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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                             The East Room

8:50 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Welcome to the White House. I want to join Hillary and thanking our entertainers. I welcome you, Taoiseach, and all the members of your government and your entourage and all of our guests from Ireland and Northern Ireland, the Members of Congress who are here. I want to thank the members of the British government who are here -- Peter Mandelson and British Ambassador Christopher Meyer; Sean O'hUiginn, your Ambassador here and Brian Cowen, the Irish Foreign Minister and all the government.

And I want to thank our Ambassadors to Ireland, Governor Mike Sullivan and to Great Britain Phil Lader, and our former Irish Ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith, is here with a fair measure of her family we welcome here. (Applause.)

I want to say that I do love Seamus Heaney's poetry and I love what he quoted that I quoted. I actually wrote a book in 1996, and cribbed his words -- "of hope and history." But you know, he's done better than having me quote his lines. He's done better than winning the Nobel Prize. He's actually managed to make Beowulf interesting. (Laughter.) And in honor of that, if we don't get this mess straightened out pretty soon, I may appoint you to succeed George Mitchell. (Laughter.) Anybody that can make Beowulf interesting is my guy. (Laughter and applause.)

I also want to join others in thanking my great friend, Senator George Mitchell, for the magnificent work he has done. (Applause.) I want to thank all those who met with me today, from the various parties in Northern Ireland, for saying that you would continue the search for peace.

I was thinking when Hillary said that I was singing "Danny Boy," which was rude, I realize, but I couldn't control myself. (Laughter.) I'm one of the few Americans that knows all the words to the second verse. (Laughter.)

MRS. CLINTON: Shall we sing it?

THE PRESIDENT: And I believe the second verse is more beautiful than the first, and, really, the mark of a life well lived, if someone you really loved would kneel at your grave and tell you that they loved you. And so I thank you, sir, for that gift tonight.

And I was thinking -- just one other thing. I have nothing to add to what I said last night, and most of you were at the American Ireland Fund Dinner. But the lines from The Cure at Troy, which Seamus read, are far more remarkable when you fully understand their context. The man who is saying that -- the chorus is singing this chant, "hope for a great sea change on the far side of revenge," believe in cures and miracles and healing wells. They're saying that about Philoctetes, who was a Greek in the Trojan wars, who was very important to the military efforts of Ulysses because he had a magic bow. And legend had it that the gods always blessed Philoctetes and whenever he brought his magic bow into play, the Greeks always won.

But after a battle in which he was badly wounded in the leg, he was dumped, unceremoniously, on a godforsaken piece of rock in the Aegean and abandoned for a decade, where his foot rotted into a stump, he never saw another living human being. He turned into a virtual feral beast. And then, Ulysses came up with this great idea that they could finally win the Trojan War if they made this big horse and filled it full of soldiers and made it look like an act of friendship, and then they would trick the Trojans and win the war, but he was sent the message that he couldn't win without Philoctetes.

So he said, after I stuffed this guy on this island and left him to die, and I thought he was dead and now I know he's living, how in the wide world will I ever get him to come and do anything for me again? So he takes a young guy and he goes to the island and the young guy goes up and starts talking to Philoctetes. That's what this whole play is about.

And he basically pretends to be someone else and finally, Ulysses realizes he's never going to get the guy off until he goes out and fesses up. So he goes up and tells him who he is, what he did, and he just says, I have to ask you to come with me. I cannot do this without you.

And against all the odds, Philoctetes forgives him, limps down to the boat with his bow, sails off into the Aegean and the rest is history. But the important thing you need to know is, after this beautiful chorus which Seamus read, as he is sailing away from this island where he spent 10 years all alone, finding within himself not hatred, but the strength to love a man who had abandoned him, he looks back at the island and says, "It was a fortunate wind that blew me here."

When Nelson Mandela -- we have the Ambassador from South Africa here -- when he took me to Robben Island, that's all I could think of. After 27 godforsaken years, it was a fortunate wind that blew him there. And to all of you on this, my last St. Patrick's Day, it was a fortunate wind that blew me into your presence. (Applause.)

But for all of that, I kept thinking to myself as the children were up here playing their bells so beautifully, that this whole thing really has to be about them. And we can compliment each other from now until the end of our lives, with all of our beautiful words and all of our warm memories. But unless the wind blows all of us toward final peace, we will have let them down. And all of our poetry will have fallen on deaf ears.

So on this St. Patrick's Day, let us remember, if we have the eloquence of Seamus and the heart of Philoctetes and the goodness of St. Patrick, we can do what we were meant to do i this fleeting life.

Thank you, and God bless you all. (Applause.)

