April 22, 2024

US President Joe Biden has paid homage to his Irish heritage as thousands of people gathered to greet him on a tour of the home county of his ancestors.

In a speech in a pub in County Louth, he said visiting the area his great-great-grandfather had left for America “feels like coming home”.

He is on a three-day visit to the Republic of Ireland, having spent a short time in Northern Ireland to mark 25 years since the Good Friday peace agreement.

After stepping off Air Force One on to the rain-soaked runway at Dublin Airport he was met by Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.

He then travelled to meet distant relatives in the Cooley Peninsula and the village of Carlingford in County Louth on Ireland’s east coast.

Joe Biden takes a selfie outside a pub in County Louth as hundreds of people surround himIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,

President Biden took selfies with well-wishers who turned out in their thousands

In Carlingford crowds lined the quayside as the presidential motorcade arrived.

Later there were shouts of “welcome home, Joe” when Mr Biden arrived in Dundalk to address an audience, including some of his relatives, at the town’s Windsor Bar.

He said Irish people were the “only people in the world in my view who are actually nostalgic about the future”.

“It is because, more than anything in my experience, hope is what beats in the heart of all people and in particular in the hearts of the Irish,” he added.

The president also visited a Dundalk shop owned by Jerome McAteer, who said he was honoured to sell Mr Biden some sweet treats, including lemon meringue and chocolate eclairs.

“He was talking a lot about his Irish background,” said Mr McAteer.

He runs the shop with his partner Bobby Wain, who said it had been an unforgettable day for them and their staff.

Earlier Mr Biden completed a brief-but-landmark visit to Belfast, where he called for politicians to restore the power-sharing government at Stormont, which collapsed over a year ago.

He used a speech at Ulster University to praise the “tremendous progress” since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

The peace deal largely brought to an end more than 30 years of violent conflict known as the Troubles.

“This place is transformed by peace; made technicolour by peace; made whole by peace,” he said.

Joe Biden shakes the hand of a young man at a food shop in DundalkIMAGE SOURCE,EPA
Image caption,

Joe Biden shook hands with young staff members in a food shop in Dundalk

President Biden regularly speaks of his Irish heritage and had promised to visit the country during his term in office.

A US genealogist who researched Mr Biden’s lineage has estimated he is “roughly five-eighths” Irish.

His maternal great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan departed Carlingford in County Louth in the late 1840s to travel to America.

Among his great-grandparents was Edward Blewitt, who left the west coast town of Ballina in County Mayo in 1850 to emigrate to the US.

He settled in Scranton in Pennsylvania as the devastating Irish potato famine was causing widespread starvation.

Two women wearing ponchos cower from the wind and rain as they wait to see Joe BidenIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
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Many people braved the wind and rain for hours to get a good position to see the president in Dundalk

In his speech in Dundalk, Mr Biden said his ancestors left Ireland at about the same time as former US President Barack Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney, who was from Moneygall in County Offaly.

“They would never have dreamed that their grandsons would have been presidents of the United States,” he said.

Mr Biden was given a tour of Carlingford Castle alongside the Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin.

Asked about his feelings on the visit, the president replied: “It’s wonderful. It feels like I’m coming home.”

Commenting on the wet weather, he added: “It’s fine – it’s Ireland.”

Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dublin AirportIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,

Joe Biden was well prepared for the weather when he arrived at Dublin Airport

The US president greeted a crowd of about 5,000 people as he visited Dundalk, a town a few miles from the Irish border.

Mr Biden also made a visit to a cafe where he met staff before addressing an audience at the pub.

“When you’re here you wonder why anybody would want to leave,” he told them.

In the coming days, President Biden is expected to speak to politicians at the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) and meet more relatives in Ballina.

 

 

Credit: Ross McKee & James Kelly
BBC News NI

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