Emanuel invites Irish president to lead St. Patrick’s Day parade

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday talked culture and immigration reform with Irish President Michael Higgins and invited Higgins to return to Chicago to lead the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day parade and visit an Art Institute show on Ireland’s contribution to the arts.

Calling Chicago the “most western county of Ireland,” Emanuel welcomed Higgins “home.” The mayor noted that Higgins is the “eleventh Irish minister” to visit Chicago.

“At this rate, we’ll hit 55 million tourists to the city of Chicago one Irish minister at a time,” the mayor said.

The mayor reminded a gathering of Irish politicians and reporters from both Chicago and Ireland that Higgins last visited Chicago in 1966 while getting his degree in sociology at Indiana University. Higgins’ alma mater will honor him Saturday with its Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

“It’s slightly changed. Just a little. A couple new buildings, but you’ll feel right at home,” he said.

Higgins was one of Ireland’s first cultural ministers and the mayor said Friday’s City Hall meeting focused heavily on culture and the role it can play in the life and vibrancy of a city and its economy. They talked about ways to create more cultural exchanges between Chicago and Ireland.

“We’re gonna call an audible here. While he will be visiting the Art Institute on this visit, next year the Art Institute is having a show … on Ireland and its contribution to the art world. And I said that, if he came for St. Patty’s Day, we walk right by there and you and I could duck out and go see that show. And I invited him … to lead our parade as well as to come open the show at the Art Institute, which I will note is the No. 1 art museum in America and No. 3 worldwide,” Emanuel said.

Higgins, 73, jumped at the mayor’s invitation.

“Yes, it is a long, long time since I traveled by Greyhound bus to the Midwest in 1966. There are just a few changes. Relatively small ones,” he said.

Calling Chicago “the great melting pot that it is,” Higgins put in a plug for immigration reform, the subject of Emanuel’s latest trip to Washington earlier this week.

“I’m obviously concerned for, whatever the figure is,  be it 50,000 or whatever in the United States people [from Ireland] who have particular [immigration] difficulties that we were able to discuss in a very human way that affect families and that affect mobility, but above all else stand as obstacles to the fullest participation in the United States economy and society,” Higgins said.

“Yes, there are indeed as the mayor has said about 5,000 approximately of that 50,000 in the general Chicago area.”

After Saturday’s graduation ceremony in Bloomington, Ind., Higgins is scheduled to return to Chicago for a full schedule of events and visits to the Art Institute, Millennium Park and Misericordia Heart of Mercy.

Higgins’ trips also includes a Sunday mass at Gaelic Park, luncheons hosted by Chicago Sister Cities International and Notre Dame’s Keough-Naughton Institute of Irish Studies, a breakfast hosted by the Chicago Board of the American Ireland Fund and a luncheon address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

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