Biden in Ireland: ‘It feels like home’ - Biden ends first day of visit with a family reunion

US president hails Belfast Agreement saying landmark peace deal ‘shifted the political gravity in our world’

US president Joe Biden wrapped up the first full day of his Irish visit with a family gathering in a Co Louth pub, telling a reunion with distant cousins: “It feels like home.”

Addressing fourth and fifth cousins in The Windsor pub in Dundalk, the 46th US president spoke about the warm welcome he received from wellwishers who greeted him as he walked through the town in the first public engagement of his three-day visit to the Republic.

Mr Biden said he understood why his ancestors left, referring to his great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan who left the nearby Cooley peninsula for the US during the Great Famine in 1849.

But he added: “When you are here, you wonder why anyone would want to leave. It is good to be back.”


Introducing Mr Biden, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the “full support” of the US in the Northern Ireland peace process “gave us the Good Friday Agreement” and that American support “continues to open up horizons for us”.

“Welcome home, Mr president,” said Mr Martin.

“Coming here feels like coming home,” Mr Biden told the small gathering.

The US president spoke about family and the need to “keep the faith” in his brief remarks, adding: “Together we have to keep working towards a future of greater dignity.”

The family reunion marked a personal end to a busy day of engagements for Mr Biden, North and South of the Border.

Earlier, in a speech at the new Ulster University campus in Belfast, Mr Biden expressed hope that the North’s powersharing government will be restored as he hailed the “astounding” peace brought by the Belfast Agreement.

He marked the 25th anniversary of the landmark deal that brought an end to the Troubles, saying it “shifted the political gravity in our world”.

Mr Biden highlighted the “incredible economic opportunity” created though “sustained peace”, which he said is “just beginning”.

In his carefully worded address, Mr Biden insisted that the return of Stormont was a decision that rested with the North’s politicians.

“That’s a judgment for you to make not me, but I hope it happens,” he said.

Northern Ireland has had no functioning government for more than a year due to the DUP’s boycott of Stormont over its opposition to post-Brexit trading arrangements.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the presidential visit but said “it doesn’t change the political dynamic in Northern Ireland”.

A senior US official hit back at comments made by former DUP leader Arlene Foster, prior to Mr Biden’s visit, who accused the US president of being “pro republican” and claimed he “hates the United Kingdom”.

“The track record of the president shows that he is not anti-British,” Amanda Sloat, a special assistant to Mr Biden said.

Shortly after landing in Dublin, Mr Biden travelled to the Cooley Peninsula where he braved wet weather for a visit to Carlingford Castle with Mr Martin.

“It’s fine. It’s Ireland,” he said when asked by a reporter what he thought of the rain.

Among the guests at the pub reunion was his cousin Rob Kearney, the former Ireland rugby international. Paying tribute to his cousin, Mr Biden said he was “a hell of a rugby player,” adding that he “beat the hell out of the Black and Tans” in Chicago in 2016, an apparent reference to Ireland’s historic victory over New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team.

In another gaffe, the US president also called Mr Martin, a Cork native, “another proud son of Louth” and referred to the former taoiseach as “prime minister”.

On Thursday, Mr Biden will meet President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Farmleigh before addressing the Houses of the Oireachtas and attending a State dinner at Dublin Castle.

Government officials said the Taoiseach looked forward to discussing Mr Biden’s “latest impressions” on the state of play with the parties in Northern Ireland following his visit to Belfast and his brief talks with party leaders yesterday.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times