Last night, the White House was green in all but name as it honored Irish President Mary Robinson.
More than 380 Irish Americans were invited to dine on the South Lawn at the largest state dinner of the Clinton administration and the last before the presidential election in November. There were so many names that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy grabbed a guest list from a reporter to study as he headed to the receiving line.
"Well, you can tell which ethnic group is the swing vote in this election," cracked Christopher Matthews, Washington bureau chief of the San Francisco Examiner.
The only guest too young to vote was Chelsea Clinton, officially attending her first state dinner and wearing a silver-blue sheath -- her prom dress. Among other notables were Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Meg Ryan, Dana Delany, Nancy Kerrigan, Conan O'Brien, and plenty of Kennedys, including Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith and her son William Kennedy Smith.
Even President Robinson got confused during her toast. Nodding toward the head table, she said, "President Kennedy . . . I mean, President Clinton." She paused, embarrassed, but quickly recovered. "What's in a name?" she quipped as laughter broke out in the audience.
"I do have a sense of history coming here today," Robinson said. She, like Clinton, once shook hands with President John F. Kennedy, but "there was no photographer there to record it," she said. "But I did it. I swear I did it."
Cameras recorded every move last night, however. The two presidents moved through what looked like a lavish wedding reception on a perfect summer night. The breeze carried the scent of roses; hundreds of tiny white lights twinkled in the trees. A dozen violinists strolled among the tables, playing songs from "Cats" and "Fiddler on the Roof."
For "100 percent Irish" Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan, "it doesn't get much better than this," he said. "Because you get to honor the Irish president at the invitation of the U.S. president."
Actor Liam Neeson arrived without his very pregnant wife, actress Natasha Richardson, and flipped for another woman.
"I fell in love with Hillary today," said the Irish heartthrob. "The photographs don't do her justice."
The first lady, wearing a white lace and black chiffon St. John gown, introduced all the guests to the other first spouse, Nicholas Robinson. A rainbow of green dresses floated by -- lime green, mint green, emerald green. The receiving line was so long that even the indefatigable Clinton checked his watch after an hour.
"Welcome to the largest gathering of Irish Americans since the last Notre Dame football game," the president later joked, standing in the middle of the dance floor for his toast. This dinner, he said, was not only an acknowledgment of the deep ties between Americans and the Irish, but also an attempt to pay back Ireland for the extraordinary welcome the Clintons received during their trip last December.
Robinson's trip comes at a crucial time for the Irish president. She is increasingly spoken of as a likely successor to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has been jetting around the world campaigning for a second term. But the United States has made no secret of its disappointment in his leadership, and there is growing talk about Robinson as a candidate for the post.
Although never mentioning the issue directly, Clinton seemed to endorse her unofficial bid to succeed the United Nations chief. "Ireland has heeded her strong and compassionate call," he said, "and the entire world has heeded her leadership."
Despite world headlines about the peace talks in Belfast this week, there was very little public discussion of the continued conflict last night -- only the fervent wish that peace can finally be brokered.
"Every Irish American is interested in the negotiations taking place in Northern Ireland," said Sen. Kennedy.
But Belfast seemed light-years away from the huge white tent filled with candlelight and cream roses, where guests dined on seared salmon with gold potatoes, grilled lamb with Vidalia onions and spring vegetables, and endive with roasted tomatoes, goat cheese and portobello mushrooms. Neeson, who sat at the Mrs. Clinton's table, was thronged by flirting female guests asking for autographs and pictures with the actor. "I'm really embarrassed to ask," said White House staffer Susan Brophy.
After dessert of an Amaretto cookie castle and bing cherries, the guests were entertained by folk singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, who was joined onstage by her Irish counterpart Mary Black.
"Let's drink and be merry," sang Black. "All grief to refrain. For we may and might all meet here again."
Then, President Clinton surprised his guests with good news: President Robinson, he said, "brought America a little of the luck of the Irish. I'm pleased to say that while we were eating here, the standoff . . . with the Freemen ended peacefully."
Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, who sat next to Clinton during dinner, said, "People here are so proud to be Irish. There's a real closeness here. You can feel it."
