Could Biden’s love of the Irish help in 2024?

Over 30 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, Biden’s visit last week was ‘gold dust for his image-makers’

President Biden speaking to crowds at St Muredach’s Cathedral
President Biden speaking to crowds at St Muredach’s Cathedral
(Image credit: Leon Neal / Getty images)

Joe Biden’s tour of Ireland went “if not exactly to plan, then according to expectations”, said Michael Day in The i Paper.

There was a brief – or arguably “curt” – visit to Northern Ireland, followed by “an extended, sentimental wallow” in the glories of the Republic. Biden addressed the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, saying: “I only wish I could stay longer.” He prayed at the shrine of Our Lady of Knock. He went to a pub, where he confused the All Blacks rugby team with the Black and Tans, the notorious British security force, claiming that a rugby-playing cousin had “beat the hell out of the Black and Tans”.

‘Mayo Joe’

The visit ended in an address to thousands outside St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina, his ancestral town in County Mayo, said The Guardian. Biden cast the story of his family leaving famine-stricken Ireland for the US as a parable of the American dream, calling himself “Mayo Joe, son of Ballina”.

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“What is it about Ireland that makes presidents go all green and giddy?” asked The Economist. Biden’s paternal line is English: the family comes from Westbourne in West Sussex. “As far as anyone knows, Mr Biden has yet to visit.” But this was his “third pilgrimage in seven years” to the homeland of his maternal ancestors, the Blewitts of Mayo, the Finnegans of Louth.

A plastic Paddy?

Biden’s Irishness is pure affectation, said Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times. Like so many Americans, he’s a “shamrock-hugging” plastic Paddy, buying into a mythical version of Ireland “rooted in falsehoods, stereotypes, ignorance and things badly misremembered”.

This bogus vision of “Oirishness” would be funny, if it hadn’t caused so many problems, “not least the eastern seaboard of the US keeping the murderous psychos of the IRA financially afloat for 30 years or more”.

It’s hard to see why he bothered going to Belfast at all, said the Daily Mail. Biden wears his anti-British Irish Republicanism “like a badge”. The former DUP leader Arlene Foster wasn’t far wrong when she claimed that he “hates the UK”.

Give Biden his due, said Ben Lowry in the Belfast News Letter. He may have a “greater affinity with Ireland”, but he has been a good friend to the UK, from the Falklands War on. He came to Belfast at Rishi Sunak’s request, and he was careful not to say “any of the things Sinn Féin would have wanted him to say”.

While pressuring the DUP to return to power-sharing, he “avoided embarrassing them by name and made clear that such choices were a matter for Northern Ireland”. He even nodded to the unionist tradition, and the Ulster Scots.

Irish Americans: crucial swing voters

There may have been another reason for his extended southern tour, said Simon Marks in The i Paper. Biden is expected to announce his re-election bid within weeks. He is well aware that more than 30 million Americans – almost one in ten – claim Irish ancestry. While they’re not a monolithic voting bloc, as they were in JFK’s day, they make up a crucial swing vote. The pictures of him being mobbed by Dubliners “will be gold dust for his image-makers”.

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