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Bowl of shamrock for the president: The St. Patrick’s Day tradition between Ireland and the US

Relations between the two nations have always been strong but grew closer on the holiday thanks to a presidential gift in the 1950s.

Revellers attend the St Patrick's Day Parade on March 17, 2023 in Dublin, Ireland. 17th March is the feast day of Saint Patrick commemorating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.
Charles McQuillanGetty

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a national holiday in Ireland and a celebration of Irish-Americans across the pond. For President Joe Biden there is the added significance of his family heritage being Irish.

As symbols of Ireland go, the shamrock stands out as the most famous. The three-leafed plant is also inextricably linked to St. Patrick; it is said that he used the flower as an example to demonstrate the Christian Holy Trinity.

One of the most famous Paddy’s Day traditions, in terms of diplomacy is actually borne out of a wartime disagreement. The shamrock bowl gift has endured in the following six decades.

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The Second World War, diplomatic isolation, and shamrocks

During the Second World War, Ireland remained neutral for the entirety of the conflict despite immense pressure from the US and Britain. This diplomatic position damaged relations between the nations, something that needed to be remedied after the triumphant Allies set about rebuilding Europe.

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, made his feelings known in his speech on Victory in Europe Day, “We never laid a violent hand upon [Ireland], which at times would have been quite easy and quite natural.”

To repair relations, Irish Ambassador to the US John Hearne gave President Harry Truman a bowl of shamrocks in 1952. The move was a success as Truman sent a message hoping that, “relations between the two countries will continue to be on a good and effective level for generations.”

Since then, the taoiseach, or prime minister, of Ireland makes a visit to the States every March. The shamrocks are often accompanied by a crystal glass bowl crafted at the Waterford glass factories.