The Fine Gael leader arrived in Manhattan yesterday after a couple of days in the midwest where he met officials in Chicago, including mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as members of the Irish-American community before helping to lead the city’s parade on Saturday.
The Irish delegation then travelled to South Bend, Indiana, where Mr Kenny gave an address at Notre Dame University. He described his first visit to the storied Catholic institution as a “rare honour”, adding that he viewed it as one of the “great centres of faith and learning” in the US.
Central to the order of business was awarding Irish citizenship to Notre Dame’s legendary former president, Father Ted Hesburgh, 95, who was a vocal figure during the US civil rights movement. He was also credited with transforming the college into a prominent academic body as it strove to match its sporting achievements after World War II.
Mr Kenny paid tribute to Fr Hesburgh, who was at the helm for 35 years from 1952, describing him as a “man with a quality of mercy, compassion, insight, courage and empathy”.
“By building this great Catholic university here in South Bend, by working at the coalface of the great social issues of the 1960s and 1970s here in the US, by using his considerable motivational and leadership powers he achieved so much,” said Mr Kenny. “And this is the spirit that Ireland is using today, that determination to succeed, to innovate, to imagine, the spirit of the Fighting Irish.”
There was gratitude too for the decision to bring the Notre Dame football team — still a huge draw across the US during the autumn season — to the Aviva Stadium for a clash with Navy.
“I’m told that quantum mechanics are involved in getting the band alone to Ireland,” Mr Kenny joked.
After a day off in New York yesterday, the Taoiseach is due to speak at an Ireland Day event in the New York Stock Exchange this morning before ringing the opening bell and meeting traders on the floor.
He will travel on to Washington DC for the final leg of his US visit, getting started at the Andrews Air Force Base just after midday before departing for a number of afternoon engagements. Included is a lunch with business leaders, an Enterprise Ireland Seminar on energy and an event organised by Science Foundation Ireland.
Tomorrow’s itinerary begins with breakfast at the Naval Observatory, the official residence of vice-president Joe Biden and continues with a mid-morning bilateral Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama.
Irish ambassador to the US, Michael Collins, will hold a reception at the White House tomorrow night, an event hosted by President Obama.