Vice President Biden gently mocks his Irish roots and family drinking problems
Refuses to toast Mexican-US bond with water, saying grandfather would object
“Obviously there were immigrants coming in who were able to talk about it and who had relatives back there. She was born in 1887. After she’d finish telling the stories I’d sit there or lie in bed and think at the slightest noise, ‘They’re coming up the stairs.’”
Biden confessed to being uncomfortable with Irish wakes, which were a constant when he was a child. “I hated it, you know, everybody sitting around and drinking and the corpse in the next room."
But, he added, "There is something about the Irish that knows that to live is to be hurt, but we’re still not afraid to live.”
Biden is a voracious reader of Irish history and to this day his hero is Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 Rebellion.
“Wolfe Tone is the embodiment of some of the things that I think are the noblest of all. He was a Protestant who formed the United Irishmen. He had nothing to gain on the face of it but he sought to relieve the oppression of the Catholics caused by the penal laws. He gave his life for the principle of civil rights for all people.
“I view him as an honorable figure. He was obviously passionate which I admire. He had the ability to make his own comfort secondary to the greater good.”
Biden says there were profound differences between the Irish in Scranton and the Irish in Delaware.
“That is because they came over differently," he said. "The Dupont Company were sending ships back to Ireland and bringing back workers so the first people who did come did not do so as part of a famine. They were paternalistic, built their church for them. It was a different experience.”
“I see myself as an Irish Catholic. If we have a moral obligation to other parts of the world why don’t we have a moral obligation to Ireland? It’s
part of our blood.”
He joked over breakfast this morning about his Irish heritage, drawing laughter from his guests who were gathered in Washington at the Naval Observatory – which hosts the vice president’s residence and office – to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
In heralding the Mexican-American relationship as “a bond that’s a lot deeper than our long border,” the vice president praised the contribution that other cultures have made to the strength of the United States. He said that the United States is a country of immigrants, and that the constant nurturing of other cultures is our greatest strength as a nation.
“On both sides my family came here in the early 1800s,” Biden said. “I once said that to [Interior Secretary] Ken [Salazar] and he said, ‘Oh Yeah?’” he said to laughter from his guests.
When he decided to run for president in 2008, Biden wanted to look into his heritage. He hired a genealogist, he said, and discovered that his ancestors had come to America in the early 18th century.
Biden then recalled having a phone conversation with Salazar about the discovery that his family had been in the United States for so long. Salazar’s response, Biden said, was “‘Long? My family got to New Mexico 400 years ago.’”
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