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Sunday 4 December 2016

Biden bids emotional farewell to Ireland

Vice-President's visit with family ends on a message of optimism

Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30

Hunter, grandson of US Vice President Joe Biden (rear left) is introduced to Irish rugby stars Dave and Rob Kearney by Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a farewell lunch in Farmleigh House
Hunter, grandson of US Vice President Joe Biden (rear left) is introduced to Irish rugby stars Dave and Rob Kearney by Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a farewell lunch in Farmleigh House

"We're not going home." The first four words of what was supposed to be Joe Biden's final speech caused a ripple of laughter as the dignitaries tried to decide whether it was a joke or not.

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The first four words of what was supposed to be Joe Biden's final speech caused a ripple of laughter as the dignitaries tried to decide whether it was a joke or not.

It took until the final months of his two terms as Vice-President of the United States to actually make it to Ireland and Mr Biden was in no hurry to leave.

Unfortunately for him, his "gracious" hosts and "friends" had a 2pm appointment with Robbie Brady which saw everybody wolf down their fancy Sunday lunch at Farmleigh.

It was actually Mr Biden's grandson, Hunter, who had tugged at his suit the evening before in Lily Finnegan's Pub in Carlingford to ask when their six-day tour around Ireland would finish.

Biden assumed the schoolboy was tired of the trad sessions, drives in the countryside and constant stories about dead relatives.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and wife Fionnuala say farewell to Mr Biden and daughter Ashley. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and wife Fionnuala say farewell to Mr Biden and daughter Ashley. Photo: Steve Humphreys

He reassured him they would take Air Force Two back to the bright lights of Washington on Sunday.

"Ah, Pop, let's not go," was the boy's response. It was the proudest moment of Biden's trip, realising that the next generation of his family had found a connection with the homeland of his great-great-great grandparents.

As swan-songs go, though, it was missing one key element.

It was actually his son Beau (46), who died last year of brain cancer, who had suggested the Irish tour.

And as the VP reflected on his time in Mayo, Dublin and Louth, he couldn't stop his voice from quivering as he told the 70 guests, including most of the Cabinet, that he'd been planning the trip for some time.

"My son Beau talked about it. When I got elected, he said: 'Dad we've got to go to Ireland as a family and we've got to go back to your roots'.

"Beau passed but he's with us all the day. This is the culmination of a discussion we've been having in the family for a long, long time," he said.

His abiding memory will be walking down Garden Street in Ballina and imagining his great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt.

"It must have been like an American wake to leave everything behind. To board a ship to go to a country that you didn't know much about and at the time there wasn't a big 'welcome' sign, saying 'come'. It took an enormous amount of courage and it must have been incredibly sad," he said.

But now in 2016, he has never been more hopeful for both Ireland and America.

"Our nations are filled with people who refuse to accept that there is any challenge that cannot be solved by human ingenuity and determination," he said.

All the while, Taoiseach Enda Kenny nodded, no doubt trying to put Brexit and the looming soccer kick-off to the back of his mind.

"I consider myself incredibly fortunate to not only have got an opportunity to know An Taoiseach and Fionnuala and your children.

"It's phrase used lightly in international politics, 'I've become your friend'.

"But I really consider Enda a friend. He has been incredibly generous to us," Mr Biden said.

The Taoiseach agreed: "You are a man of conscience, a man of courage, a man of conviction, a friend of Ireland, a supporter of Ireland, a son of Ireland. Above all, one of the world's true gentlemen. A man I am proud to call my close friend."

And before letting everybody go, Mr Biden offered a few final words that were meant to be about US-Irish relations, but which most people turned into a positive pre-match analysis.

"I think there is virtually nothing we cannot do. We are at the precipice of not only great challenges, but also enormous, enormous, enormous opportunities."

But as he and his family exited Farmleigh, the misty-eyed commentary on life in Ireland was replaced by the reality.

He looked to the heavens, and shouted: "I don't know how you guys deal with the rain!" And with that he was gone home.

Irish Independent

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