Now, I want to ask our most distinguished guest to say a few words, but before I bring the Taoiseach up, let me tell you this: I have worked with two of his predecessors. I liked them both very much. They wanted very much to make peace. They did everything that could reasonably have been expected of them. But this man is very special. And everybody involved in this process knows it. And if we make it, it will be in no small measure due to the heroic and wise efforts of Bertie Ahearn. Taoiseach.

PRIME MINISTER AHERN: President and First Lady -- can say, first of all, thanks and Ambassadors, my colleagues, Brian Cowan, Liz O'Donnell, to Peter Mandelson, to all of the leaders from Northern Ireland. I think they're all here. Again, I thank them for all of the work that they've done here in the last few days.

I just want to say a few words tonight. Sorry about my friends that I gave the invitations to, by the way, outside. (Laughter.) I tried to convince the President and the First Lady not to open the bar until after the speeches, but -- (laughter and applause) -- anyway, having said that, I was more worried about what we were going to do for a hall next year. But anyway -- (laughter and applause) -- anyway, it's been great for the last number of years and we won't even think into the future. I think we can just celebrate tonight. And I think on behalf of all of the Irish people here, Irish-American people and friends and -- Celia and I would like to thank you, President, First Lady and Chelsea, for the opportunity of being here again, and I want to thank you for the amazing hospitality, courtesy, generosity, friendship that you've given to all of the Irish people for the last eight years. (Applause.)

I think, though, the three years I've been here, it's just every time been packed and packed and know so many people here tonight from Ireland that never thought they would see the day or ever thought they would dream of an opportunity of seeing the inside of the White House, not to mind having the run of the place for half of the evening. (Laughter and applause.)

We used to think it was all this Secret Service and protocol, and then we just come in and we nearly wreck the place. (Laughter.) I have a funny feeling, folks, that we better enjoy it, because I'm not too sure we'll ever see it again, but -- (laughter) -- we do appreciate it, and we really do enjoy it. I'm not too sure how we can ever say thanks enough.

I was looking out at how many hundreds are here, and I was just thinking if we could be helpful to the First Lady, but I'm not sure which when she might ever need us, but -- (applause) -- anyway, have a try at that too. If President, you've been remarkable to us, and last night -- and I don't want to repeat what I said, but when I think of all the visit in the different capacities I've had as Minister of Finance and leader of the opposition. As Taoiseach, I've had an opportunity to meet you here, to meet you in Dublin, to meet you in Limerick, to see you in Northern Ireland and in Armagh, and in Omagh and in Belfast, to see you work so much of the country and meet people from everywhere, and all of the separate visits, which I want nobody to forget that the First Lady made where I had an opportunity in her own right of -- where she was in Galway with Celia and universities and where she made so many visits to Dublin.

There's hours and hours of time and I was at the meeting this morning with Madeleine Albright, and with Brian and Liz, and we were just, for a short period, which we much appreciated at the time and the breakfast on St. Patrick's Day, and just listening to all of the problems of the world, the Middle East and the problems of India and Pakistan where the President goes tomorrow, dealing with the difficulties of Kashmir and -- situation, and where we know in Ireland where our own troops have been in Southern Lebanon for 23 years and the difficulties of East Timor, which is very familiar to Ireland. And you know, hosts and hosts of other problems.

And then we think and we often say this, President, back at the Cabinet table, not only at the Cabinet, but in the House and the Senate, here we are out in the Atlantic, five million or so of us, not particularly otherwise high on the agenda of the world, and we get so much of the time of the President of the United States and the First Lady. We should never forget that. (Applause.)

I think as this presidency will -- it's not a long way until the end of the year yet, and as far as we're concerned, a lot will happen in Ireland between then, but we should never, ever forget into the future how good the President and the First Lady and the administration have been to us. We were up there with the big issues of the world, and we're extremely grateful for that.

As we move on to this year, I think we've one favor that we could do the President and the First Lady and everybody here in the White House. And that's difficult enough for us. It's sure not impossible, and I think we concentrate our minds and I think everything we've heard here in the last few days, sure, we've differences, difficulties, sure there's diversities in the points of view. But isn't the President right when he said, is it worth losing any more lives? Is it worth any more harassment? Is it worth any more of the difficulties that we've had for the better part of 800 years?

Wouldn't it be easier, no matter how difficult, that if this generation of us were to sit down and really concentrate our minds on the few last desperately hard issues, but to try to do it so that during this presidency of the United States and during this generation of the leadership that all of us are honored to do to our people, north and south, unionists, loyalists, nationalists, republicans, all of us of different traditions but on the same bit of land space, that if we were to take the advice that has been given to us by a lot of people and all of the assistance that's been given and finish this, I hope, President, that long, long before you and the First Lady leave this magnificent house that you have been so kind to us, that we'll do that for ourselves and for future generations, and especially for you, because you've really helped us and you deserve it. Thank you, President. (Applause.)