Poignant ‘homecoming’ for US Vice President

US Vice President Joe Biden Ireland
Vice President Joe Biden. May 2016. Photo Merrion Street

US Vice President Joe Biden told Irish news media, ahead of his arrival in Ireland on Tuesday, that he had always planned to make the trip with his son Beau, who died last year.

Beau, who was Mr Biden’s eldest son and a former Attorney General of Delaware, died in May last year from brain cancer aged 46.

He introduced his father at the Democratic National Convention in 2008 when Joe Biden accepted the nomination to be Barack Obama’s vice presidential candidate and was widely expected to have a bright future in US politics as a Democrat.

Shortly after the 2008 Convention Beau was deployed to Iraq for a year, returning briefly to attend his father’s and Barack Obama’s inauguration as Vice President and President on 20 January 2009.

Joe Biden was first sworn into the Senate in 1973 from his son Beau’s hospital bedside, after he, and his brother Hunter, were seriously injured in a car crash that killed the Vice President’s first wife and their 13-month-old daughter. In his many years as a US Senator Mr Biden famously commuted back and forth to the Senate by train so as to spend more time with his sons as they grew up.

The vice president, an expert on foreign relations as a US Senator, said he had always planned to make the trip to Ireland with Beau, but did not get the opportunity before his son’s untimely death. In a written interview with RTE and The Irish Times,Vice President Biden described growing up in an American Irish household and community in Scranton, Pennsylvania which is twinned with Ballina, County Mayo.

Mr Biden’s mother’s maiden name was Finnegan, coming from Mr Biden’s great-great grandfather who is believed to have emigrated from the Cooley peninsula in 1850, and his other great-great-grandfather emigrated from Mayo aged 18.

Mr Biden was due to visit both Louth and Mayo this week, meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins, and deliver a keynote address in Dublin on Friday on “the Irish-American experience, the shared heritage of the two nations, and the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness”.

In the interview shortly before his arrival in Ireland Vice President Biden said: “My grandfather and grandmother Finnegan, all my mother’s brothers, and my father told us about the courage and commitment it took for our relatives to emigrate from Ireland — in the midst of tragedy to distant shores, where they didn’t know what awaited them. It took great courage,” said Mr. Biden. “I feel incredibly privileged to be able to share that heritage and this experience with my brother, my sister, my children, and all my grandkids,” he added.

He said his mother often told him: “You’re defined by your courage, and you’re redeemed by your loyalty” and his father would say: “When you’re knocked down – get up. Just keep moving.”

His mother also used to drill into him: “Joey, no one is better than you, and every other person is equal to you and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.” This visit meant “a great deal” to him because it was where his ancestors had emigrated from “seeking a better future” and “now their great-great-great grandson is the Vice President of the United States of America”.

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