Joe Biden to see ‘where we came from’ as he begins Irish visit

US vice president presented with hurley as he meets Enda Kenny at Government Buildings

"We're going to the seat of where we came from," vice president of the United States Joe Biden told the Taoiseach Enda Kenny at his office in Government Buildings on Tuesday night.

It was, he told Mr Kenny and members of the media, an opportunity to “go back and see and look at the actual places my forefathers came from.”

Mr Biden has, he said, been in Ireland many times. But this is a special family trip. It's not just about politics, but about his Irish heritage, his family's personal story of struggle and emigration to the opportunities of the new world, where the Bidens of Scranton, Pennsylvania, rose in the world, eventually to the second highest office in the land - a heartbeat away from the Presidency, or, depending on your view, "a bucket of warm spit", as one incumbent described it.

It's a family trip the vice-president promised to his son Beau. But Beau, an Iraq war veteran of the US Army, attorney general of the state of Delaware and following in his father's footsteps, died of brain cancer last year. Both Mr Kenny and Mr Biden, his voice catching and growing thick, remembered him last night.


And now that he’s finally got here, with his brother and sister and a scatter of grandchildren, a security detail full of apparently armed Secret Service men and a motorcade that’s 21 vehicles long, he is certainly going for the full shebang. Newgrange, Trinity. Michael D. Dublin Castle. Most of Co Mayo. Louth. A game of golf with Enda. All the big tourist experiences.

Last night in the Taoiseach’s office, the two men radiated mutual appreciation and shared bonhomie. Enda, said Mr Biden, is “a good and personal friend.”

Joe, said Mr Kenny, was not just his friend, he was a friend of Ireland. He was “one of the outstanding Irish-American senators ... who stood up for Ireland over the years.”

Sometimes the vice-president's job is to say things that the President can't. Earlier this week, he tore into the Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, warning of a "return of anti-Americanism and a corrosive rift through our hemisphere".

But Tuesday night wasn’t one of those occasions. The only people on edge were the massed ranks of the security detail, whose job it is to see danger everywhere. Rather disappointingly, they didn’t flinch when Enda produced a hurley for the Vice President. “It’s not a weapon of self-destruction,” Enda said. Nobody was quite sure if that’s exactly what he meant to say.

Anyway, Biden and Enda clearly get on like a house on fire, perhaps seeing much of themselves in the other.

The VP is a likeable character, who oozes sincerity and wears his heart on his sleeve. By turns passionate and profound, he also has a long and celebrated history of gaffes. But they never sunk his career because people have tended to say - “Ah, that’s Joe. He’s a decent skin” - and give him the benefit of the doubt. His host hasn’t had quite the same forbearance.

Biden’s gregarious and emotional, garrulous and generous. He’s also, by all accounts, a bit of a spoofer. In other words, he’s a proper Irishman.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times