Biden Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with Ireland’s Prime Minister

Biden Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with Ireland’s Prime Minister

WASHINGTON — The first clue Friday was the fountain in front of the White House, which flowed a bright kelly green.

There was also the green tie and shamrocks in the breast pocket of the jacket President Biden wore to greet Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Prime Minister or Taoiseach, on his traditional St Patrick’s Day visit. Not to mention the confirmation of Mr Biden’s visit to Ireland next month.

But the real proof that the Oval Office is manned by a supremely proud Irish-American was Mr. Biden’s own tweet, describing his heritage as the “great-great-grandson of the Blewitts of County Mayo and the Finnegans of County Mayo.” County Louth” noted.

“As the proud son of Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden – I wish you all a very happy St. Patrick’s Day,” the President wrote.

Mr. Biden is only the second Irish Catholic to occupy the White House, after John F. Kennedy. (Ronald Reagan, who was also Irish-American, beat him by more than 40 years.) But the current president is perhaps most unabashedly proud of his Irish roots, often saying he inherited his “Irish values” from his mother , who told him to treat people with respect and dignity.

His mother also told him not to bow to the Queen of England, advice he took on two meetings with the monarch, first as Senator and later as President.

But if there have been some Irish-English family tensions in Mr Biden’s past, he has also been an ardent supporter of efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland. The treaty that provided the framework for that peace, known as the Good Friday Agreement, turns 25 this year and will serve as the reason for Mr Biden’s first visit to Ireland as President in April.

“I promise you we will roll out the red carpet and it will be a visit like no other,” Mr. Varadkar told the President ahead of their meeting in the Oval Office on Friday. “Everyone’s looking forward to it.”

That includes Mr. Biden.

The west wing has been looking forward to the President’s expected visit in the spring for months. The official announcement came only after some ongoing disputes over power-sharing in the countries were settled, but Mr Biden has made it clear in recent days that he plans to make the trip to mark the Good Friday anniversary.

Advisors and reporters await a vertiginous president as he returns to his ancestral homeland for the first time since assuming the post he has sought for decades. On Friday, speaking with lawmakers on Capitol Hill for the annual St Patrick’s Day luncheon, Mr Biden recalled a previous visit to meet his extended family members in Ireland.

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“It was a great, a great experience,” he said, joking that he met a lot of distant relatives who “weren’t actually in jail.”

He remembered his grandfather telling him that “the best drop of blood in you is Irish”. But it was another of his grandfather’s maxims that may have helped him thrive amid the bitterness and division of his campaigns.

“Joey, never bend, never bow, never kneel, never give in,” Mr. Biden recalled. “Never.”

The President was introduced at lunch by his host, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, another Irish-American politician and Mr Biden’s main opponent in Washington.

Mr. McCarthy struck a particularly warm note in his introduction, saying that he wanted to have with Mr. Biden the kind of productive relationship that former Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., also Irish-American, had with Mr. Reagan had.

“Our goals can be the same,” McCarthy said. “That we put this country first.”

It may take more than Irish luck to achieve this at a time of fierce dissent and division in Washington – and a presidential election less than two years away. But Mr Biden tried to match Mr McCarthy’s optimism.

Mr. Biden uttered a phrase that is unlikely to be used very much in the coming days, saying, “I agree with the speaker.”

“There’s no reason we can’t find common ground,” Biden said. “There’s no reason why we can’t hope to change this direction, which is driving the extremes in both parties.”

Friday night, Mr. Biden hosted a shamrock presentation and reception for Mr. Varadkar and others at the White House, capping a day of celebration of the Irish.

The Irish Prime Minister commended the United States for standing by Ireland throughout its history, citing support from Democratic presidents such as Jimmy Carter and Republican presidents such as Mr. Reagan.

But, he said, Mr. Biden is special.

“As we know, every American president is a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” Mr. Varadkar told guests in the East Room of the White House. “But some are more Irish than others. And I think it’s fair to say that today we celebrate our national day with a President who is unmistakably a son of Ireland.”