A ‘Ronald Reagan’ St. Patrick’s Day

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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It’s St. Patrick’s Day, so I thought it would be fun to share with you the story of President Reagan’s surprise visit to Pat Troy’s Irish pub in Alexandria, Va.

The event, which occurred in 1988, was retold beautifully by Tom Purcell in 2003.

Here’s an excerpt:

When Troy was finished, he handed the president the microphone. The normally raucous crowd –remember, this was St. Patrick’s Day –became extraordinarily quiet. “They were spellbound,” said Troy. “I’ve never seen a large crowd that attentive in more than 20 years.”


Reagan spoke off the top of his head. He graciously thanked Troy for having him for lunch. He said it was his great surprise — that his advance men set it up, and he was thankful. He talked about his father, an Irishman.


“When I was a little boy, my father proudly told me that the Irish built the jails in this country,” he said, pausing expertly, “then proceeded to fill them.”


The crowd laughed heartily.


“You have to understand that for a man in my position, I’m a little leery about ethnic jokes,” he said. The crowd roared. “The only ones I can tell are Irish.”


He told a story about his visit to Ireland. He went to Castle Rock, the place where St. Patrick erected the first cross in Ireland.


“A young Irish guide took me to the cemetery and showed me an ancient tombstone there,” he said. “The inscription read: ‘Remember me as you pass by, for as are you are so once was I, and as I am you too will be, so be content to follow me.”


As Reagan paused, the crowd eagerly awaited his follow up.


“Then I looked below the inscription,” he said, “where someone scratched in these words: ‘To follow you I am content, I wish I knew which way you went.'”


The crowd roared loud and long, causing the president to deadpan to his advance men: “Why didn’t I find this place seven years ago?”

You can watch a video of it here.

Of course, Reagan’s connection to Ireland was deep.

As The Daily Beast recalled, in 1983 Reagan and Nancy

visited the ancestral home of the Reagan clan, Ballyporeen, where the proprietors of O’Farrell’s Pub had named a room, the Ronald Reagan Salon. Later they renamed the entire place after the president. In 2004, after Reagan’s death, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library purchased the bar and all its fixtures and had it shipped off to Simi Valley, California, where the Ronald Reagan pub now stands. Sadly, the pub’s draughts now flow with water, not beer.

“I believe that Ronald Reagan is looking down on us now, with a smile on his lips and that Irish twinkle in his eye,” said Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., the chairman of the board of trustees for the Reagan Library who was instrumental in moving the pub to Simi Valley.  Indeed…

Matt K. Lewis