The US president’s favourite word is “malarkey” — an Irish-Americanism that means nonsense. His top poet is Ireland’s late Seamus Heaney. The holiday he most relishes is St Patrick’s Day. It should thus be no surprise — even to Britain’s King Charles III, whose coronation Biden will miss next month — that Biden is spending four days in Ireland, three of them in the republic. It is nevertheless striking. This is his longest visit as president to another country, and the smallest to host a state visit from him.
In politics, symbolism is substance. Biden’s ancestral tour is aimed at something larger than sentiment. The hero of Biden’s youth, John F Kennedy, America’s first president of Catholic Irish descent, also made a long presidential trip to Ireland, which he said were “the happiest four days of my life”. He was assassinated five months later. At 43, Kennedy was America’s youngest elected president. At 78, Biden was America’s oldest. As only the second Catholic to become America’s commander-in-chief, Biden feels that bond.