Wednesday 18 September 2019

From pints to politics, Mike Pence finds way back to our shores

Vice-president 'thrilled' to trace grandmother's roots in Doonbeg

Return to roots: Mike Pence and wife Karen arrive at Shannon Airport. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire
Return to roots: Mike Pence and wife Karen arrive at Shannon Airport. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire

Ralph Riegel

Little did Doonbeg locals suspect almost 40 years ago that the young American student who pulled pints in Morrissey's Pub and tried his hand cutting turf in a Clare bog would return in triumph as US vice-president.

Mike Pence (60) made his first official visit to Ireland as US vice-president and admitted he was "thrilled" to be able to stay in the same Clare village from which his grandmother hailed and in which his distant cousin, Hugh McNally, now runs a pub.

Mr Pence had a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at Shannon. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire
Mr Pence had a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at Shannon. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire

Less than 20 minutes after Air Force Two touched down at Shannon Airport, Vice-President Pence opened his press briefing by saying: "It is a privilege and an honour to be back on the Emerald Isle."

The Indiana politician is hugely proud of his strong Irish ancestry - so much so that he was accompanied this week by his wife Karen, his elderly mother Nancy and his sister Ann on his trip to Ireland.

His fond comments about Ireland weren't political guff - it is apparent to all that the Republican politician is fascinated by his ancestral homeland.

It was in Morrissey's pub - the same one visited last June by two of President Donald Trump's sons - that the former Indiana governor first learned to pull a proper pint of stout 38 years ago.

The vice president's plane, Air Force Two, taxis to the terminal. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire
The vice president's plane, Air Force Two, taxis to the terminal. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire

Hardly surprising given that Morrissey's is effectively his family pub, albeit owned by a distant cousin. Mr Pence and family are expected to visit the pub tonight for a private meal with his Clare relatives.

His first visit to Ireland was in 1981 when, as a student, he researched his Irish roots and visited his ancestral homesteads in both Clare and Sligo.

He even brought his entire family to visit Ireland in 2013 including his three children.

In an interview with 'The Indianapolis Star' Mr Pence said visiting Clare and Sligo had "left a lasting impression".

The vice president's motorcade awaits. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire
The vice president's motorcade awaits. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire

The politician has been intensely proud of his Irish roots throughout his life.

His grandfather, Michael Richard Cawley, taught him nursery rhymes including 'Humpty Dumpty' in Irish when looking after him as a child.

Mr Cawley's family hailed from the Sligo-Mayo border which is where Mr Pence brought his family several years ago.

The Clare connections for Mr Pence come from his grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Maloney, whose family originally hailed from Doonbeg.

She met and married Michael Cawley in Chicago in 1931. For Hugh McNally, the Clare village's remarkable connections to the top table of US political power is something to be celebrated.

"I wish it was Mar-a-Lago," he joked in reference to President Trump's famed Florida retreat. "We would see them a lot more frequently."

He said the profile offered to Doonbeg by the presidential and now vice-presidential visits had been remarkable.

Over the next two days, Mr Pence will meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and top Irish-American business leaders.

However, he is also expected to enjoy some family leisure time, with a trip to either Kilkee or the Cliffs of Moher among destinations rumoured to be under consideration.

Unlike his boss, Mr Pence doesn't have the luxury of a Marine Corps helicopter for transfers so, while he will fly to Dublin to meet the Taoiseach, the rest of his journeys will be completed by road in a convoy guarded by the Secret Service.

West Clare locals see the US visits as a tourism and economic godsend. It's a view echoed by other traders in Doonbeg.

Igoe Inn owner Caroline Kennedy said publicity from the US political visits had clearly boosted the local tourism industry.

"Of course it is great publicity for Doonbeg," she said. "The resort [golf club] is the biggest employer in west Clare and there is no one from Ireland that is doing the same here.

"It has a huge knock-on benefit for the village and brings people in to the restaurants, shops and pubs."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section