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Biden’s Family Tour of Ireland: The Good, the Bad, and the Embarrassing Moments


It was the journey of a lifetime for President Biden, filled with “hope and history” that was almost inevitably accompanied by odd moments, blunders, kisses and tears.

Determined to make the journey back to his ancestral homeland for the first time as president, Biden succeeded in making a journey with clear personal meaning to him. “They can’t keep me out of it,” he joked, weeks before he left for the reverse journey his ancestors made more than 150 years ago.

When he arrived here, he could hardly contain his appreciation for the place with a personal and political identity. “Ta me sa bhaile, I’m home,” Biden said during one of the many speeches, stumbling through a Gaelic phrase.

With a low-content route and filled with family reunions and face-to-face meetings, it was a question of when, not if something unplanned or unexpected would happen. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of Biden’s journey: the good, the bad, and the awkward.

Rugby reference gone wrong

The White House had to clean up after Biden confused the Black and Tans, a British force that brutally crushed Irish insurgents in the 1920s, with the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union team.

Biden spoke at the Windsor pub and restaurant, where his Finnegan relatives included an Irish rugby player who is a distant relative.

But while praising his rugby-playing cousin, he managed to call the New Zealand rugby team ‘the Black and Tans’, the dreaded British security force.

“I think it was incredibly clear to anyone in Ireland who was a rugby fan that the president was talking about the All Blacks and Ireland’s defeat to the New Zealand team in 2016,” said Amanda Sloat, senior National Security Director for Europe, during a morning briefing.

Then Biden continued the cleanup operation by retelling the story before the Irish parliament, and this time getting the reference right.

The misstep threatened to overshadow Biden’s cross-border activities a day earlier, when he had to walk the thin line to keep Northern Ireland’s Protestant and Catholic communities happy.

Former Irish rugby union player Rob Kearney at the pub where Biden made the comment about the Black and Tans

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

President Joe Biden received a warm welcome from Irish President Michael Higgins on Thursday, as well as from the Irish people. Less of his dog.

As the two leaders entered the grounds of the Irish president’s residence for a tree-planting ceremony, Higgins tried to introduce his American counterpart to Misneach, one of his huge Bernese Mountain Dogs.

But Misneach – named for the Irish word for “courage” – was having none of it.

While Biden moved in to show some love, the two-year-old did his best to disrupt American-Irish relations by barking at the president and backing off.

Social media users quickly took advantage of the moment, claiming that Misneach only responded to commands in Irish.

Misneach, the Irish President's Bernese Mountain Dog, was unimpressed by President Joe Biden's attempts to build US-Ireland relations, barking and recoiling at his advances

Misneach, the Irish President’s Bernese Mountain Dog, was unimpressed by President Joe Biden’s attempts to build US-Ireland relations, barking and recoiling at his advances

Near miss on the ball field

President Joe Biden had a hard ball whizzing not far from his head while watching a youth sports demonstration in Ireland — in a potential antenna the Secret Service may not have counted on during its high-security trip.

The president was visiting Irish Toiseach Leo Varadkar to see the hardball game being played by Irish women and girls when the incident took place.

The two leaders stood on a corner of a field on what turned out to be the sunniest day of Biden’s four-day visit, watching the Gaelic stick and ball game Camogie, a female version of Hurling.

“A sliotar (camogie ball) whizzed right past Biden’s left shoulder and almost hit the president,” said an Arctic reporter who was with the president on Thursday.

Spectators can be heard reacting to the fairly close call after the crack of a wooden sling stick.

Hunter’s help

Hunter Biden was a constant presence by his father’s side throughout the journey. At one point, Biden got help from his son when he took questions from kids on Wednesday when he arrived in Dublin.

On the second day of the 80-year-old’s trip to his ancestral homeland, the president told the families of US embassy staff they could ask him “anything” — despite his refusing to hold a press conference during his four-day journey.

Hunter at one point corrected his father when he tried to remember whether the late Senator Jesse Helms was from North or South Carolina, then led him to “walk the rope line” when the event concluded.

