Friday, 24 May 2024

White House is forced to correct Joe Biden over 'Black and Tans' jibe

White House is forced to correct Joe Biden to quell fresh row after rambling President boasted his rugby player cousin ‘beat the hell out of the Black and Tans’ in reference to 1920s police sent to Ireland – in latest in string of ‘anti-British’ jibes

  • Joe Biden referred to ‘Black and Tans’ during speech at Windsor Bar in Dundalk
  • Unclear whether he was deliberately jibing at British or meant to say ‘All Blacks’ 

The White House has been forced to correct Joe Biden to quell a fresh row after he jibed about the ‘Black and Tans’ during a pub visit in Ireland.

The US president risked a backlash over his ‘anti-British’ stance with remarks to a packed bar in Dundalk, County Louth, last night. 

Mr Biden said he was wearing a shamrock tie given to him by rugby-player Rob Kearney – a distant relative – saying approvingly that he ‘beat the hell out of the Black and Tans’.

That was an auxilliary police force sent to Ireland in the 1920s to counter IRA extremism – pilloried in Republican folk songs for their brutality.

However, the White House website attempted to smooth over the situation by clarifying its official record to refer to the All Blacks – the New Zealand Rugby team.

The comment drew laughter in the pub, with Mr Biden’s reputation as a gaffe machine leaving room for doubt about whether it was intentional or merely a slip.   

Joe Biden spoke at the Windsor Bar in Dundalk last night alongside Michael Martin, the Irish Foreign Minister

Biden referenced Rob Kearney – the Irish rugby player, who is a distant cousin. Biden is pictured welcoming Kearney to the White House on March 17, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day

Kearney (left) is pictured celebrating Ireland’s first ever defeat of the All Blacks – a 40-29 victory in a match held at Chicago’s Soldier Field

The White House website attempted to smooth over the situation by clarifying its official record to refer to the All Blacks – the New Zealand Rugby team

The incident threatens to inflame tensions over Mr Biden’s ‘partisan’ stance towards Northern Ireland and the Republic. 

Former DUP leader Baroness Foster said on the eve of his arrival that the US president ‘hates the UK’ – forcing Biden’s senior aide, Amanda Sloat, to insist he is ‘not anti-British’.

The 80-year-old is considered the most Irish of all US presidents, with 10 of his 16 great great grandparents coming from the Emerald Isle.

Speaking at a pub in Dundalk, just south of the Northern Ireland border, Mr Biden proudly declared that Kearney, who won 95 caps for the Irish team from 2007-19, had given him the shamrock tie he was wearing.

‘This was given to me by one of these guys, right here, was a hell of a rugby player,’ said Biden.

‘He beat the hell out of the Black and Tans.’

Kearney, voted Europe’s best player in 2012, played a pivotal role in Ireland’s defeat of the All Blacks – the New Zealand national team – in November 2016, in Chicago.

It was the first time that Ireland had ever beaten the New Zealand side.

The checked against delivery version of the speech on the White House website has the Black and Tans crossed out and ‘All Blacks’ added in brackets.  

The Black and Tans were a group of around 10,000 constables enlisted to help reinforce police on the island during the Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1921. They were known for their brutal approach to Republican attacks.  

Many were former soldier and their nickname came from their uniforms – a mix of the dark green of the RIC, which looked black, and the tan color of the British army. 

The July 1921 ceasefire saw the island divided, with Northern Ireland remaining under British control and the south breaking away, and the RIC disbanded.

Sir Hamar Greenwood of the Royal Irish Constabulary inspects a group of Black and Tans, an armed auxiliary force of the RIC, in January 1921

A suspected member of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein is searched at gunpoint by the Black and Tans in November 1920

Members of the Black and Tans are pictured with Lewis machine guns in Dublin in the early 1920s

Who were the Black and Tans? 

The Black and Tans were a 10,000-strong group of British recruits to the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Recruitment began in January 1920: many of those who signed up were unemployed veterans of the First World War, or convicts.

They were sent to Ireland to try and quash demands for independence from Britain. The War of Independence was fought from 1919-21. 

Their nickname came from their uniform – they wore some of the dark green clothing of the Royal Irish Constabulary, which looked black, and some of the khaki of the British army.

The group was singled out in the IRA song, ‘Come Out, Ye Black And Tans’.

During the speech Mr Biden also quipped that even though his father was English his ‘saving grace was a quarter of his family was Hanafees from Galway’. 

‘You know, Biden is English. I hate to tell you that,’ he said to laughter.

‘I don’t hate to — I’m joking, but it’s true.’ 

There have been fears that Joe Biden could enrage unionists with references to his Irish heritage during his visit to Belfast.

As vice president, Mr Biden caused massive offense to Northern Ireland’s unionist community when, during a St Patrick’s Day event, he joked: ‘If you’re wearing orange, you’re not welcome here.’

Northern Ireland’s primarily Protestant unionist community associate themselves with the color in celebration of William of Orange’s victory over Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

As a senator in 1985, he spoke out against making it easier to extradite IRA militants from the US to Britain, a sentiment popular with Irish-Americans but not in Britain.

He has talked often about his mother’s hatred for England, which was so intense that she once refused to use a bed that Queen Elizabeth II had slept in.

In his memoir, ‘Promises to Keep,’ he recalls with a degree of embarrassment at his English surname Biden.

And he describes how his Irish-American aunt Gertie Finnegan once told him: ‘Your father is not a bad man. He’s just English.’

In 2020, as president-elect, he took a cheeky dig at the UK’s national broadcaster when a BBC reporter shouted a question at him. ‘The BBC?’ he said, moving on with a smile. ‘I’m Irish.’

Biden’s four-day trip to Ireland was officially timed to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

He landed in Belfast on Tuesday night, and met the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, in Belfast yesterday morning.

He spoke at Ulster University after his meeting with Sunak, but was criticised for only spending a few hours in Northern Ireland.

He then crossed the border to visit Carlingford, where his great-great-grandfather was born.

Accompanied by his sister Valerie and son Hunter, Biden then went to Kilwirra cemetery, where his ancestors were buried, before his stop at the pub in Dundalk.

Today Mr Biden will meet President Michael D. Higgins in Dublin, and address a joint sitting of parliament before attending a banquet dinner in Dublin Castle.

Tomorrow the president flies to County Mayo to visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock shrine, and a family heritage centre.

Biden is seen on Wednesday walking through Dundalk, ahead of his trip to the pub

Biden takes a selfie after speaking at Ulster University on Wednesday morning

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