Bringing Joe Biden to Cork - what a way to bow out as Taoiseach...

A visit is on the cards for Joe Biden to Ireland - but will he come to Cork? So asks John Dolan in his weekly column
Bringing Joe Biden to Cork - what a way to bow out as Taoiseach...

Taoiseach Micheal Martin speaking with United States President Joe Biden via video link in the Government Buildings, Dublin, to mark St Patrick's Day.

THERE is an argument to be made that Micheál Martin has been a very unlucky Taoiseach.

I mean, think about it: After 33 years as a TD, and almost a decade as Fianna Fáil leader, he finally leads his party to the most seats at the 2020 General Election, is elected Taoiseach - and a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic hits.

When, finally, the Covid crisis is over, and the Corkman is ready to ‘build back better’ - wham! War breaks out in Europe, triggering an inflationary explosion.

There have been personal lows for the Taoiseach too, not least his frustrating inability to meet face to face with the most Irish - and pro-Irish - incumbent of the White House since John F Kennedy, Joe Biden.

For his first St Patrick’s Day as leader, Mr Martin had to remain on this side of the Atlantic while Covid raged. This year, he made it all the way to Washington, then tested positive for the virus the day before he was due to present the shamrock to the U.S President.

“We’re getting closer,” the Taoiseach joked to Mr Biden on a conference call on St Patrick’s Day, while describing the circumstances as “unfortunate”.

That must have been putting it mildly for a man who has been immersed in politics all his life, and who is only too aware of the significance of being the second Taoiseach from Cork, and the honour that comes with the office of meeting a U.S President in the White House.

Yes, Lady Luck has had it in for Micheál Martin at times.

Now, his two-and-a-half years in charge is counting down to its endgame, when he hands over the rotating Taoiseach role to Leo Varadkar on December 15 - seven months tomorrow.

That’s only just over 200 days left to leave a mark, a legacy, something memorable for posterity that doesn’t involve Covid, a war, and soaring prices.

But is there time to slot in a little piece of history - right here, in Mr Martin’s own Cork backyard? Yes, yes, there is.

The other day, a newspaper speculated that Joe Biden is planning a visit to Ireland in October, and such a stopover will surely present an opportunity that the Taoiseach will not fail to grasp: A visit to Cork.

That would be historic, and leave a legacy in his constituency and home city that would endure.

American President John F. Kennedy at Cork City Hall with Lord Mayor Sean Casey during his visit to the city 28/06/1963.
American President John F. Kennedy at Cork City Hall with Lord Mayor Sean Casey during his visit to the city 28/06/1963.

It would be the first visit to Cork by a sitting U.S President since John F Kennedy famously arrived in a motorcade in 1963 to an almost Beatlemania-style reception, just five months before he was assassinated in another motorcade in Dallas.

That visit has remained etched on the soul of Cork ever since, and although Mr Biden doesn’t have the allure of JFK at the peak of his powers, he would still be a huge draw for its citizens, and his trip here a huge feather in the cap for Mr Martin.

Since JFK, various American Presidents have visited Ireland, but not one has deigned to visit Cork. It is starting to look like a snub for the Republic’s second city.

When Richard Nixon visited Ireland in 1970, then Taoiseach Jack Lynch failed to bring him to his native city. Instead, the man who was to become ‘Tricky Dicky’, and the only President to resign office, toured Kildare, where his ancestors came from, and Dublin.

That visit was over-shadowed by protests over the Vietnam War - not the last time a visiting U.S President would encounter opposition where JFK only encountered love and adulation.

Notwithstanding any protests, the chance to schmooze with the Irish usually plays well with Irish-America - and a visit by Mr Biden in October would come just ahead of his mid-term elections and be calculated to give him a timely boost in the polls back home.

President Ronald Reagan at Ballyporeen with Myles Regan on 03/06/84.
President Ronald Reagan at Ballyporeen with Myles Regan on 03/06/84.

The next U.S President to visit Ireland was Ronald Reagan, in 1984, who visited his own ancestral roots in Ballyporeen in Tipperary and also Galway and Dublin. Among the worthies who protested during his visit was one Michael D. Higgins.

Ballyporeen is just 5km from the Cork border - but yet again, a U.S President had failed to follow in JFK’s footsteps and visit Cork.

It was the same story when Barack Obama and Donald Trump dropped by - although few would have welcomed the latter with open arms, it’s fair to say. Imagine Trump bombing down Patrick Street in a motorcade... eggs incoming!

It’s true Bill Clinton did come to Cork in 2012, to attend a conference in Castlemartyr, but by then he was no longer President.

So, one paltry U.S presidential visit to Cork in 233 years - and Biden is the 46th to hold office!

That’s not good.

But of all the Presidents since JFK, Mr Biden would be assured of the best welcome here in Cork. 

He has spoken often of his pride in his Irish roots - and not been afraid to put it up to Boris Johnson on Brexit and the Protocol, even risking damaging America’s so-called ‘special relationship’ with the UK.

All that plays well here, as does the fact that, when he became President, he responded to an invitation by Mr Martin to visit the auld sod by replying; “Try keeping me out.”

Now, a visit to Ireland appears to be on the cards, as part of a three-day tour in October, it was reported this week.

It would naturally offer Mr Biden the chance to visit his ancestral homes in Louth and Mayo, and he would also visit various leaders in Dublin. But a day out in Cork could surely form part of any agenda.

Security preparations are under- way already, according to the newspaper report, which claimed U.S Secret Service officers will travel to Ireland in June to liaise with gardaí ahead of the visit, working out transport routes and accommodation. The report added that such a visit is being actively discussed at Government level, where the Taoiseach and ministers Michael McGrath and Simon Coveney are presumably flying the Rebel flag.

It all begs the question of where in Cork Mr Biden would visit if he did come - the English Market? Michael Collins’ homestead, given the current centenary year of his death? Cobh, emigration point for so many departing Americans? If it’s a Sunday, the Catholic church-goer may even attend mass in its famous cathedral?

The President is a car enthusiast so perhaps a visit to the Ford statue in Ballinascarthy? Or how about a trip to the Pairc for this devoted football and basketball fan? He once said if he hadn’t been a politician, he’s have been an architect, so maybe he would like to view UCC’S Glucksman?

Wherever he goes, he would be a great advert for Cork around the world.

The only fly in the ointment is that any proposed trip to Ireland could be quickly scrapped if events in Ukraine escalate. And knowing Micheál Martin’s luck, we really shouldn’t rule that out.

Surely he is due a break, before he leaves office. Isn’t he?

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