Remarks by the Vice President to the Irish People
5:12 P.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello, hello, hello. (Applause.) Taoiseach, thank you for only for being here, but being my friend. I truly appreciate it.
Thank you all for coming out in the rain and the sun and the rain and the sun and the rain and the sun. (Laughter.) I know the Irish never mind a soft rain. But I tell you what, I like the sun even better. (Laughter.)
And thank you to the wonderful line up of musicians and speakers who performed earlier. And thank all of you for sharing your talents and your passions.
Michael, we did meet before. And it’s great to meet you again. And thank you so much for the incredibly moving introduction. Your words are powerful, but quite frankly, the message is even more important.
And, Taoiseach, it’s, indeed, wonderful of you spend so much time with me. He’s going to be so happy when I go home. (Laughter.) He’s been spending about 24/7 with me, but I like Fionnuala even better. (Laughter.) But I’m indebted for your hospitality. I mean that sincerely, and for all you’ve shown me this week.
And I want to give a special thanks to the Chieftains. (Applause.) They were kind enough to perform for us on Wednesday in Westport, as well. And right in the middle of an incredibly beautiful rendition of “Foggy Dew,” a massive cheer went up in the bar. Ireland beat Italy. (Applause.) And the pub broke out in song.
You know, the longer I’m here, the more I wonder why in the hell did my relatives ever leave. (Laughter.) You're an incredible, incredible country.
And my entire family here, my five grandchildren, my sister, my brother, my niece, and my sister-in-law. The only two who are not here is my wife, Jill, who is in -- actually, she’s now in southern Argentina, working throughout the continent to help promote opportunities for young girls and women. (Applause.)
And by the way, we have an expression back home -- I’m sure there’s a better one in Gaelic, but if you saw her you’d know I married way up. I married way up. (Laughter.) Is that a Syracuse jersey, child? All right. That's my alma mater.
Anyway, a few days ago -- I tell you what, tell her to tell you about Syracuse weather. It’s hell. They get about 197 inches of snow a year. It’s a great place to be from. (Laughter.)
A few days ago three generations of my family walked along Garden Street in Ballina, in Mayo. The town that was once home to my great-great-great grandfather, Edward Blewitt and his son, Patrick, my great-great grandfather.
Patrick, when he was a teenager, went to sea, as they say, became a seaman, traveled to the United States, found a home in my country and returned to Ireland in 1851 to gather up the entire Blewitt family -- mom, dad and eight children.
They left Ireland for Liverpool, where they boarded the Excelsior to sail to America. As we Bidens walked Garden Street, my family and I literally wondered what it must have been like to leave everything behind. We imagined attending an American wake -— the last time you’d see your family, your friends, the soil that you love.
We imagined writing that first “Amerikay” letter -- asking loved ones to join them, yearning for home. One of my great, great uncles wrote the following letter home. He said: “If there was a road made of furze from America to Ireland, I’d walk it in my bare feet”. I’d walk it in my bare feet. What a plaintive notion.
Tomorrow, we’ll wonder the same in County Louth. All right. We're looking for you, man. (Laughter.) We're looking for you. We Bidens are like poor relatives, we show up, we're invited. (Laughter.) We’ll visit the church where my great-great grandfather, Owen Finnegan, and his family were baptized. They were in the Cooley Peninsula, down at the very tip, near Carlingford where they made their living from the land and the sea. Later Owen became a shoemaker.
In May of 1849, Owen traveled to Newry, where he boarded the Brothers, another ship bound for America. And a year later, Owen’s wife, Jane, and their children -- they had at the time, including my great-grandfather James, who was in the census books in New York listed as a blind fiddler -— boarded the Marchioness of Bute to join him.
For 60 years, the Blewitts and Finnegans brought Ireland to their home in America. They worked hard. They raised their families. But they never, never, never forgot where they came from. Every time I’d walk out the door, my Grandfather Finnegan would say, not a joke, Joe, remember, the best drop of blood in you is Irish. He’d never been to Ireland. (Laughter.)
In Scranton, Pennsylvania, by 1909, my grandparents, Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, met and married. It was in Scranton, where Catherine Eugenia Finnegan, our mother, was born and later married my father Joseph R. Biden, Sr., whose saving grace was that on his mother’s side there was a Hanafee from Galway. (Laughter.) Otherwise, my Grandfather Biden -- they’d ask my Grandpop Biden, they’d say, what kind of name is Biden? He’d say, Dutch. It’s English. Full confession. Bless me father, for I have sinned. (Laughter.)
But it was in Scranton where I were born that I inherited my mother’s side of the family’s overwhelming pride in being Irish, a pride that spoke to both continents, a heart and soul that drew from the old and new.
My great-grandfather was the first Irish-Catholic state senator, they say -- I can't prove that -- in Pennsylvania, Edward Francis Blewitt. He had an engineering degree from Lafayette College, but he had a poet’s heart.