The president’s son, under federal tax investigation and under constant threat from Republicans, was beside his father as he traced his family roots to the Emerald Isle.

“Do any of you want to ask me questions?” Biden asked the children. He was then distracted by a youth holding a toy model of Air Force One.

Then he turned his attention back to the crowd.

‘In the back. He has a question,’ Hunter told his father.

Biden gave a dramatic farewell speech next to a cathedral in Ballina that could have been a campaign video

Biden gave a dramatic farewell speech next to a cathedral in Ballina that could have been a campaign video

Visit to hospice that supported his son Beau

The journey also contained somber notes. Biden made an emotional visit to a new hospice named after his late son Beau during his tour of Ireland on Friday, bringing along his son Hunter and sister Valerie.

It was a close family moment, as they were greeted at the Mayo Hospice in the west of Ireland by Laurita Blewitt, the president’s third cousin and a major fundraiser for the $10 facility.

Biden had visited in 2017 to “turn the tide” at a groundbreaking ceremony, but this time he was able to see the plaque with his son’s name at the entrance.

They wrapped their arms around each other and both Valerie Biden and Blewitt wiped the tears from their eyes.

President Joe Biden visits Mayo Roscommon Hospice in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, where a plaque bears his son Beau's name.

President Joe Biden visits Mayo Roscommon Hospice in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, where a plaque bears his son Beau’s name.

Almost tears at the Knock Shrine

Biden burst into tears while visiting Ireland’s Knock Shrine on Friday when he met the chaplain who administered the final rituals to his late son, Beau.

The emotional moment came when the president was given a tour of the Irish pilgrimage site after Biden learned that retired army chaplain, Father Frank O’Grady, now worked there.

“He cried, it really touched him and then we said a prayer, we said a decade of the rosary for his family,” Father Richard Gibbons said.

“He lit a candle and then took a moment or two of himself for prayer,” Gibbons told the BBC.

“It just so happens that we have the chaplain at work here at the shrine who gave the last rituals, the last anointing, to his son in the United States,” Gibbons told the broadcaster.

“He got the fright of his life when he came over, so that was something very spontaneous that happened,” he said.

An eye-catching farewell

Biden concluded his trip with a spectacular farewell organized in front of St. Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina, where he made up more family stories for thousands of cheering Irish fans.

He recalled how an ancestor, Edward Blewitt, once sold 27,000 bricks to support St. Muredach’s Cathedral in County Mayo, where Biden gave a speech to tens of thousands of cheering Irish fans.

“In 1828 he was paid 21 pounds and 12 shillings to help deliver bricks for this cathedral,” Biden said of his great-great-great-grandfather.

“I doubt he ever imagined his great-great-grandson returning as president of the United States of America 200 years later. Is not that great?’ he said.

A series of floodlights illuminated by the cathedral and others pierced the sky, in a dramatically staged event that foreshadowed a potential re-election run that would retell Biden’s personal story and connect it to the country.

It was the near-final image of a journey of memorable photo ops, from cheering Irish fans queuing to see the president to the moment he kissed the new baby from Senator Rebecca Moynihan shortly after she addressed the Irish Parliament.

The White House gave a spectacular farewell speech

The White House gave a spectacular farewell speech

One for the road

Biden, who doesn’t drink and thus hasn’t tasted the island’s famous Guinness beer, couldn’t leave Ireland without another comment that raised eyebrows. Speaking to reporters as he prepared to board Air Force One to fly home, Biden was asked if he had learned anything about his family after visiting a genealogy center.

He spoke again about how the US is a nation of immigrants, saying that part of his hard-working spirit and taste for freedom was rooted in Ireland and other countries.

“Look, you all come from somewhere, unlike my Secretary of the Interior, but anyway…” he said, referring to Deb Haaland, the country’s first Native American cabinet member.

She is a member of the Pueblo tribe of Laguna, and according to the bureau, she is a 35th generation New Mexican.

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