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How Joe Biden Became Irish

To accompany the trip, Biden ordered a genealogy covering the maternal side of the family, which has been made public. He also gave an interview to Ancestry.com, which published articles on the findings of genealogists.

Most of Biden’s paternal line, which is roughly three-quarters English, has been left out of the marching band. Although he made a habit of verifying his father’s Hanafee Irish ancestors’ name, Biden’s non-Irish ancestry did not play a significant role in his public image.

According to Biden, he also played a limited role in his own self-image, due to the early influence of his mother’s family. When the future president was a young boy, he remembers his great-aunt Gertie telling him: “Your father is not a bad man. He’s just English.

“There is an ongoing debate as to whether Biden is an Irish, English or German name,” Biden said. Irish America in 1987, but his Scranton parents preferred not to dwell on the likelihood of them living under the same roof as an Englishman. “My grandfather and mother were never crazy that it was English and used to say, ‘Tell him it’s Dutch,’” he recalls. (Later, Biden began to describe his last name, accurately, as an English name).

Biden’s father, the then senator said, seemed at times to side with the Finnegans, expressing a belief that Biden’s name was Irish.

At least that’s how Biden recalled it Irish America as he prepared for his first presidential race. Expressions of identity have a way of adapting to the political moment. (In America, the German Trumps in the aftermath of World War II pretended to be Swedes, according to one of the former president’s cousins, who took on the role of Trump family historian. .)

There was little reason, or opportunity, for Biden to express an English side of his identity as a promising Delaware Democratic politician from the early 1970s. The French Huguenot du Pont family and their allies dominated Republican politics in the state, an extension of a larger northern model in which indigenous WASPs generally aligned with the Republican Party against White and Black Democrats.

There was still an “iron bond” between Irish Catholics and the Democratic Party at that time, perhaps best exemplified, Quinn says, by an old joke: one Irish Catholic woman turns to another and says: “Have you heard? Mr. Murphy has become a Republican. To which the other woman replies: “It’s impossible. I saw him at mass on Sunday.

So it was only natural for Biden to kiss his Irishman.

Republicans of that time were faced with a different calculation. Former Irish Ambassador to the United States Sean Donlon said Ronald Reagan asked him not to release information about the then candidate’s Irish heritage in the run-up to the presidential election of 1980. In order to appeal to his party base, Donlon said, Reagan wanted to be seen as a WASP. (Reagan at least occasionally made references to his Irish roots during this campaign, and he embraced them after winning, sending an assistant to make a phone call on inauguration day to supporters in his ancestral village of Ballyporeen .)

As it turns out, there were also reasons for Biden to avoid drawing too much attention to his paternal ancestry.

Years before revealing the Irish branches of his family tree, Biden had another more complete genealogy drawn up. In 2004, the then senator was cold called James Petty, a genealogist in Salt Lake City (the Mormon Church maintains the largest genealogical research library in the world there). Biden initially wanted help finding his Scranton ancestors. Eventually, he ordered a complete genealogy. The results have not been published.

James Petty died in 2020, according to his widow and professional partner, Mary Petty, who said she worked on Biden’s genealogy. Mary Petty told me that she sat down with Biden’s sons, Beau and Hunter, as part of the process. She refused to provide me with information about the genealogy itself, citing client confidentiality.