The visit to Ireland by US President Joe Biden provoked a bout of anti-Irish and anti-American xenophobia in the English media which has confirmed the country’s increasingly insular and backward outlook.
Despite periods of heavy rain and the open hostility of unionists, the visit of Joe Biden was light-hearted and friendly, a rare reminder of the diaspora of Irish America and its continuing contribution to the broader Irish nation.
But the cause of good cheer in Ireland kicked off a shocking level of bitterness and bigotry in the English establishment media.
It began when a London Times cartoon portrayed the 6ft tall, teetotal President as a drunk leprechaun.
It was followed by a Sunday Times description of Biden as “hopping around Ireland like a senile, gibbering leprechaun sticking out of his nose, to be sure, to be sure…”.
Other headlines laced with bitterness included: “Plastic Paddy Joe Biden’s hatred of Britain shames America” in The Spectator, and “The bumbling US leader who sticks two fingers up at our country” in the Telegraph.
GB News’ Dan Wootton described Biden as an “anti-British President” and said he has a “deep hatred of the United Kingdom”. And writing for the Daily Express, Ben Habib madly claimed President Biden was acting in cahoots with the New IRA when calling for the Stormont Assembly to be restored.
“Unionists were being instructed to bend the knee. And right on queue (sic), the IRA was there to oblige with the terrorist threat already at severe,” he wrote.
It was the upbeat optics of the visit rather than the substance which seemed to trigger the British establishment, as it contrasted with the slow demise of the so-called ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US.
Things began badly for British PM Rishi Sunak when he greeted Biden off his plane in Belfast alongside a representative of the British Crown, but without any Irish officials present.
The British side then described their subsequent meeting as “bilateral” while the United States said it was just a cup of coffee. This led to the meeting being described as a “bi-latte” in the British press.
Most reports of President Biden’s visit in Britain contained the line that he spent just 17 hours in the north of Ireland and half of that asleep. However others noted that he probably would have spent more time in the North if the Stormont Executive had been up and running.
Biden’s decision not to sign a post-Brexit trade agreement with Britain until it honours its commitments on Ireland remains in place, although sweetened by a $6bn carrot in the form of a promise to boost the North’s economy with US investment if powersharing is restored at Stormont.
But generally, the visit was marked not by political wrangling, but by welcome and good cheer which increased with every stop on the Presidents’s itinerary.
His first full day of engagements on Wednesday began when he delivered a keynote address in Belfast. In his speech at Ulster University, Mr Biden expressed the hope of a return to powersharing at Stormont, saying a stable devolved government could deliver an economic windfall for the region.
His visit to County Louth was an ancestral homecoming. He visited at King John’s Castle in Carlingford and then travelled onto Dundalk where thousands lined Clanbrassil Street to cheer his arrival. He stopped in McAteer’s Foodhouse and received a hearty welcome at the Windsor bar.
After a state dinner at Dublin Castle, he posed for a number of selfies with people including former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, an image which further infuriated the British media.
On Thursday, he gave a historic address to the joint houses of the Dublin parliament after meeting the President of Ireland at Aras an Uachtaráin. At nearby Farmleigh House, he had a near miss while watching a camogie match with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a sliotar (ball) whizzed past his left shoulder, nearly striking him.
Mr Biden’s first stop to his Mayo homeland on Friday was to visit the Knock Shrine. His trip proved to be more emotional than expected as he had a chance encounter with Fr Frank O’Grady, the chaplain who had given the Last Rites to his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
Mr Biden brought the town of Ballina to a standstill as he addressed an estimated crowd of more than 20,000 people. He expressed his support for the county team in the upcoming All Ireland Football Championship. He concluded his speech with a familiar chant for the team: “Mayo for Sam” [the Sam Maguire cup], before flying back to the US.