In 1919, one of the over hundred poems he wrote, had the following lines, speaking of “his Ireland”. He said:
“From the fairest land, except my own,
‘Neath sun or star or moon,
the citadel of Liberty,
My mother’s land, aroon.”
That pride has been passed down in every generation in our family. And my mother imbued in her children and her grandchildren an absolute certitude that they were equal -- and I mean this sincerely -- they were equal to any man or woman on Earth; and that everyone was our equal, deserving of dignity. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, that's the passion. And with regard to my introduction, I’ll never forget the first time I was in high school being dropped off at the city building to make out an application to be a lifeguard in the city swimming pools in the downtown corporate center of my state. And two men, very well dressed at the corner, leaned over and kissed one another, this was 1959 or ’60, and walked their separate ways. And I looked back at my dad. I’ll never forget what he said. He said, Joey, it’s easy, they love one another. That was the essence of it. (Applause.)
So that passion that built both of our nations and that runs through the bloodstream of Irish and Irish Americans; our nations have always had a deep spark; linked in memory, imagination;
joined by our histories and equally as important, as the Taoiseach and I talk about all the time, by our futures.
Everything between us runs deep -- literature, poetry, sadness and joy, but most of all, resilience. Despite everything, we’ve never stopped being dreamers. I think we Irish are the only people in the world who are actually nostalgic about the future. (Laughter.) You think I’m kidding. Think about it. (Laughter.)
We’re defined by a common creed that says to our children if they work hard, if they’re loyal, they can live a better life than the generation before them.
My mother used to have an expression -- she said, Joey, courage is the greatest virtue because without courage, you cannot love with abandon, and without being able to love with abandon, you can never be who you might be. It’s defined by a simple, simple belief that we share that anything, anything, anything is possible -- a belief shared by the vast majority of immigrant families that have come to the United States from all other parts of the world.
That’s what I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about just for a second, our shared values. As Ireland marks the centennial of the Easter Rising of 1916, I’m reminded of a line in Yeat’s poem that describes, I think, our world today better than it described his Ireland on Easter, 1916. And you’ll all remember the line. He said, “All’s changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born.”
In the past 15 years, all has changed in the world. We’ve seen more changes and challenges and more opportunities than any time since World War II, and maybe before. In this age of instant hyper-connectivity, instant communication, violence and turmoil in any part of the world once unseen now appears on your cell phone instantaneously. Mass migration. War. Terrorism. Infectious disease. Climate Change. Economic unease and anxiety, and the inevitable human reaction of frustration and anger.
All this provides fertile terrain for reactionary politicians and demagogues peddling xenophobia, nationalism and isolationism. We see it in Europe. We see it in other parts of the world. And we see it in my home country, where some politicians find it convenient to scapegoat immigrants instead of welcoming them; to play to our fears -- (applause) -- rather than, as Abraham Lincoln said, appeal to our better angels; divide us based on religion or ethnicity rather than unite us on our common humanity; build walls instead of bridges. It has been un-American what we have been seeing. (Applause.)
It’s not -- and I’m here to tell you it’s not who we have become. It is not who we are. At the same time, here in this beautiful castle ground -- so long the symbolic center of British occupation and oppression of Ireland -- we’re also reminded that people everywhere share the same basic desires, a yearning to breathe free, to be able to express themselves, to follow their own North Star.
We remember that all men and women on Earth are equal in human dignity, something President Higgins and I had a long talk about on Wednesday. So today, perhaps more than ever, our two nations’ longstanding commitment to global peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts stand as an example to the world. And as partners in the 66-nation coalition to defeat and ultimately destroy ISIL, Ireland and the United States are working side-by-side not only to counter ISIL’s ideology of hate and destruction, but to address the largest humanitarian and refugee crisis since World War II.
On the economic front, our partnership has helped both our nations navigate the global economic crisis and emerge stronger and more resilient. We want to keep growing the economic partnership between the United States and Ireland, between the United States and the European Union -- already the largest economic relationship in the world. Of course, yesterday, the majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union. And as longstanding friends of the United Kingdom, the United States respects their decision -- not how we would have preferred it to be, but respect their position.
Our relationship with the United Kingdom and with our allies across Europe are indispensable for America’s economic as well as national security. So as the leadership in London and Brussels determines what this new relationship will look like, we will continue to work with our partners to navigate a new road ahead while continuing to promote stability, security and prosperity around the world.
In this complex age, with the constant pull between the challenges as well as the opportunities, it’s important as ever to remember who we are as nations -- we are both self-reflective. We have both been self-critical. And we’re both self-corrective.
