President Joe Biden on Thursday met with Ireland’s top leaders, speaking of shared values between the two nations and the opportunities that lay ahead, while praising the nation for its humanitarian work welcoming Ukrainian refugees. “I think our values are the same,” Biden said during a sit-down with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister. “And I think our concerns are the same. So I’m really looking forward to continue to work with you.”
Ireland has welcomed nearly 80,000 refugees from Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, and it has been supportive of U.S-led efforts there. Biden said he was impressed by Ireland’s commitment. “I know it’s not easy,” he said of accepting so many people into the country. “I just think it feels so good to be able to have this... [A] stronger relationship between the United States and Ireland.”
Varadkar said he was looking forward to hearing about Biden’s visit to Belfast in Northern Ireland, where the president on Wednesday marked the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday agreements that ended years of sectarian violence. The U.S.-brokered deal brought peace to a region of the United Kingdom where “the Troubles” left some 3,600 people dead in bombings and other attacks.
The taoiseach also said he appreciated the president’s leadership, particularly on Ukraine.
“I never thought in my lifetime that we’d see a war of this nature happen in Europe again,” he said. “And democracy and liberty and all the things that we believe in are on retreat in large parts of the world. And if it wasn’t for American leadership, and if it wasn’t for America and Europe working together, I don’t know what kind of world we’d live in.”
Biden was turning back to diplomacy Thursday after spending most of Wednesday on a whirlwind countryside tour of his ancestry. He also planned to address Ireland’s lawmakers.
In his first stop of the day, Biden met with Irish President Michael D. Higgins at his grand Dublin residence. The two octogenarian leaders clasped hands and laughed as they walked the red carpet inside, where Biden signed the guest book with a writerly missive for Ireland’s poet-president: “As the Irish saying goes, your feet will bring you where your heart is. It’s an honor to return.”
Biden then shoveled dirt around a freshly planted Irish oak, not far from one planted years earlier by then-President Barack Obama. He also rang the Peace Bell, unveiled in 2008 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland. Biden clanged the bell four times, including one “for all my Irish ancestors, and a fourth one for peace.”
Then he thanked Higgins, who turns 82 next week. Biden is 80.
“I’m feeling great, and I’m learning a lot,” Biden said Thursday. “I know it sounds silly, but there’s many Irish-Americans, like my relatives, who’ve never come back here.”
Biden arrived in the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday after his appearance in Northern Ireland. Crowds lined five-deep and waited for eight hours to catch a glimpse of Biden in County Louth, where his mother’s family is from. In the town of Carlingford, the Democratic president toured a castle, gazing out over the sea where his ancestors sailed toward America.
Along the streets of nearby Dundalk, photos of the president and huge welcome signs were plastered along shopfronts. Children hung out of windows to wave at the president and display the U.S. flag.
From inside a packed old pub with a sticky wooden floor, Biden acknowledged that his ancestors emigrated to the United States to escape famine, but he added, “When you’re here, you wonder why anyone would ever want to leave.”
And he jokingly delivered bad news, saying: “We’ll be back. There’s no way to keep us out.”
The president was elated by the dive into his Irish heritage, which he often cites as a driving force in his public and private life.
According to the Irish Family History Centre, Biden “is among the most ‘Irish’ of all U.S. Presidents.” Ten of his 16 great-great-grandparents were from the Emerald Isle. Biden is particularly fond of quoting Irish poets, especially Seamus Heaney. Heaney’s widow was expected to attend the address at parliament Thursday.
Biden is spending three days in Ireland on his first visit back as president. He’ll also attend a gala dinner on Thursday and visit County Mayo, another ancestral area on the West Coast, on Friday before returning to Washington.
The president visited in 2016, near the end of his second term as Obama’s vice president.
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