Biden Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with Ireland’s Prime Minister
WASHINGTON — The first clue on Friday was the fountain in front of the White House, which flowed a bright, Kelly green.
There was also the green tie and the shamrocks in the breast pocket of the jacket that President Biden wore to greet Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, or taoiseach, for his traditional visit on St. Patrick’s Day. Not to mention the confirmation of Mr. Biden’s visit to Ireland next month.
But the real proof that the Oval Office is occupied by a fiercely proud Irish American was Mr. Biden’s own tweet, noting his heritage as the “great-great-grandson of the Blewitts of County Mayo and the Finnegans of County Louth.”
“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 to the office by more than 40 years.) But the current president may be the most unabashedly proud of his Irish roots, saying often that he got 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 has said he took during two meetings with the monarch, first as a senator and later as president.
But if there has been some familial Irish-English tension in Mr. Biden’s past, he has also been an ardent supporter of the efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland. The treaty that created the framework for that peace, known as the Good Friday Agreement, turns 25 years old this year and will serve as the reason for Mr. Biden’s first visit to Ireland as president in April.
“I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be a visit like no other,” Mr. Varadkar told the president ahead of their Oval Office meeting on Friday. “Everyone’s excited about it already.”
That includes Mr. Biden.
There has been anticipation inside the West Wing for months about the president’s likely visit in the spring. The official announcement didn’t come until some ongoing disputes were resolved over power sharing in the countries, but Mr. Biden made it clear in recent days that he plans to make the trip to mark the Good Friday anniversary.
Aides and reporters are expecting an almost giddy president when he returns to his ancestral homeland for the first time since assuming the office he sought for decades. On Friday, as he spoke to lawmakers at 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 many extended relatives who “actually weren’t in jail.”
He reminisced about his grandfather, who told him told him that “the best drop of blood in you is Irish.” But it was another maxim from his grandfather that may have helped him succeed amid the bitterness and divisiveness of his campaigns.
“Joey, never bend, never bow, never kneel, never yield,” Mr. Biden recalled. “Never, never.”
The president was introduced at the luncheon by its host, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, another Irish American politician and Mr. Biden’s chief adversary in Washington.
Mr. McCarthy struck a notably warm note in his introduction, saying that he wanted to have the kind of productive relationship with Mr. Biden that former Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., also Irish American, had with Mr. Reagan.
“Our goals can be the same,” Mr. McCarthy said. “That we put this country first.”
It may take more than the luck of the Irish to accomplish that at a time of intense disagreement and division in Washington — and a presidential election in less than two years. But Mr. Biden tried to match Mr. McCarthy’s optimism.
Uttering a phrase not likely to be used very often in the days ahead, Mr. Biden said: “I agree with the speaker.”
“There’s no reason why we can’t find common ground,” Mr. Biden said. “There’s no reason why we can’t hope to change this direction the extremes in both parties are pushing.”
Friday evening, Mr. Biden hosted a shamrock presentation and reception at the White House for Mr. Varadkar and others, capping a day celebrating the Irish.
The Irish prime minister praised the United States for standing with Ireland throughout its history, noting the support from Democratic presidents like Jimmy Carter and Republican ones like Mr. Reagan.
But, he said, Mr. Biden is special.
“As we know, every American president is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” Mr. Varadkar told the 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’re celebrating our national day with a president who is unmistakably a son of Ireland.”