Read the full text of Bident’s April 13 address to the joint session of the Irish legislature.
Joe Biden is visiting Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The April 11-14 trip is pegged to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and Biden’s unabashed Irish heritage. He visited the Republic as vice president in 2016. I’ll report any extraordinary developments during the week; otherwise, I’ll wait until after the visit to write a follow up post. MH
On April 13 Biden is scheduled to become the fourth U.S president to address a joint sitting of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, lower and upper chambers, respectively, of the Republic’s legislature. Below are select excerpts from the speeches of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, with some background about their visits and remarks.
KENNEDY, June 28, 1963: Famously the first Catholic U.S. president, though not the first with Irish heritage, Kennedy visited Ireland three times before he won the presidency in 1960: in 1939 with his father, then U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy; in 1945 after his service in World War II, when he interviewed Taoiseach Éamon de Valera for the New York Journal-American; and in 1955, as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, when he met with T.D. Liam Cosgrave. Kennedy was assassinated five months after the historic 1960 trip, five years before the start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
I am deeply honored to be your guest in a free parliament in a free Ireland. If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross (County Wexford), and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course if your own president had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me. (Éamon de Valera was born in 1882 to an Irish mother and sent to Ireland two years later after his father died.) … I am proud to be the first American president to visit Ireland during his term of office, proud to be addressing this distinguished assembly, and proud of the welcome you have given me. … John Barry, whose statue we honored yesterday and whose sword is in my office, was only one who fought for liberty in America to set an example for liberty in Ireland. Yesterday was the 117th anniversary of the birth of Charles Stewart Parnell–whose grandfather fought under Barry and whose mother was born in America–and who, at the age of 34, was invited to address the American Congress on the cause of Irish freedom. “I have seen since I have been in this country,” he said, “so many tokens of the good wishes of the American people toward Ireland . . .” And today, 83 years later, I can say to you that I have seen in this country so many tokens of good wishes of the Irish people towards America. KENNEDY’S FULL SPEECH
REAGAN, June 4, 1984: Reagan’s visit to Ireland stirred wide protests against his hawkish foreign policies, including several Dáil members who walked out of his speech. His visit came about halfway through the 30-year Troubles. Reagan won a second term five months later.
I am the great-grandson of a Tipperary man; I’m the president of a country with the closest possible ties to Ireland; and I was a friend of Barry Fitzgerald. (William Joseph Shields, 1888-1961, known professionally as Barry Fitzgerald, was an Irish stage, film and television actor, like Reagan.) One Irishman told me he thought I would fit in. “”Mr. President,” he said, “”you love a good story, you love horses, you love politics — the accent we can work on.” … The trouble in the north affects more than just these two great isles. When he was in America in March, your Prime Minister (Garret FitzGerald) courageously denounced the support that a tiny number of misguided Americans give to these terrorist groups. I joined him in that denunciation, as did the vast majority of Irish Americans. I repeat today, there is no place for the crude, cowardly violence of terrorism — not in Britain, not in Ireland, not in Northern Ireland. All sides should have one goal before them, and let us state it simply and directly: to end the violence, to end it completely, and to end it now. … The position of the United States in all of this is clear: We must not and will not interfere in Irish matters nor prescribe to you solutions or formulas. But I want you to know that we pledge to you our good will and support, and we’re with you as you work toward peace. (Reagan made two references to Kennedy.) REAGAN’s FULL SPEECH
CLINTON, Dec. 1, 1995: Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit Northern Ireland. His visit came just over a year after the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries declared ceasefires, which were subsequently broken and then renewed before the Good Friday Agreement was reached in April 1998. Clinton returned to Northern Ireland and the Republic in September 1998.
We live in a time of immense hope and immense possibility — a time captured, I believe, in the wonderful lines of your poet, Séamus Heaney, when he talked of, “the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.” (Biden often quotes this line from Heaney’s poem, ‘The Cure at Troy.’) … Today, I have travelled from the North where I have seen the difference Ireland’s leadership has made for peace there. At the lighting of Belfast’s Christmas tree before tens of thousands of people, in the faces of two communities divided by bitter history we saw the radiance of optimism born especially among the young of both communities. In the voices of the (Protestant) Shankill and the (Catholic) Falls there was a harmony of new hope and I saw that the people want peace, and they will have it. George Bernard Shaw with his wonderful Irish love of irony said: “peace is not only better than war but infinitely more arduous. … In the prosperity and freedom of our nation we are grateful for what (Irish immigrants) did and for the deep ties to Ireland they gave us in their sons and daughters. Now we seek to repay that in some small way by being a partner with you for peace. We seek somehow to communicate to every person who lives here that we want for all of your children the right to grow up in an Ireland where this entire island gives every man and woman the right to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities and gives people the right to live in equality, freedom and dignity. That is the tide of history. We must make sure that the tide runs strong here for no people deserve the brightest future more than the Irish. (Clinton made one reference to Kennedy.) CLINTON’S FULL SPEECH
Four other U.S. presidents have visited Ireland but did not address the Dáil: Richard Nixon, October 1970; George W. Bush, June 2004 and February 2006; Barack Obama, May 2011; and Donald Trump, June 2019. See 23 presidents with Irish heritage.