Half of the guests, in fact, were still talking and dancing at midnight, just as a grinning Clinton had instructed: "I urge you to come dance until the angry neighbors run us off. My experience is -- this will be quite some time." The Guest List for the State Dinner
Vice President Gore
Mary Robinson, president of Ireland, and Nicholas Robinson
Dick Spring, deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, and Kristi Spring
Frank Murray, secretary general to the government, and Maureen Murray
Padraic MacKernan, secretary general, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Caitriona MacKernan
Dermot Gallagher, ambassador of Ireland, and Maeve Gallagher
Peter Ryan, secretary general to the president
Bride Rosney, adviser to the president
Assistant Secretary John O. Burke, chief of protocol
Col. Bernard Howard, aide de camp to the president
Ronald W. Allen, CEO, Delta Air Lines, and Marcia Allen
Tony Adams, producer, and Anne Runolfsson
Kingsley Aikins, American Ireland Fund, and Claire Aikins
Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, U.S. ambassador to Portugal, and Smith W. Bagley
Mary Black, performer
Mary Boergers, senior fellow at the University of Maryland, and David Boergers
Lawrence A. Bossidy, chairman and CEO, Allied-Signal Inc., and Nancy Bossidy
Mary Boyle, president, Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Board of Commissioners, and Jack Boyle
William A. Brandt, president, Development Specialists Inc., and Joan Brandt
William J. Bratton and Cheryl Fiandaca, New York City
Carol M. Browner, administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, and Eric Draper
William M. Bulger, president, University of Massachusetts, and Mary Bulger
Stephen J. Burrows, president and CEO, Anheuser-Busch International Inc., and Barbara Burrows
Brendan T. Byrne, Carella, Byrne, Bain & Gilfillan, and Ruthi Byrne
Thomas Byrne, chairman, New Jersey State Democratic Committee, and Barbara Byrne
Hugh L. Carey, chairman of the board of advisers, Cambridge Partners LLC, and Helen Carey
Paul Carey, special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, and Christiane Amanpour, CNN
Mary Chapin Carpenter, singer, and Francis Peter Gallagher
Warren M. Christopher, secretary of state, and Marie Christopher
Joan Tighe Clayton and David Tighe Donahue, Pasadena, Calif.
Elizabeth J. Coleman, CEO, Maidenform Worldwide Inc., and Robert Straup
John E. Connelly, CEO, J. Edward Connelly Associates, and Audrey Connelly Wirginis
Michael Conway, Hopkins & Sutter, and Cara Conway
Rep. Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.) and Georgia Costello
Rep. William J. Coyne (D-Pa.) and Kathy J. Cozdemba
John J. Cullinane, president, Cullinane Group Inc., and Diddy Cullinane
Dana Delany, actress, and Henry Czerny, actor
Thomas J. Dodd, U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, and Carolyn Dodd
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Jackie Clegg
Douglas H. Dority, president, United Food & Commercial Workers, and Bonita Thorne
Rep. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.) and Susan Doyle
Joseph D. Duffey, director, U.S. Information Agency, and Anne Wexler
Jerry Dunfey, director, the Dunfey Group, and Nadine Hack
John P. Dunfey, chairman, the Dunfey Group, and Michelle Jourdak
Robort J. Dunfey, director, the Dunfey Group, and Jeanette Marston
Daniel A. Dutko, chairman, the Dutko Group, and Deborah R. Jospin, chief of staff, Corporation for National Service
Barbara Dwyer and Lauren Dwyer, Boston
Sara Ehrman and Richard Morningstar
Mark Fabiani, special associate counsel to the president, and June Fabiani
John Farrell, the Boston Globe, and Catharina Farrell
John D. Feerick, dean, Fordham University School of Law, and Jean D. Feerick
Michael L. Fitzgerald, Iowa state treasurer, and Steven F. Miller
Thomas S. Foley, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, and Heather Foley
Tom Foley, Indian Gaming Commission, and Daniel Foley
James Freiburger and Eleanor Dunfey Freiburger, Manchester, N.H.
