Biden's Irish eyes mist as he bids farewell to retiring Dodd


THE SECRET Service searched the Irish ambassador’s residence, then they blocked the street off. Promptly at 7.30pm on Monday, Joe Biden, the first Irish Catholic vice-president of the US, was met on the doorstep by the ambassador, Michael Collins, and his wife, Marie.

The Collinses were hosting a dinner in honour of Senator Chris Dodd, who will retire at the end of the year, after 35 years in the US House and Senate. All eight of Dodd’s great grandparents were Irish and he owns a cottage in Co Galway.

Dodd and Biden served in the Senate together for decades, along with Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who was also present, and the late Ted Kennedy. The bond between Dodd and Kennedy was particularly strong.

It’s almost unheard of for a vice-president to visit a foreign embassy in Washington. For more than an hour, Biden shook hands, had his photograph taken with guests and paid tribute to Dodd. “The vice-president is hugely Irish. He’s emotionally Irish,” Mr Collins said afterwards.

As Mr Biden was leaving, Irish-American soprano Colleen Daley sang When Irish Eyes are Smilingand the guests sang along. “He said it was his father’s favourite. It brought tears to his eyes – and to a number of other people there,” the ambassador said.

Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, arrived with Jean Kennedy Smith, the former US ambassador to Dublin and the last of the nine Kennedy siblings.

“There was a fair amount of emotion in the room . . . happy memories of times gone by. Teddy wasn’t too far away,” Collins said, comparing the evening to another, more than two years ago, when Senator Kennedy celebrated his 76th birthday in the residence.

Most of the guests were close friends or colleagues of Senator Dodd. The list read like a Who’s Whoof political Irish America, including Richard Neal, chairman of the Friends of Ireland in the House, and Martin O’Malley, who was just re-elected governor of Maryland.

Ireland’s financial crisis “was on people’s minds” and came up in conversation, the ambassador said.

“But obviously the focus was on Senator Dodd. We have extraordinary relationships in this town. It’s very important, as people leave offices they’ve held for many years, to say thank you to them.”

Indeed, the senator’s experience might prove useful to Ireland. Last May, Dodd shepherded a major banking overhaul through the Senate. In July 2008, he won Senate passage of a bill to help homeowners and banks refinance troubled mortgages.