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Biden's visit to Ireland was deeply personal

MILES PARKS, HOST:

President Biden is back in the U.S. after a deeply personal trip to Ireland, a trip he described as returning home. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was along for the journey.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When President Biden signed the guest book in the presidential residence in Dublin, he lingered for a long time, carefully writing out his words. He started it with a favorite saying of his grandfather, a well-known Irish proverb.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Your feet will bring you where your heart is.

KEITH: After three days in Ireland, there is little question where Biden's heart is. Shoveling dirt at a ceremonial tree planting, Biden wondered aloud if his great-great-grandchildren would be able to visit the tree someday. Biden then rang a bell for peace and once for his ancestors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: This for all my Irish ancestors.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL CLANGING)

KEITH: This trip was partly about marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, which ended sectarian violence on the island. But for Biden, it was also about marking a personal milestone - returning to Ireland as president of the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: If you forgive the poor attempt at Irish - (speaking Irish). I'm at home.

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: I'm at home. I only wish I could stay longer.

KEITH: That desire to hang on to every moment was a recurring theme. Biden's ancestors left in the 1850s looking for opportunity in America. Last night in Ballina, he received a rock star reception.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Joe Biden.

(CHEERING)

KEITH: It was bigger than any rally he had during his campaign. All these generations later, Ireland and the values Biden credits to it are very much part of his political identity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Over the years, stories of this place have become part of my soul, part of my family lore.

KEITH: When he spoke to the Irish parliament, Biden started by turning his face to the heavens.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Well, Mom...

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: You said it would happen.

KEITH: Stateside, Biden quotes his late mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, constantly. And in Ireland, she seemed to especially be on his mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: It's one of the great honors of my career to be here today. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea what this - my greatest regret - I'm going to sound like a kid - but that my mom's not here to hear it.

KEITH: Biden was wistful.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I'm at the end of my career, not the beginning. The only thing I bring to this career after my aged - as you can see how old I am - but this little bit of wisdom.

KEITH: Biden plans to run for reelection and told reporters at the end of his trip that he'll make the announcement relatively soon. He said his time in Ireland only made him more optimistic. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.