US vice-president Joe Biden to visit Ireland in June

Kenny confirms Biden’s Irish visit at opening of three-week arts festival in Washington

Enda Kenny, on his first overseas trip since being re-elected Taoiseach, said that he was anxious to establish Irish arts and culture “not as an elegant add-on” but to have them represent Ireland as a “still-young Republic”. Photograph: Bloomberg

Enda Kenny, on his first overseas trip since being re-elected Taoiseach, said that he was anxious to establish Irish arts and culture “not as an elegant add-on” but to have them represent Ireland as a “still-young Republic”. Photograph: Bloomberg

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in Washington on his first overseas trip since being re-elected Taoiseach, said US vice-president Joe Biden would visit Ireland in the coming weeks. Mr Biden is expected to travel in late June.

The Taoiseach was speaking at the gala opening of the “Ireland 100” festival of arts and culture at the John F Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts in Washington on Tuesday night.

Mr Kenny paid tribute to Mr Biden whom, he said, “in a few weeks will be coming home himself to Ireland”, to applause from the audience.

“You’ll see what your mother and grandmother said, that the ceád milé fáilte really means that - one hundred thousand welcomes - so be ready,” he said.

A regular stopover visitor at Shannon Airport on this foreign trips, the US vice-president, speaking before the Taoiseach, said he was proud to be the descendant of Irish immigrants from Co Louth and Co Mayo.

“Being Irish, without fear of contradiction, has shaped my entire life,” he said.

He quoted from a speech President Kennedy gave on his visit to Ireland in 1963 when he said: “Our two nations divided by distance are united by history.”

“Tonight in this great house of culture that bears his name, we celebrate that shared history in the expression that has always been found in the arts and performance,” he said.

Praising the “pounding rhythms of Irish dance”, the “cascading verse of Irish poets, playwrights and novelists” and “the plaintive chords of Irish melodies”, Mr Biden said it was clear “the Irish imagination has never had any limits”.

“Tonight, 100 years after the Easter Rising set in motion the wheels for Ireland’s independence, and celebrating Ireland’s contribution to the arts, we honour everything that Ireland has become, everything she will become,” he said.

Mr Kenny said he was anxious to establish Irish arts and culture “not as an elegant add-on” but to have them represent Ireland as a “still-young Republic”.

However, there is anger back home within Ireland’s arts community at what is seen as a relegation of the arts into a new Cabinet portfolio with “regional development” and “rural affairs”.

1916 commemorations

Speaking at the start of the three-week festival involving about 500 Irish artists performing in the centrepiece of the US centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising, Mr Kenny said “Irish America - and indeed all those who aspire to be of its gene pool - can enjoy three weeks of the very best of our arts and culture.”

Mr Kenny, standing next to Mr Biden, addressed an audience of about 2,000 that included US Chief Justice John Roberts, former US senator George Mitchell, Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late senator Ted Kennedy, and John Kennedy Schlossberg, grandson of the late former US president.

The Taoiseach and the US vice-president spoke before performances by actor Fiona Shaw, Sean nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, dancer Colin Dunne, pianist Barry Douglas and the US National Symphony Orchestra intended to showcase the traditional and contemporary acts that will be taking place during the festival.

Referring to the “new partnership government” formed by his party, Mr Kenny said he wanted “to put compassion and fairness back at the heart of our policy”.

“We are also anxious to establish our arts and culture, not as an elegant add-on to what marketeers would call our ‘national offering’,” he said.

“Rather, we wish them to represent us as the essence of who we are as a still-young Republic with an ancient people.”

The Taoiseach said he agreed with President Kennedy’s view that he saw little of more importance to the future of civilisation than “full recognition of the artist”.

Mr Kenny’s presence at an event promoting Irish arts and culture drew a critical response following the decision to rehouse arts into a broader Cabinet portfolio.

Oscar-nominated film director Lenny Abrahamson tweeted in response to a photo of Mr Kenny’s attendance at the opening: “Yet the same @EndaKennyTD fails to give arts a full seat at Cabinet table or commitment to properly fund.”

On Wednesday, as part of the 1916 commemorations, Mr Kenny will visit the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill, where he will view a private exhibit of congressional documents relating to the Rising.

He will later plant an Irish oak tree on the grounds of the US Capitol, a rare honour for a foreign dignitary, to the memory of the leaders of the Easter Rising, and attend a special ceremony in Statuary Hall in the Capitol building.

Mr Biden is expected to visit Ireland for about four days in late June and his trip will include stops in Dublin, Mayo and Louth. It will mix a number of official engagements with private events as he is planning to travel with a number of members of his family.

The visit fulfils a long-standing invitation from the Taoiseach, who has spoken on recent St Patrick’s Day visits to Washington of the possibility of Mr Biden visiting Ireland and even of personally playing golf with the US vice-president.

Mr Biden regularly speaks proudly of his ancestral roots in Ireland and quotes Irish poets and writers such as William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Seamus Heaney - as well as his late Irish-American mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden - in speeches and public remarks.

Hailing from a strongly Irish Catholic family, Mr Biden’s maternal great-great grandfather Owen Finnegan emigrated from Co Louth in 1849, while his great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt left Co Mayo in 1851.

He grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania before moving with his family as a boy to Delaware, a state he represented in the US for 36 years.

Mr Biden last stopped in Ireland in December on his return to Washington from a visit to Ukraine. During a refuelling stop at Shannon he attended a special Mass in the airport’s chapel to observe the Catholic holy day of December 8th.

Last year Mr Biden ruled out a third bid for the US presidency, saying the window to run a viable campaign had closed while his family grieved the death of his eldest son Beau on May 30th, 2015 at the age of 46 due to brain cancer.

He later said he regretted that decision every day.

US president Barack Obama quoted Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh in an emotional eulogy at Mr Biden jnr’s funeral service.

Mr Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited Ireland in 2011, travelling to the ancestral home of his great-great-great grandfather, shoemaker Falmouth Kearney, in Moneygall, Co Offaly.

The couple were in Ireland again in June 2013 at the time of the G8 summit of world leaders at the Lough Erne resort in Co Fermanagh.

Mr Obama joked with reporters on Mr Kenny’s St Patrick’s Day visit to the Oval Office in 2014 that Mr Biden “lobbies him every week to go to Ireland”.

“I guarantee you, he’ll get there, he’ll get there,” he said.