U.S. President Joe Biden rolled into Dublin on April 13, holding talks with Irish political leaders in the homeland of his ancestors, before a set-piece address to the country’s Parliament.
Mr. Biden, who is only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, met Irish Head of State Michael Higgins at his official residence before talks with the Taioseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.
Watched by fellow octogenarian Mr. Higgins, Mr. Biden tapped into his Irish roots for a heartfelt message in the guest book.
“As the Irish saying goes, your feet will bring you to where your heart is,” he said he wrote, joking that he was going to stay in Ireland.
Mr. Biden’s address on April 13 to a joint sitting of both houses of the Irish Parliament follows in the footsteps first walked by another U.S. president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
In June, 1963, “JFK” became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Ireland — five months before his assassination.
In his speech, Mr. Kennedy remarked that the Parliament building — Leinster House — had once belonged to his ancestors the Fitzgeralds, the earls of Kildare. But, he joked, “I have not come here to claim it”.
Instead, he dwelt on “the many and the enduring links which have bound the Irish and the Americans since the earliest days”, when both were engaged in struggles against the British.
Unlike JFK, Mr. Biden cannot boast of noble ancestors in his lineage, but some of his forebears fled famine under British rule and congregated in hardscrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In his own address on April 13, Mr. Biden will echo his predecessor in underscoring “the deep and enduring historical, cultural, political and economic ties between our countries”, according to senior White House adviser Amanda Sloat.
Mr. Biden, 80, joined Mr. Higgins, 81, in tree-planting and peace bell-ringing ceremonies, calling it “an honour to return and to come home, to the home of my ancestors”.
He last met Mr. Varadkar in March in Washington for Ireland’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, when the White House fountain ran emerald green.
Mr. Varadkar will return the favour, hosting a banquet in Biden’s honour at Dublin Castle, the ancient seat of English and then British rule in Ireland.
Before jetting home on April 14, Mr. Biden will head to Ballina in County Mayo, northwestern Ireland, another jumping-off point for ancestors who emigrated to Pennsylvania.
He still counts relatives living in the area, including Joe Blewitt, a third cousin, who works as a plumber.
“It’s emotional, it’s a very proud day for our family and for Ireland,” Mr. Blewitt, 43, told AFP. “Ballina’s very special to him.”
On April 12, Mr. Biden had observed a disembarkation point for some of his 19th-century Irish forebears, following a speech in British-run Northern Ireland.
His one-night stop in Belfast had been shadowed by recriminations of pro-U.K. unionists, who accused him of harbouring “anti-British” feelings a quarter-century after a U.S.-brokered peace agreement.
Mr. Biden told an audience at Belfast’s Ulster University that he cared about peace for the whole of the divided island.
He urged the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to end its boycott of Northern Ireland’s Stormont legislature, predicting billions of dollars of new investment from “scores of major American corporations” if political stability returns.
But the DUP’s leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, promptly declared that the visit “doesn’t change the political dynamic in Northern Ireland”.
The brevity of his stay — which included a brief “coffee meeting” with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — also underwhelmed some British observers.
“It was hard to see the point of his visit,” the Daily Mail‘s political editor wrote in a commentary.
Mr. Biden’s ancestry is never far from his lips, leading to accusations that his visit to the Emerald Isle is unabashed campaigning ahead of a re-election run.
But the gaffe-prone President made a characteristic slip-up at a community gathering at a bar in Dundalk late Wednesday, flanked by former Irish rugby player and distant cousin Rob Kearney.
Mr. Biden lauded Kearney for having “beat the hell out of the Black and Tans”, confusing a ruthless British army auxiliary force which fought Irish independence rebels in the early 1920s with New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team.
The White House corrected the record.
“I think for everyone in Ireland who is a rugby fan, it was incredibly clear that the president was talking about the All Blacks,” Sloat told reporters.