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Heaney-quoting Biden will keep US connection with Ireland stronger than ever


Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

It is 6,000 miles away, part of a vast continent stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico, while we are on a small rain-sodden island on the edge of Europe. Yet we are bound together through deeply personal ties of blood and history.

As he was inaugurated 46th President of the United States in Washington yesterday, no one seems more proud of these shared roots than 'Irish' Joe Biden, who comes from the small town of Scranton in Pennsylvania and proudly traces his ancestry back to the Finnegans of the Cooley peninsula in Co Louth on his mother's side, and the Blewitts of Ballina, Co Mayo on his father's.

It isn't just lip service, as his cabinet includes a third who are either ethnic Irish, Catholic or both, uniting these two strands of his heritage in the new US administration.

Back then, the faith of our fathers was strong and the political 'machine' exemplified by the Kennedys was the power that raised the unwashed and uneducated Catholic Irish masses from the mean streets of New York, Boston and Chicago, to a new and mostly prosperous future.

As Biden takes his place in the pantheon of American presidents, he has already shown that the connections forged between the New World and the Auld Sod are still strong. "Remember, Joey Biden, the best drop of blood in you is Irish," his granny used to tell him, an admonition he's never forgotten.

"I'm Irish," he said, without breaking stride, when a plummy voiced BBC reporter attempted to attract his attention during the election campaign.

On Tuesday, saying farewell to Delaware which he represented in the Senate from 1973 until 2009 when he became vice-president, he said: "James Joyce once said, when it comes his time to pass, when he dies, he said: 'Dublin will be written on my heart.' Well, excuse the emotion, but when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart."

He has said that political colleagues "kid me about quoting Irish poets" all the time. "They think I do it because they are Irish. I do it because they are the best poets," he added.

It is to the words of Seamus Heaney and in particular his poem The Cure of Troy that he has turned to most often. "The longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme."

Accepting the Democratic nomination in 2020, he paraphrased it by saying his mission is to "make hope and history rhyme".

He managed to do that for many by winning the most divisive election in US history, and as he was inaugurated yesterday, most of us will wish it is a pledge he can now keep.

Belfast Telegraph