church scandal, another hospital outrage and an increasingly gloomy economy, Biffo will this evening enjoy a few St Patrick's Day tipples as the toast of Washington DC.

Mr Cowen twice met President Barack Obama during the traditional "greening" of the White House in Washington DC today during a busy St Paddy's Day schedule.

The Taoiseach, who yesterday announced that actor Gabriel Byrne will be Ireland's new Cultural Ambassador for Ireland in the US, first met the President for a "bilateral meeting" in the White House this morning.

In a break from the usual tradition, the handing over the shamrock took place during an evening reception in the White House hosted by the President and Michelle Obama.

Those attending the party included golfer Padraig Harrington, boxer Katie Taylor and Ministers Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin.

In the first engagement of the day, Mr Cowen and his wife, Mary, joined US Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, for a special St Patrick's Day breakfast at the Vice President's official residence.

Later, Mr Cowen went to the White House to meet the President and the two of them then travelled to Capitol Hill for the St Patrick's Day lunch hosted by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

This evening, the President and Mrs Obama will host the White House party in honour of the Taoiseach and his wife.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said he was "very pleased" that Golden Globe winning actor, Gabriel Byrne had agreed to take on his new role.

He also announced that Culture Ireland will organise an ambitious season of Irish arts in the United States in 2011.

Gabriel Byrne said: "We need to redefine the kind of Ireland we want to present and then interlink that vision with the economy. It's about connecting the diaspora."

Yesterday, the Taoiseach also paid tribute to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a gala American Ireland Fund dinner.

"We in Ireland have been fortunate to count her as a true friend over many years," he said. "I know that you also got some sense of the affection in which you are held in Ireland when you walked down Grafton Street and were surrounded by so many well wishers."

Mrs Clinton said she would be in Ireland for St Patrick's Day.

"I actually hope to spend about an hour in Shannon tomorrow celebrating St Patrick's Day en route to Moscow, " she told the media in Washington DC.

She also said that President Obama would love to come to Ireland.

"He has a very full domestic policy agenda which he is chipping away at and making progress on. But believe me, Ireland is near the top of the list," she said.

She met Micheal Martin yesterday and the ongoing issue of the 40,000 undocumented Irish was raised with her.

"I can only say that President Obama is understands very much the importance of comprehensive immigration reform," she said.