US vice-president Mike Pence described his return to the Co Clare village of Doonbeg where his great-grandmother grew up as "very moving."
Arriving in the west Clare village to attend a family dinner on Tuesday night, Mr Pence took time to talk to local people gathered outside Morrissey’s pub where he worked for a summer in 1981.
Amid tight security, the vice-president said that returning to Doonbeg, travelling with his wife Karen and mother Nancy Pence Fritsch to Ireland for the first time, was "very special".
Mr Pence, his wife, mother and sister Anne Pence Poynter arrived in Doonbeg to dine at Morrissey's after flying into Shannon Airport following a day of official engagements in Dublin.
The pub’s owner, Hugh McNally, Mr Pence’s cousin, greeted the vice-presidential party on their arrival.
The vice-president took time to introduce his family members to the villagers who gathered to meet him on Doonbeg’s main street.
He told locals on his walkabout that his great-grandmother – Ms Pence Fritsch’s grandmother – grew up in the house opposite Morrissey’s pub next to the ruined castle in the Co Clare village.
“Didn’t she always say that she had a castle outside her bedroom window?” he asked his mother.
He chatted casually with local people and relatives, the Maloneys, some of whom had met the vice-president and his party at Trump Doonbeg golf resort the night before.
The vice-president, who is staying at the US president’s family golf resort, spoke about the importance of Irish immigrants to the US.
“My family’s benefited from it. America has been greatly enriched by immigration from Ireland. We cherish the contributions of Irish Americans,” he said.
The vice-president said that it was “wonderful” to return to Doonbeg and “get this kind of warm reception”.
“To be here and to be amongst many friends and family we met with last night, it is very inspiring to me. I feel a great sense of gratitude and indebtedness to those who have gone before,” he said. “It is wonderful to be back in Ireland.”
Earned his ‘keep’
Mr Pence recalled travelling to Ireland as a 22-year-old in 1981, the year his Co Sligo-born grandfather Richard Michael Cawley died. He stayed in the country for a month-and-a-half on that visit.
The former US congressman and Indiana governor, who last visited Doonbeg in 2013, said that he was supposed to have travelled with his grandfather on the earlier visit, but ended up coming to Ireland with a great-aunt after the death of his grandfather that year. He worked behind the bar at Morrissey’s and cut turf on the visit.
“We travelled all over but we stayed here in Doonbeg for several weeks and they made me work for my keep. I worked in the pub part of the day and I worked in the bog,” he said.
Asked whether he planned to pull a pint again behind the bar at Morrissey’s during his dinner, he replied, with a laugh: “I don’t know if I remember how but I pulled more than a few when I was a young man.”
Local publican Tommy Comerford, who met Mr Pence, said that he took time to show his affinity to Doonbeg during the visit.
“He’s the vice-president and there’s such an entourage after him,” he said.
“It was really a big deal that he came over and spoke and introduced his mother and wife. It made it very informal. I think that was a lovely gesture.”