There were prayers for peace in Northern Ireland Thursday at the White House as President Bush joined in ceremonies marking St. Patrick's Day.  The events were most noteworthy for who was and was not in attendance.

For the first time since the Northern Ireland peace agreement was signed in 1998, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, was not invited to the White House on St. Patrick's Day.

The group's image has been tarnished by allegations surrounding a bank robbery and the murder of a Belfast man, Robert McCartney.  His sisters and fiancee took the place of Sinn Fein leaders at the president's St. Patrick's Day reception.

They want members of the IRA to be held accountable for the killing.  And while their conversations with the president were private, President Bush left no doubt in public that he supports the efforts of all those who strive for peace and renounce violence.

"As you work for peace, our government and the American people will stand with you," said Mr. Bush.

The president said it takes courage to walk the path of peace.  Speaking at the start of talks with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, Mr. Bush promised continued U.S. support for the Northern Ireland peace process.

The session with the Irish leader began with the traditional St. Patrick's Day presentation of a bowl of shamrocks, the three-leaf clover that has come to symbolize Ireland's patron saint.

Prime Minister Ahern said the greenery has also come to symbolize Ireland's heritage.  He said the participants in the Northern Ireland peace process have come a long way in bringing all parties together, but much more remains to be done.

"We need to ensure that the agreement's vision of a new beginning to relationships is fully realized and secured for the benefit of this and future generations," said Mr. Ahern.

After their talks, and the reception, Prime Minister Ahern and President Bush headed to the U.S. Capitol Building to take part in another tradition, the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon hosted by members of Congress.