Mary Mel French, assistant chief of protocol, Department of State, and Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman, U.S News & World Report
Mark D. Gearan, director, Peace Corps, and Mary Herlihy
Jack Germond, Baltimore Sun, and Alice Travis
Gene Joseph Gibbons, Reuter, and Lynn Gibbons
James S. Gilliland, Department of Agriculture, and Lucia Gilliland
Brooke Givot and Justin Givot, Chicago
Loretta Glucksman, Westland Association
Doris Kearns Goodwin, author, and Richard Goodwin, historian
Mary Gordon, author, and Arthur Cash
Marcia L. Hale, assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs, and Patrick Griffin
David A. Hamburg, president, Carnegie Corp. of New York, and Beatrice Hamburg
William M. Haney, president, Molten Metal Technology Inc., and Anne Haney
The Rev. Duncan Hanson, coordinator, Ecumenical Relations and Mission in Europe, Presbyterian Church
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Ruth P. Harkin, president and CEO, Overseas Private Investment Corp.
Neil F. Hartigan, chairman, World Trade Center, Chicago, and Margaret Hartigan
Joe Hassett and Carol A. Melton, McLean
Margaret Heckler, former ambassador to Ireland, and Jack Pierce
Patrick Hennessy, counselor for the Embassy of Ireland, and Pauline Hennessy
John F. Henning, California Labor Federation
Kitty Higgins, assistant to the president and Cabinet secretary, and Liam Higgins
Rep. Timothy Holden (D-Pa.) and Gwen Holden
Albert R. Hunt, Wall Street Journal, and Judy Woodruff, CNN
Harold Ickes, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy and political affairs, and Laura R. Handman
Philip C. Jamison, Department of Defense, and Susan Jamison
Mickey Kantor, secretary of commerce, and Heidi H. Schulman
Joe Keefe, Nixon, Hall & Ness
Michael E. Keenan, coach, St. Louis Blues, and Nola McLennan
Dick Kelley, Hot Springs, Ark.
Peter G. Kelly and Susan Kelly, Hartford, Conn.
Peter D. Kelly, partner, Kelly & Lytton, and Laura Hartigan
Anthony M. Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court justice, and Mary Kennedy
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Victoria Kennedy
Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Beth Kennedy
William Kennedy, novelist and director, New York State Writers' Institute, and Dana Kennedy
Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly (D-Conn.) and John M. Bailey
Donald R. Keough, chairman, Allen & Company Inc., and Mickie Keough
Nancy Kerrigan, figure skater, and Jerry Solomon, sports agent
James B. King, director, Office of Personnel Management, and Eleanor King
Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and Rosemary King
Edwin L. Knetzger, Greenwich Capital Markets Inc., and Ginny Unger
Anthony Lake, assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Nancy MacGilvrey Soderberg
Patricia Kennedy Lawford and Sydney McKelvy
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Marcelle Leahy
Howard Long, sports commentator, and Diane Long
James M. Lyons, United States Observer, International Fund for Ireland, and Marcia Lyons
Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla) and Priscilla Mack
Jodie Mahony and Bettie Ann Mahony, El Dorado, Ark.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Clifton Maloney
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Susan J. Blumenthal, deputy assistant secretary, Health and Human Services
Christopher John Matthews, San Francisco Examiner, and Kathleen Matthews, WJLA-TV
Terence R. McAuliffe, president, American Capital Management Co., and Dorothy McAuliffe
Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director, Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Jill McCaffrey
James McCann, chairman, 1-800-FLOWERS, and Marylou McCann
Cormac McCarthy, author, and Jennifer Winkley
Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.) and John M. Holland
Rosemary McCreery, UNESCO, and Martin Godfrey
Kathleen McGinty, chairwoman, Council on Environmental Quality, and Karl Hausker
Gerald S. McGowan, Lucas, McGowan, Nance & Gutierrez, and Susan Brophy, deputy assistant to the president
Mary McGrory, The Washington Post, and Edward McGrory
Frank J. McGuire, president, McGuire Group, and Donna McGuire
Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pa.) and Kathy McHale
Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.) and Katie McHugh
Stan McLelland, executive vice president, Valero Energy Corp., and Carrin M. Patman
Doyle McManus, the Los Angeles Times, and Paula McManus
Rep. John Joseph Moakley, D-Mass. and Doris Giannone
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Mary Moran
Bruce A. Morrison, chairman, Federal Housing Finance Board, and Nancy Morrison
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Maura Moynihan
Denis P. Mulcahy, national chairman, Project Children, and Miriam Mulcahy
Philomena Murnaghan, counselor, Embassy of Ireland, and Joy Murnaghan
Thomas J. Murphy, mayor of Pittsburgh, and Shannon Murphy
William Murphy, Staten Island district attorney, and Kathleen Murphy
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sara Murray
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and Joyce Murtha
Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and Grace Neal
Liam Neeson, actor
Paul Newman, actor, and Joanne Woodward, actress
Heather Nolan, Palo Alto, Calif.