Terrible things have happened in both Ireland and America over the years -- war, civil unrest, racial and religious discrimination. But our nations are places where hope reigns. I was asked by President Xi, I told the Taoiseach -- I’ve gotten to know him better than most because I’ve spent more time with him than any world leader, for real. (Laughter.) I was in a town called Chengdu that went from 4 million, Father, to 20 million people on the Tibetan plane. We were having -- one of -- the State Department tells me I’ve had 25 hours of private dinners with him, he and each of us with an interpreter.
And he looked at me and he asked me a question. He said, Mr. Vice President, can you define America for me? And I said, yes I can, in one word -- and I meant it -- possibilities. Possibilities. What is that notion if not an Irish notion? What is that notion if not the cause of the overwhelming resilience of the people of Ireland?
So it’s up to us in the States to remember, we meant what we said in our Declaration. We said, “We hold these truths self-evident that all men are created equal.” And in your 1916 Proclamation, the commitment to cherish “all of the children of the nation equally.” Both these notions are grounded -- (applause) -- they’re not empty words on a page. Both these notions are grounded in equal rights, equal opportunity, religious and civil liberty for everyone. And both our nations have striven -- as the American founders put it -- to form a more perfect union.
We have a hell of a lot further to go. But as Martin Luther King said, the arc of history bends towards justice. And it’s toward that more perfect union that tomorrow in Dublin you will host one of the largest pride parades in the world. (Applause.) Now it’s up to us, as nations where same-sex marriage is proudly legal, to stand up for the civil liberties and civil rights of LGBT brothers and sisters, wherever they live, in whatever part of the world in which they live. (Applause.) There cannot be any cultural justification for denial of human rights.
In America and Ireland, we have to remember that we are a nation of Immigrants and of emigrants -- with an “i” and with an “e.” In the face of rising xenophobia, we have to remember the dreams of our ancestors who left aboard ships that ended up, for many, coffins. Our great-great-grandparents, and grandparents who made it -- but when they made it they were initially turned away. It wasn’t like they found Shangri-la. They were turned away.
I was telling the Taoiseach, in our second campaign for President and Vice President, I was in a town called Pueblo, Colorado -- overwhelmingly Hispanic. And I was with one of the leading Hispanics, a former senator and then Secretary of the Interior, who was about to introduce me in his home state. And a wealthy fellow had come in and bought the old Pueblo railroad station that was built in the 1860s, and completely restored it to its original state. And Senator Salazar, my friend, was telling me, you have to understand, Joe, those 30,000 people waiting out there, they like you because of your commitment to equality. But, Joe, you have to understand they’ve been through a rough period, not being accepted.
And while I was doing this, having this conversation, I looked around this beautifully restored waiting room. It was about 50 by 50, maybe a little -- 50 feet by 50 feet. And on each wall there were three plaques that were about two feet long and a foot high. And on every plaque, it said -- as I pointed to him -- I said, I understand. And I pointed -- it said, “No Irish Allowed.” So people did not find Navarra when they came to America.
We have to remember how a Catholic-American President, who returned to his homeland 50 years ago last month, and was attacked for being too close to a Pope. But there is progress. As a Catholic-American Vice President, who’s established and fully embraced for the world to see, a friendship with a present Pope, and no one says anything other than hurrah. (Applause.) There is progress.
We are the most independent peoples on Earth, but we are sustained by a heart and the foresight to lead and lend a hand to people who are in need, who were where we used to be. We're sustained by a spirit of resilience, grit and determination, and tolerance. I’m reminded of that every day. My son Beau -- of Irish blood -- passed away a year ago, May 30th. He was the most popular elected political official in my constituency -- for real. After we won reelection, the headline said, “Biden, Most Popular Politician -- Beau.” (Laughter.) And I was proud.
When President Obama gave the eulogy for my son, he quoted
Patrick Kavanagh’s “Raglan Road” -- and he said, “And I said let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.” Let grief be a falling leaf at the dawning of the day. That’s the Irish of it. That's the Irish of it. (Applause.)
And around the same time, my great-great-grandfather, Owen Finnegan, the shoemaker, boarded the Brothers on May 31, 1844 -- another shoemaker named Joseph Kearny, from Moneygall, sailed aboard the Caroline Reade, arriving in America just five weeks before my great-great-grandfather. It’s doubtful they ever knew each another. But one thing we do know -- they left everything behind for an uncertain future. And in all of their dreams could they ever have dreamt that 160 years later, two great-great-grandsons of shoemakers from Ireland would be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America? (Applause.)
So, folks, my message is basic. It’s up to all of us -- and I mean this sincerely -- to keep that sense of possibility for every man, and woman, and child who gives up everything in search of a better life -- give them a chance in the dawn of a new day.
That’s been our history. It’s our present. And if we're lucky, it will be our future. A thousand thanks to all of you. Your generosity has been heartwarming. And as I said, I don't know why the hell my ancestors ever left. (Applause.) Thank you all so very much. (Applause.)
END 5:27 P.M. (Local)