WASHINGTON -- The Obamas couldn't bring the Chicago River to Washington for St. Patrick's Day, so they did the next best thing: they dyed White House fountains' water green.
It's the first time the water in the White House fountains on the north and south lawns has been dyed, spokeswoman Katie McCormick Lelyveld said. The green hue will stay until the dye runs out.
White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers said she and the first lady discussed turning the fountain green, and Michelle Obama liked the idea.
"Coming from Chicago, we thought it would be a great way to pull the two towns together," she said. "In Chicago we annually dye the Chicago River green, so why not the White House fountain?"
Washington doesn't have the same Irish roots as Chicago, DCist notes, so the District usually just has its well-attended parade and the usual drunken revelry at bars and restaurants.
Meanwhile President Barack Obama saluted strong U.S.-Irish ties in a warm welcome for Ireland's leaders and turned to a critical campaign backer, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, to fill the post of U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
A lifelong Republican, Rooney endorsed Obama during Pennsylvania's contentious Democratic primary last year and campaigned for him throughout the election. The president returned the favor by nominating him to the ambassador post, a move that had been the subject of almost fever-pitch speculation in Irish circles in recent days.
"I am honored and grateful that such a dedicated and accomplished individual has agreed to serve as the representative of the United States to the Irish people. Dan Rooney is an unwavering supporter of Irish peace, culture and education," Obama said in a statement.
The president took part in a shamrock ceremony at the White House, and then was meeting with Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, in a less high-profile gathering in his national security adviser's office.
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Administration aides have singled out Prime Minister Brian Cowen, Robinson and McGuinness as leaders who have resisted partisan reactions to a series of killings in Northern Ireland that threatens a decade's break in violence.
Two soldiers were fatally shot on March 7 and a policeman murdered two days later. Washington condemned the deaths as senseless acts of political obstruction aimed at destroying the stability in Northern Ireland and supported leaders who urged restraint.
Obama said it was no surprise that the opponents of a peace would try to undo it.
"The real question was this: When tested, how would the people of Northern Ireland respond?" Obama said in one of his appearances with Cowen. "And now we know the answer. They responded heroically. They and their leaders on both sides have condemned this violence and refrained from the old partisan impulses."
Obama and the Irish leaders were attending a Capitol Hill luncheon celebrating the holiday. Then the Irish guests were invited back to the White House for a cocktail reception Tuesday night that the new president's aides say will be equal parts diplomacy and revelry.
Obama told Cowen that it was great he was visiting the Oval Office, but it was too bad he was missing the Irish parade in Chicago, Obama's hometown. He called it "one of the great events in America."
Both Obama and Cowen also made a point to characterize the U.S.-Irish relationship as one of substance in bilateral and global affairs.
"It is a great day for the Irish in America today," Cowen said.
For the evening event at the White House, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon from Northern Ireland was to be featured. The White House also invited Maggie McCarthy, a traditional Irish dancer and musician from Cork, and vocal group Celtic Thunder. The Shannon Rovers, the official pipe band of Chicago's St. Patrick's Day festival, also were set to perform.