President Obama and Vice President Biden
The Irish Americans: Politics and Public Servies
Both President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s Irish roots go back to the Irish Famine – that calamitous period of starvation that saw mass emigration between 1845-52. President Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth Kearney emigrated from Monegall, Co. Offaly in 1850 and settled, first in Ohio, and later Indiana.
Vice President Joe Biden’s family also emigrated during the famine – his mother’s family, the Finnegans, hailed from County Mayo. Biden himself grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania in “a predominantly Irish neighborhood and an overwhelmingly Irish parish. The centerpiece of life in Scranton was the church, the nuns, the priest, the monsignor,” he recalled in an interview with Irish America.
His father always said that Biden was an Irish name, and it’s thought that the family may have been French Huguenots who settled in Ireland.
Biden’s Irish ancestry was much on his mind as he and his family joined President Obama on symbolic journey by train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., on the Saturday before the inauguration.
WILMINGTON, Del. — The 20-degree chill did not dissuade about 8,000 people from massing to send off Vice President-elect Joe Biden at the train stop where he left for work and returned each day for 36 years. It was the Saturday before the inauguration and President-elect Barack Obama had ridden in from Philadelphia on a vintage 1930 Pullman car to pick Biden up on the way to Washington.
“I know you’re always kidding me, Delaware, you’re always kidding me for quoting Irish poets and Irish authors but I’m about to do it again,” Biden told the crowd, the steam of his breath rising. “James Joyce once wrote, ‘When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart.’ But when I die, Delaware will be written in mine.” The crowd cheered.
“Folks, this is more than an ordinary train ride — it is a new beginning,” Biden said as he introduced the president-elect.
Obama reminded Biden’s constituents all the reasons he chose the “scrappy Irish Catholic kid from Scranton” to be his vice president. “Those are values that the American people hold in common,” Obama said.
“They are shared by Irish Catholics from Wilmington and African Americans from the South Side of Chicago, and by Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans all across this great land.”
Biden made a bit of a confession as he introduced the station-master he saw just about every morning as he caught the “Acela” train from Wilmington to Washington: “Occasionally, [Ron would] be standing outside the door as the Acela came up,” Biden said. “I’d be coming down Martin Luther King Blvd. I’d call in here to Ron and say, ‘Ron, I can see the light. I’m only two [minutes] away. Whadd’ya say?’ He’d say, ‘I’ll check the train.’ [And Ron would see to it that] there was always some ‘mechanical difficulty’ that lasted a minute or two.”
As the crowd roared with laughter, Biden said, “I can admit that now.”
Biden and Obama boarded the train and rode into Baltimore, then Washington, as people came out in their backyards and stations along the way to wave their hands and their American flags at the passing train.
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