5 traits that show us President Biden really is Irish to the core

Kathriona Devereux reflects on the US President's recent visit to Ireland
5 traits that show us President Biden really is Irish to the core

U.S President Joe Biden with Senator Rebecca Moynihan and her daughter Margot. A love of babies is a very Irish trait!

WHAT a delight it was to have the newspapers plastered with a smiling 80-year-old man instead of the usual bad news headlines. Is there anyone more happy to be Irish than President Joe Biden?

Call it cheesy if you like, but it is human to be attached to somewhere and being Irish and loving Ireland is a big part of Biden’s identity.

Whether you agree with his politics or not (his recent approval of a giant oil and gas project in Alaska is highly questionable from a climate point of view), he has been a dedicated public servant for decades who has overcome huge personal tragedies, and it was heart-warming to see him lap up the attention and admiration of a nation he loves so much.

As political commentators reported on his every move, Biden served up reminder after reminder that he might be, in fact, more Irish than any of us. Here are the top five traits that made him really seem like one of our own.

1. He’s a bad timekeeper

It’s doubtful he’d risk being two hours late to visit the German Reichstag, but Joe was in no rush to address the two houses of the Oireachtas. He was busy visiting friends in the Phoenix Park.

Irish politicians know a thing or two about turning up late to an event so they were very forgiving.

Maybe his full Irish breakfast caused him to dilly dally. Maybe the jetlag caught up with him. 

In fairness, he keeps up a schedule that would punish a person half his age, but arriving late to something is a characteristic that many of us can identify with and we let him off.

His ability to go off script to tell extended anecdotes and asides was reminiscent of an unprepared priest at Mass.

Biden wasn’t sticking to the suggested five minute speech at Dublin Castle and at times veered into what my grandmother would have called “pure raiméis”. But hey, he’s the leader of the free world so who’s going to stop him!

2. He loves babies

In Ireland, we love to coo over a baby. That is not a given in every country. A friend of mine had her first baby in Belgium where her apartment neighbours witnessed her burgeoning belly over nine months. When she bumped into the same neighbours with her brand new baby in tow, they didn’t even acknowledge that she had recently ejected a small human. Back in Cork with the baby, everyone, from shopkeepers to strangers in car parks, stopped to admire and congratulate her.

Biden’s magic moment with Margot, Senator Rebecca Moynihan’s eight-week-old daughter, was utterly charming because he seemed to be genuinely comfortable with her. Kudos to Margot for not spitting up on the suit.

Sadly, poor Margot is destined for a life tethered to this Biden encounter. When the President dies, news crews will vox pop her in school. When the next American president comes to visit, she’ll be rolled out to give her opinion if he (or she) is as nice as Biden. On the 50th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, she’ll be a member of a television audience who the presenter will interview about the happy occasion with an obligatory reminder of the archive footage.

Thankfully, last week, Margot was oblivious to all that lay ahead of her.

3. He happily identifies as Irish

Lots of people are proud to be Irish but a significant majority spend a lot of time giving out about the state of the country.

Ireland is far from perfect, but it’s nice to hear from someone on the other side of the Atlantic say what he likes about Ireland.

In fairness, it’s not hard to compare favourably to America, which seems a mess most of the time. Firearms are the leading cause of death for children in the US. Anywhere else is heaven.

Cynics argue that you have to have an Irish passport or be born here before you can be considered Irish, but looking through Biden’s misty-eyed, rose-tinted glasses I was reminded of people around the world I’ve met who are connected to Ireland in their heart not through geography.

People born and bred in Gort, Co. Galway, who now call Brazil home but are Irish in their core, despite their Brazilian heritage.

Or my aunt’s husband Dan Sheehy, from Brooklyn, New York. The son of Limerick parents and part of an extended tribe with tricolours and shamrocks in the crannies of their living room. In my youth. I was completely bemused at the brand of Irishness they subscribed to but I now recognise it as the completely legitimate human desire to feel connected.

4. He’s not a fan of Britain

Biden tries his best, but there is a distaste for Britain, and particularly the impact of colonial oppression on Ireland, that he struggles to contain.

His great great great great grandfather on his father’s side was from England but we haven’t seen Biden riff on this side of his heritage .

The mutual disappreciation works both ways. DUP politicians were unimpressed, saying his visit would not impact the political dynamics in Northern Ireland. British cartoonists trotted out Irish tropes depicting him as an Irish dancing, Guinness drinking leprechaun in a Times cartoon that was at best lazy and at worst racist.

I guess Biden knows where he is welcome.

5. He is a teetotaler

Guinness marketing execs despaired when they realised they wouldn’t be getting the international exposure of the 46th President supping a pint of the black stuff.

I’m disappointed that Tanora marketing execs didn’t seize the opportunity to send their distinctly Irish soft drinks brand global.

A cheesy picture of Biden with an orange pint of fizz and a bag of Tayto would have been the most authentically Irish photo he could add to his family album.

Biden has forsworn alcohol after seeing the effects of alcoholism on his family and community growing up. His own son Hunter is a recovering alcoholic.

Ireland is filled with people who are teetotal for the same reasons, and it is yet another explanation perhaps why we get him.

So, whether you think the whole visit was an unnecessary circus, a Fáilte Ireland dream campaign or a genuine welcome for a returning son, Joe Biden represents a particular chapter of Irish history and we are unlikely to be visited again by another U.S president with such a deep grá for the auld sod.

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