Biden to Celebrate Diplomacy, and His Own Irish Roots, in Belfast

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — President Biden will mark a quarter-century of relative peace in Northern Ireland on Wednesday as he begins a four-day foreign trip during which he will explore his own roots and celebrate America’s deep connection with the Irish people.

As he set out from the United States, Mr. Biden said his goal on the trip was to “make sure the Irish accords and the Windsor agreement stay in place, to keep the peace.”

“That’s the main thing,” he said, referring to agreements that helped end decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

The president arrived in Air Force One late Tuesday night, Belfast time, and was greeted on a cold, rainy tarmac by Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of Great Britain; James Senior, the commander of the 38th Irish Brigade & Northern Ireland garrison; and a half-dozen other officials.

Mr. Biden is far from the first president to claim Irish ancestry, and he is certainly not alone among American politicians who embrace the Emerald Isle. But he may be the most exuberant, having once adapted a line from James Joyce by saying that when he dies, “Ireland will be written on my soul.”

What to Know About ‘the Troubles’

A history of violence. “The Troubles” is a term used to describe a decades-long sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, a region that was carved out as a Protestant-majority enclave under British sovereignty when the Republic of Ireland became self-governing in the 1920s. The conflict pitted those who wanted unity with Ireland — mostly Catholic, and known as nationalists and republicans — against those who wanted the territory to remain part of the United Kingdom — mostly Protestant, and known as unionists and loyalists.

How ‘the Troubles’ began. A civil rights march in the city of Derry on Oct. 5, 1968, is often referred to as a catalyst for the Troubles. The demonstration was banned after unionists announced plans for a rival march, but the organizers resolved to go ahead with it. When officers from the Protestant-dominated police force surrounded the demonstrators with batons drawn and sprayed the crowd with a water cannon, rioting erupted.

Simmering tensions. Centuries of disaffection quickly turned to armed revolt spearheaded by the underground Irish Republican Army and its political wing, Sinn Fein, which cast themselves as champions of the Roman Catholic minority. Loyalist paramilitary groups challenged the I.R.A., supposedly to protect a Protestant majority, injecting one more element of violence into the war.

Bloody Sunday. On Jan. 30, 1972, thousands of mostly Catholic marchers took to the streets of the Bogside district of Derry in opposition to a new policy of detention without trial. British soldiers opened fire, killing 14 protesters. The events became one of the most infamous episodes of the Troubles, known as Bloody Sunday.

A far-reaching conflict. The conflict had all the appearances of a civil war, with roadblocks, bomb blasts, sniper fire and the suspension of civil rights. Bombings also spread to the rest of Britain, and British troops hunted down I.R.A. members as far afield as Gibraltar. The I.R.A. drew significant support from groups as disparate as Irish Americans in the United States and the Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

How the Troubles ended. The conflict came formally to an end in 1998 with a settlement known as the Good Friday Agreement. As part of the deal, a new form of regional government was created to share power between those who wanted the region to remain part of the United Kingdom and those who sought a united Ireland.

The conflict’s long shadow. Even after the Good Friday Agreement brought a form of peace, some violence has persisted. The shared executive authority set up in the 1998 accord has also seen repeated suspensions because of intractable disputes between the two sides and, most recently, the fallout from Brexit.

For most of his time in Ireland this week, Mr. Biden will be engaged in a sentimental trip through the Irish countryside where his ancestors lived before making their way across the Atlantic. He will visit castles and perhaps a pub or two in County Louth — home of the Finnegans and the Kearneys, his ancestors on one side of the family — and take a tour of a shrine and a cathedral in County Mayo, where he will meet with some of the remaining Blewitts, his ancestors on the other side.

Mr. Biden is accompanied on the trip to Ireland by Valerie Biden Owens, his sister, and Hunter Biden, his son. Both traveled from the United States with the president on Air Force One.

Before setting off on three days of presidential ancestry, Mr. Biden will make a brief stop in Belfast to recognize the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a peace treaty that ended decades of bloody sectarian violence between Northern Irish factions. It was negotiated with the help of the United States, ushering in political power sharing and, for the most part, a cessation of political violence.

In remarks at Ulster University’s campus in Belfast, Mr. Biden is expected to hail the Good Friday Agreement as a model for how the United States can play a constructive role in helping to mediate an end to conflicts around the world.

The visit to Belfast “will underscore the readiness of the United States to preserve those gains and support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Monday. “President Biden cares deeply about Northern Ireland and has a long history of supporting peace and prosperity there.”

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

In Belfast, Mr. Biden will have the chance to meet with the leaders of Northern Ireland’s political parties individually. The president’s visit comes amid a flare-up of political violence that has the city’s police on heightened alert.

Mr. Kirby downplayed concerns about the president’s safety while in Belfast.

“We don’t ever talk about security requirements of protecting the president,” he said. “But the president is more than comfortable making this trip, and he’s very excited to do it.”

Once he leaves Belfast on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden will spend far less time on policy, though he will address the Irish parliament and host discussions with the country’s president and prime minister. White House officials said those discussions would touch on the “wide range of interests” between the two countries, including economic cooperation and the effort to help Ukraine fight back against Russian aggression.

But even White House officials have made little effort to describe Mr. Biden’s trip as a policy one. It is personal for the president, they said, and most of his time will be spent in the countryside — with his sister and his son among the scores of staff, Secret Service and media in the long presidential motorcade.

In Louth, Mr. Biden will pay homage to Owen Finnegan, his great-great-grandfather, who was a shoemaker and emigrated to the United States in 1849, and other members of the family. Rob Kearney, a retired professional rugby player who lives in County Louth, is Mr. Biden’s fifth cousin, once removed. Both are related to John Finnegan and Mary Kearney, who were Mr. Biden’s great-great-great-grandparents.

In County Mayo, the president will tour the Family History Research Unit at the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Center, which has assembled a genealogical database with more than 1.2 million records to track the ancestry of people from the county.

For Mr. Biden, that history includes Edward Blewitt and Mary Mulderg (who was also known as Mary Reddington), his great-great-great-grandparents. Mr. Biden will visit St. Muredach’s Cathedral, which is constructed in part from thousands of bricks that, according to the White House, Mr. Blewitt sold in 1828. Mr. Blewitt used the proceeds from the sale to purchase tickets for himself and his family to sail to the United States on the S.S. Excelsior in 1851.

Mr. Biden’s visit is not his first personal trip to Ireland. In 2016, in his final months as vice president, Mr. Biden spent six days traveling through the Irish countryside. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in law from Trinity College and delivered a speech at Dublin Castle.

This time, Mr. Biden will speak at St. Muredach’s Cathedral on Friday evening before boarding Air Force One for the overnight flight back to Washington.

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