Sean Nolan, Palo Alto, Calif.
Tom Nolan, Nolan & Armstrong, and Susie Nolan
Conan O'Brien, talk-show host, and Lynn Kaplan
Edna O'Brien, author
Patrick J. O'Brien, sports commentator, and Linda O'Brien
Carol O'Cleireacain, Brookings Institution, and Seamus O'Cleireacain
Patrick J. O'Connor, O'Connor and Hannan, and Evie O'Connor
Kirk O'Donnell, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, and Kathryn O'Donnell
Niall O'Dowd, publisher, Irish Voice & Irish American magazine, and Debra McGoldrick
Brian O'Dwyer, chairman, Emerald Isle Immigration Center, and Marianna O'Dwyer
Paul O'Dwyer and Patricia O'Dwyer, New York City
Kevin M. O'Keefe, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, and Margaret O'Keefe
John O'Leary, Pierce, Atwood, Scribner, Allen, and Patricia Cepeda
Gregory Sparks, political adviser for the deputy prime minister, and Adrian O'Neill
Christopher "Kip" O'Neill, Neill and Arthy, and Stephanie O'Neill
Rosemary O'Neill, Department of State, and Paul VanSon
Susan O'Neill and Michael McAdams, Bethesda
Tom O'Neill, McDermott, O'Neill & Associates, and Pamela McDermott
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and Joan Obey
Michael D. Palm and Craig D. Anderson, New York City
Leon Panetta, chief of staff to the president, and Sylvia Panetta
The Rev. Henry J. Postel, chairman, Northern Ireland Working Group, and Susan Postel
Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) and Mary Beth Quinn
Jack Quinn, counsel to the president, and Diane Quinn
Paul Quinn, Wilkinson, Barker, Knauer & Quinn, and Denise Quinn
Thomas H. Quinn, O'Connor & Hannon, and Carlene H. Jackson
Molly Raiser, chief of protocol, and Toni Verstandig, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs
Richard W. Riley, secretary of education, and Ann Riley
Jane Robinson and Mani Ramaswami, Tucson
Laurance S. Rockefeller and Mary Rockefeller, New York City
Phillip B. Rooney, president, WMX Technologies Inc., and Sue Rooney
Timothy J. Russert, NBC News, and Maureen Orth, Vanity Fair
Arthur F. Ryan, chairman and CEO, the Prudential Insurance Cos., and Patricia Ryan
Meg Ryan, actress
Rowland Schaefer, Claire's Stores Inc., and Sylvia Schaefer
Edwin Schlossberg and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg
James J. Sheedy, president, Public Employees Federation, and Molly Sheedy
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist, and Anne Shields
R. Sargent Shriver, the Special Olympics, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Hugh Sidey, Time Inc., and Anne Sidey
Kate Slattery, first secretary, Embassy of Ireland, and Ann Burns
Jean Kennedy Smith, U.S. ambassador to Ireland, and William K. Smith
Nancy E. Soderberg, deputy assistant to the president and staff director, National Security Council, and Lars Soderberg
William Styron, author, and Rose Styron
Peter Sutherland, director, Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Maruja Sutherland
John J. Sweeney, president, AFL-CIO, and Maureen Sweeney
Patrick A. Sweeney, minority leader, Ohio House of Representatives, and Emily Sweeney
H. Brian Thompson, chairman and CEO, LCI International, and Mary Ann Thompson
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland lieutenant governor, and David Townsend
Alexander R. Vershbow, special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs, National Security Council
Rep. James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.) and Diane Walsh Terrance Watanabe, president and CEO, Oriental Trading Co. Inc., and Victor J. Basile
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Janet Waxman
Michael Whouley, partner, Dewey Square Group, and Sally Kerans
Barrie Wigmore, Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Deedee Wigmore CAPTION: Above, President Clinton and Irish President Mary Robinson greet Meg Ryan; left, White House social secretary Ann Stock and Chelsea Clinton. CAPTION: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, top, and wife Victoria at the state dinner. Above, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and actress Meg Ryan. CAPTION: Howie Long and wife Diane at last night's state dinner.