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An emotional Biden tells Irish parliament: 'I'm home'

Published 04/13/2023, 03:39 AM
Updated 04/14/2023, 01:27 AM
© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden holds a toy Air Force One as he meets with U.S. embassy staff families in Dublin, Ireland April 12, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Padraic Halpin and Steve Holland

DUBLIN (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden told the Irish parliament he was "home" in an emotional address on the second day of a nostalgic three-day tour celebrating his Irish heritage as he geared up for a planned 2024 re-election campaign.

"I'm home... I only wish I could stay longer," he said to applause and cheers in a packed chamber.

On one of the longest foreign trips of his presidency, Biden became the fourth U.S. president to address the parliament after John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. A state banquet was held for the president at Dublin Castle afterwards.

"Well mom, you said it would happen," he said looking skyward at the start of his speech, having met some of his late mother's distant relatives on Wednesday.

Biden began his trip on a more serious note in Northern Ireland, where on Wednesday he urged political leaders there to restore their power-sharing government with the promise of significant U.S. investment.

But as soon as he crossed the border after that speech, he shifted gear to folksy anecdotes of his Irish relatives and photo ops with enthusiastic locals.

His great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan left the Irish county of Louth for the United States in 1849. On Friday, Biden is to meet relatives from another side of his family in County Mayo on the opposite coast of Ireland.

Providing plenty of images back home ahead of the 2024 election, Biden was pictured with a baby in the parliament, took selfies with reporters and got a sample of some Gaelic sports after a meeting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

He acknowledged, however, that he was coming towards the end of his political career.

"I'm at the end of my career. Not the beginning. The only thing I bring to this career - and you can see, how old I am - is a little bit of wisdom." Biden, 80, has said he will run again in 2024 but has made no formal campaign announcement.

'THE REAL DEAL'

Biden quipped he did not want to go back to Washington while meeting fellow octogenarian, Irish President Michael D. Higgins. Higgins previously hosted then-Vice President Biden at his residence in Dublin's Phoenix Park in 2016, and again in 2017.

Biden said he quoted the Irish proverb that "your feet will bring you where your heart is" when signing the visitors' book, and wrote that it was an honour to return to the home of his ancestors to celebrate all that binds Ireland and the U.S.

Higgins, who shares Biden's passion for Irish poems and has written many himself, presented the president with a vinyl copy of Patrick Kavanagh's poetry, which includes some of the poet's work read by U2 singer Bono, actor Liam Neeson and Higgins.

Known for frequently quoting Irish poet Seamus Heaney, Biden referenced the late Nobel Prize-winner again in parliament, this time with Heaney's wife, Marie, in attendance.

Biden, accompanied for some of his Dublin engagement by his son Hunter, sister Valerie and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, further praised Irish-U.S. ties at the banquet at St Patrick's Hall in Dublin Castle, an honour previously given to Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Kennedy.

On Friday he returns to County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland to meet relatives from another side of his family, that of great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt. He will also visit the Catholic shrine in Knock and make a public address in the town of Ballina to wrap up his tour.

© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden before a speech at the Dail Eireann, the lower house of the Irish Parliament, at Leinster House in Dublin, on April 13, 2023. Kenny Holston/Pool via REUTERS

"He's a real Irish guy. He's not like some of the presidents that you hear of that have Irish connections. This guy really has them," said Ballina publican Michael Carr, 52, as the town prepared for Biden's visit.

"He's the real deal."

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