President Biden in Ireland: "Feels like I'm coming home"

President Biden in Ireland: "Feels like I'm coming home"

PETER KELLY travelled alongside the White House Press Corps across Ireland covering the historic visit. He sums up the momentous visit

US PRESIDENT Joe Biden told Ireland's leaders that "peace is precious, it still needs to be nurtured", during his all-island landmark visit.

It was a repeated message as he toured the country, from political engagements in Belfast and Dublin to celebrating his Irish ancestry in counties Louth and Mayo last week.

The 46th US President touched down at Belfast's RAF Aldergrove base in Air Force One to be greeted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

It began a four-day trip that would take in formal engagements with Irish President Michael D Higgins, a parliamentary address in the Dáil, Dublin Castle networking banquet and a celebration at Belfast's Ulster University of the North's peace process

President Biden then travelled to Dundalk where he celebrated his familial links with the county.

The President's great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan departed nearby Carlingford in the 1840s to emigrate to America. His other great-grandparent was Edward Blewitt, who left the west coast town of Ballina in County Mayo in 1850 to emigrate to the US.

During his Dundalk speech, President Biden drew comparison with his former Democratic White House partner Barack Obama in their similar Irish ancestry. He said both men's ancestors left Ireland around the same time. President Obama's great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney was from Moneygall in County Offaly, where Obama visited in 2011. "They would never have dreamed that their grandsons would have been presidents of the United States," mused President Biden.

In an earlier address to the Dáil in Dublin, he spoke of the vast historical and cultural ties between Ireland and America, and led the effort to restore the North's institutions at Stormont in Belfast. "There are literally hundreds of American corporations that are ready to invest, but they are cautious because the institutions are not in place" he told the assembled audience of lawmakers including former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny. President Biden formally introduced his Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, former Congressman Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Robert F Kennedy and grand nephew of former President John F Kennedy.

President Biden's visit has attracted criticism from some unionist figures, including former First Minister Arlene Foster who accused the former Delaware Senator of "being pro-Republic", and "hating the UK". However in more positive comments after the US leader's Belfast speech, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson called the President's words "measured" and welcomed his engagement with Northern Ireland. The Director of the National Security Council travelling with the White House entourage hit back, saying "President Biden obviously is a very proud Irish-American, he is proud of those Irish roots, but he is also a strong supporter of our bilateral partnership with the UK.”

On Friday, Joe Biden completed his nationwide tour by visiting the Catholic shrine of Knock in County Mayo and meeting locals in the town of Ballina including former President Mary Robinson, before departing on Air Force One from Dublin back to his native state of Delaware.

Peter Kelly