A beaming Joe Biden approvingly told a packed pub in Ireland that his distant relative was “beating the hell out of the Black and Tans”—a notorious British militia sent to Ireland in the 1920s to try to stamp out Irish nationalism.
Biden’s comment was seen by some as a gaffe: he was referring to Rob Kearney, a rugby player who famously beat the All Blacks.
But others thought it was a Freudian slip — a nod from Biden to his own outspoken pro-Irish sentiments.
Former Democratic Unionist party leader Arlene Foster said on the eve of his arrival that the US president “hates the UK” — prompting Biden’s senior aide, Amanda Sloat, to insist on Wednesday that he was “not anti-British.”
Yet Biden’s reference to the Black and Tans has only served to reinforce the idea of his pro-nationalist stance.
Joe Biden is photographed Wednesday at the Windsor Bar in Dundalk, Ireland with Michael Martin, the Tánaiste, Secretary of State and Defense Secretary
Biden on Wednesday referred to Rob Kearney – the Irish rugby player, who is a distant cousin. Pictured is Biden welcoming Kearney to the White House on March 17 to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
Kearney (left) celebrates Ireland’s first ever defeat of the All Blacks – a 40-29 win in a game at Soldier Field in Chicago
The 80-year-old – considered the most Irish of all US presidents, with 10 of his 16 great-great-grandparents coming from the Emerald Isle – spoke at a pub in Dundalk, just south of the Northern Ireland border, on Wednesday.
Biden proudly stated that Kearney, who won 95 caps for the Ireland team between 2007 and 2019, gave him the clover tie he wore.
“This was given to me by one of these guys, right here, he was a great rugby player,” Biden said.
“He beat the hell out of the Black and Tans.”
Voted Europe’s best player in 2012, Kearney played a pivotal role in Ireland’s defeat to the All Blacks – New Zealand’s national team – in Chicago in November 2016.
It was the first time Ireland had ever defeated the New Zealand side.
But Biden’s clouding of history also had a dark side.
The Black and Tans were a notorious group of agents employed to aid the British cause during the Irish War of Independence – the battle between the Irish Republican Army and British forces from 1919-1921.
The ceasefire of July 1921 divided the island, with Northern Ireland remaining under British control and the South gaining independence.
The Black and Tans – officially part of the Royal Irish Constabulary – were a group of 10,000 men recruited from Britain to try and defeat the IRA. Their name came from their uniforms: a mix of the dark green of the RIC, which looked black, and the light brown color of the British Army.
Sir Hamar Greenwood of the Royal Irish Constabulary inspects a group of Black and Tans, an armed relief force of the RIC, in January 1921. The Black and Tans were notorious for their brutality in their quest to prevent Ireland from gaining independence from Britain
A suspected member of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein is searched at gunpoint by the Black and Tans in November 1920
Members of the Black and Tans are depicted in Dublin in the early 1920s wielding Lewis machine guns
Who were the Black and Tans?
The Black and Tans were a 10,000 strong group of British recruits for the Royal Irish Constabulary.
Recruitment began in January 1920: many of those who applied were unemployed World War I veterans or convicts.
They were sent to Ireland to try and quash demands for independence from Britain. The War of Independence was fought from 1919-21.
Their nickname came from their uniform – they wore part of the Royal Irish Constabulary’s dark green dress, which looked black, and part of the British Army’s khaki.
They were known for their brutality and retaliation against civilians: to this day they are seen as a brutal and shameful force.
Their fighting was so fierce that it was rumored that they had been recruited from British prisons.
They were known for their brutality and carrying out reprisals against civilians they believed supported the IRA.
Public opinion in the UK and Ireland widely disapproved of their actions.
The unit was disbanded in 1922, but to this day the Black and Tans are shorthand for excessive force, and their role in the war remains disputed.
The troops were immortalized in the popular Irish rebel song ‘Come Out, Ye Black And Tans’.
Biden’s four-day trip to Ireland was officially timed to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
He landed in Belfast on Tuesday evening and met British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Belfast on Wednesday morning.
He spoke at Ulster University after meeting Sunak and then visited Carlingford where his great great grandfather was born.
Accompanied by his sister Valerie and son Hunter, Biden then headed to Kilwirra cemetery, where his ancestors were buried, before stopping at the pub in Dundalk.
On Thursday, Biden will meet with President Michael D. Higgins in Dublin, and address a joint session of parliament before attending a banquet dinner at Dublin Castle.
On Friday, the president flies to County Mayo to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock and a family heritage center.
Biden is seen walking around Dundalk on Wednesday, ahead of his trip to the pub
Biden takes a selfie after a speech at Ulster University on Wednesday morning
Landing on Tuesday, Foster told GB News that Biden “hate the United Kingdom” and was “pro-nationalist.”
She added, “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
“And I just think his coming here won’t put any pressure on the Democratic Unionists at all, on the contrary, because so many people just see him as pro-republican and pro-nationalist.”
Sloat denied that Biden was against the UK.
“I think the president’s record shows he is not anti-British,” she said on Wednesday.
“The President has been very actively involved throughout his career, dating back to his time as a Senator in the Northern Ireland peace process, and that has involved the leaders of all Northern Ireland parties from the two main communities.”
Sloat insisted that the UK remained one of the US’s “closest allies” and that the two countries would continue to work together.
“I think his message to the DUP and to all political leaders will be the continued strong support to see the peace process move forward here and this President’s strong desire to increase US investment in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the huge economic potential that seems here.’