Saturday 24 February 2018

Clinton chooses Irish-American with Longford links as her vice-president

Searches are now under way in Killshee, Co Longford, for the contender's distant relatives, writes Wayne O'Connor

Running mate: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her newly appointed vice president, Senator Tim Kaine. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP
Running mate: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her newly appointed vice president, Senator Tim Kaine. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Presumptive Democratic US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has picked an Irish-American senator as her running mate ahead of November's election.

Senator Tim Kaine (58) is a former mayor and was once the governor of Virginia. He has Irish roots that have been traced back to Longford and Kilkenny more than 150 years ago. All of his grandparents were born to Irish immigrants in the US.

Commentators consider Mr Kaine to be a safe pair of hands. The fact that he is fluent in Spanish is seen as a way Mrs Clinton can tap in to the Hispanic-American vote block. A strict Catholic upbringing means Mr Kaine opposes abortion, but he insists that he supports abortion rights. He is also a supporter of free trade agreements.

This weekend, he spoke of his delight at being selected as a possible vice-president by Mrs Clinton.

"Just got off the phone with Hillary. I'm honoured to be her running mate," he said yesterday. "Can't wait to hit the trail."

Earlier this year, Mr Kaine was honoured with a leadership award by the American Irish Fund. He used it as an opportunity to speak about his heritage.

"I am about as stone Irish as you can get for somebody whose family has been in the country for about 150 years.

"All four of my grandparents were born to Irish immigrants, three to families where both the mom and dad were from Ireland and one where the mom was Irish and the dad was Scottish born but moved to Northern Ireland before emigrating to the US.

"I am pure black-Irish. There is not a red-headed Norseman anywhere in our family but that makes this very special.

"Until I was 48 years old, Ireland played a huge and important part in my life, sort of in the dreams of my life, but I had never been to Ireland. So it was photos, and it was genealogy, and it was family stories, and Roman Catholicism, music and St Patrick's Day - that is what being Irish meant to me, but I felt the deep connection to it."

Mr Kaine became governor of Virginia in 2006 and later that year travelled to Ireland with his wife Anne, three children, Nat, Woody and Annella.

After spending some time in Dublin, they travelled to Killashee, a blink-and-you'd-miss-it village 9km outside Longford town.

"There's a bad bend there so you wouldn't blink going through it anyway," warned local Fianna Fail councillor Seamus Butler. "I can't see Trump winning, so Hillary will win by default, I think."

After wandering through fields, the Kaines eventually found the remains of the home where PJ Farrell, Mr Kaine's great grandfather, was born.

"We went to Dublin and my children were having a blast, they were all teenagers, and when I said we have to spend a day traipsing around in the countryside instead of hanging around in Temple Bar and Grafton Street, they were extremely disappointed in their father," said Mr Kaine.

"As we drove to Longford, which is not exactly a tourist zone, they continued to complain - but when we landed in Longford town my 11-year-old daughter said to me: 'Dad, why does everyone look like us?' They started to get it.

"We parked the vehicle and traipsed half a mile across fields and we found two still-standing walls of what had been a house with windows and doors and a tinned roof stacked with hay.

"I told my children, 'This is where we come from.'

"Even with unruly and obnoxious teenagers, it made a huge impact on them and since that time, we have been back very often."

Now locals are hoping for an official visit in the not-too-distant future.

"I like what he is about and any tenuous link to Longford would be welcome, but this link to the Farrell clan is a big one," said Longford councillor Mae Sexton. "I'm sure we'll do whatever we can to get an official visit organised now."

Searches were being conducted in Longford last night to determine what Killashee locals were related to Mr Kaine, said farmer Mike McGann. "My brother Dan owns the bar here and he cannot remember him coming in, but I am sure all the links will start coming out of the woodwork eventually.

"We might get a Kaine Plaza," he joked, referring to President Barack Obama's links to Moneygall, Co Offaly, where a petrol station is named in his honour. "The problem is Farrell or O'Farrell is really common here. It's the most popular name."

Sunday Independent

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