The White House had to correct Joe Biden to quell a new feud after he mocked the “Black and Tans” during a visit to a pub in Ireland.
The US president risked a backlash over his “anti-British” stance with remarks in front of a packed pub in Dundalk, County Louth, last night.
Biden said he was wearing a shamrock tie given to him by rugby player Rob Kearney – a distant relative of his – saying approvingly that he had “beat the hell out of the Black and Tans”.
This was an auxiliary police force sent to Ireland in the 1920s to counter IRA extremism – ridiculed in republican ballads for its brutality.
However, the White House website has tried to de-escalate the situation by clarifying its official record of being referred to as the All Blacks – the New Zealand Rugby team.
The comment sparked laughter in the bar, as Biden’s reputation as a gaff machine left room for doubt as to whether it was intentional or just a gaffe.
Joe Biden spoke at the Windsor Bar in Dundalk last night alongside Michael Martin, the Irish foreign minister
Biden referred to Rob Kearney – an Irish rugby player, a distant cousin. Biden was pictured welcoming Kearney to the White House on March 17 to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
Kearney (left) is pictured celebrating Ireland’s first ever defeat of the All Blacks – a 40-29 win in a match at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The White House website tried to smooth out the situation by clarifying its official record of mentioning the All Blacks – the New Zealand rugby team
The incident threatens to inflame tensions over Biden’s “partisan” stance on Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Baroness Foster, the former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said on the eve of his arrival that the US president “hates the UK” – forcing Amanda Sloat, Biden’s top aide, to insist he is “not anti-British”.
The 80-year-old is the most Irish of all US presidents, with 10 of his 16 great-grandparents coming from the Emerald Isle.
Speaking in a pub in Dundalk, just south of the Northern Ireland border, Biden proudly announced that Kearney, who earned 95 caps for the Irish national team from 2007 to 2019, had given him his shamrock tie.
“This was given to me by one of those guys who, right here, was a rugby player from hell,” said Biden.
“He beat the hell out of the Black and Tans.”
Kearney, who was named European Footballer of the Year in 2012, played a pivotal role in Ireland’s defeat of the All Blacks – the New Zealand national team – in November 2016, in Chicago.
It was the first time that Ireland had beaten New Zealand.
The verified copy of the speech delivered on the White House website has Black and Tans crossed out and “All Blacks” added in parentheses.
The Black and Tans were a group of around 10,000 police constables recruited to help beef up the police on the island during the Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1921. They were known for their brutal approach to attacks by Republicans.
Many of them were former soldiers, and their nickname came from their uniforms – a mixture of the dark green of the RIC, which looked black, and the brown of the British Army.
A July 1921 armistice saw the island divided, with Northern Ireland remaining under British control and the South seceding, and the RIC disbanded.
Sir Hamar Greenwood of the Royal Irish Constabulary inspects a group of Blacks and Tans, an auxiliary armed force of the RIC, January 1921
A suspected member of the Irish Nationalist Sinn Féin party was searched at gunpoint by the Black and Tans in November 1920
Members of the Black and Tans were photographed with Lewis machine guns in Dublin in the early 1920s
Who are the Black and Tans?
The Black and Tans were a 10,000-strong group of British recruits into the Royal Irish Constabulary.
Recruitment began in January 1920: many of those who signed up were unemployed veterans of the First World War, or convicts.
They were sent to Ireland to try to quash independence demands from Britain. The War of Independence took place from 1919 to 2121.
Their nickname came from their uniform – they wore some dark green Royal Irish Constabulary uniforms, which looked black, and some khaki British Army uniforms.
The group was picked out on the IRA song, “Come Out, Ye Black And Tans”.
During the speech, Mr Biden quipped that although his father was English, his “saving grace was a quarter of his family Hanafi from Galway”.
“You know, Biden is English.” he said laughing.
“I don’t hate – I’m joking, but it’s true.”
There were fears Joe Biden would anger unionists with references to his Irish heritage during his visit to Belfast.
As vice president, Biden caused great offense to Northern Ireland’s union community when he joked during a St. Patrick’s Day event: “If you’re wearing orange, you’re not welcome here.”
The mainly Protestant Unionist community in Northern Ireland joins the color in celebration of William of Orange’s victory over Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
As a senator in 1985 he spoke out against facilitating the extradition of IRA fighters from the US to Britain, a sentiment popular with Irish Americans but not in Britain.
He talked a lot about his mother’s hatred of England, which was so intense that she once refused to use the bed in which Queen Elizabeth II slept.
In his memoir, Promises to Keep, he recalls with some degree of embarrassment his English surname, Biden.
He describes how his Irish-American aunt Gertie Finnegan once told him: ‘Your father is not a bad man. It’s only English.
In 2020, as President-elect, he did a sneak peek on UK National Radio when a BBC reporter shouted a question at him. BBC? He said while smiling. “I am Irish.”
Biden’s four-day trip to Ireland is officially scheduled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
He landed in Belfast on Tuesday evening, and met the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, in Belfast yesterday morning.
He spoke at the University of Ulster after meeting Sunak, but was criticized for spending only a few hours in Northern Ireland.
Then he crossed the border to visit Carlingford, where his great-grandfather was born.
Accompanied by his sister Valerie and son Hunter, Biden then went to Kilwera Cemetery, where his grandparents are buried, before stopping at the pub in Dundalk.
Today, Biden will meet with President Michael D. Higgins in Dublin, and address a joint session of Parliament before attending a dinner at Dublin Castle.
Tomorrow the Chief will fly to County Mayo to visit Our Lady of Knock Shrine and Family Heritage Center.
On Wednesday, Biden was seen taking a walk in the Dundalk area before his trip to the pub
Biden takes a selfie after speaking at Ulster University on Wednesday morning