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In Washington, everybody seems to claim ties to Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, even politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is famously Italian-American. Pelosi, with self-deprecating humor, told the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon on Capitol Hill that her ties are through grandchildren of Irish-American descent.

But many politicians’ ties are much less tenuous. After waves of Irish immigration to the United States, some 36 million Americans report some Irish ancestry. Nine of the past 10 U.S. presidents have been at least partly of Irish descent, according to the Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies. The only exception? Gerald Ford. NOT the man who would appear the least likely to have Irish forebears, President Barack Obama.

Obama has to look way, way back on his mother’s side of the family to locate his Irish roots, but they are there.

“Today is a day we speak with pride of being Irish-American — whether we actually are or not,” Obama said at the lunch, which he attended with Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, Brian Cowen.  “I am pleased to say that I can actually get away with it, and I’ve got the  Taoiseach here to vouch for me.  Prime Minister Cowen was born in County Offaly, and I can trace my ancestry on my mother’s side there as well.  I believe it was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather,” Obama said, to laughter.

“This is true,” he insisted, to more laughter. “He was a boot maker, if I’m not mistaken.”