US president Joe Biden has described how he feels like he has come home after an evening in the Republic.
People lined the streets in Carlingford and Dundalk in Co Louth to cheer and wave American flags as Mr Biden arrived.
The president was accompanied by Tánaiste Micheál Martin as he toured St John’s castle, which offers a view of Carlingford Lough where Mr Biden’s great-great grandfather Owen Finnegan left via Newry port during the Irish famine in 1849 for a new life in the United States.
As Mr Biden walked around the castle amid the rain, someone shouted up to ask him what he thought of his visit, to which the president responded: “It feels wonderful, it feels like I’m coming home”, adding with regards to the heavy rain: “It’s fine, it’s Ireland.”
At The Windsor Bar in Dundalk later, Mr Biden met with distant cousins John Owen Finnegan and Andrea McEvitt – as well as local politicians.
He also paid tribute to his sister Valerie and his son Hunter, who have accompanied him on the trip to the island of Ireland.
He said: “Coming here feels like coming home.”
The president added: “I’ve often said the Irish are the only people who are nostalgic about the future. In my experience, hope is what beats in the heart of all people, particularly the heart of the Irish.
“Every action is about hope that we can make things better, hope to build both our nations that has been passed down generation to generation by our families. And it’s hope that continues to this day.”
Completing his first day in the Republic of Ireland, he said: “Thank you all for homecoming welcome. The bad news for all of you is we’ll be back. There’s no way to keep us out.
“I’m so proud to be here. So proud to be in Louth.”
Mr Martin also spoke at the event, focusing his remarks on the value of peace to the border town as he introduced Mr Biden.
He said that the value of the Good Friday Agreement was “so tangible and real here in this location”.
“It is a shared space, a place that links rather than divides. Peace is not an abstraction here,” he said.
“As we build on the ambition of the Good Friday Agreement to sustain a dynamic and prosperous peace, the US will remain an essential and fundamental partner.” He finished: “Welcome home, Mr President.”
Mr Biden had been due to fly by helicopter from Dublin to Co Louth, but plans were changed to a motorcade due to the weather conditions.
Locals had turned out in numbers on motorway overpasses as well as lining road sides approaching Carlingford and Dundalk despite the heavy rain.
In Dundalk, members of the public in ponchos and raincoats had been waiting to greet the US president with a sign reading “Dundalk welcomes President Biden” hung above Clanbrassil Street.
Mr Biden went into McAteers The Food House restaurant on the same street shortly before 7.15pm, where he chatted with staff.
Former Irish rugby player Rob Kearney was among those accompanying Mr Biden as he stopped off in the town.
The US president arrived in the Republic earlier on Air Force One where he was greeted on the tarmac at Dublin Airport by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
It followed a brief visit to Northern Ireland.
On Wednesday morning, Mr Biden met with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak in Belfast, where the pair spoke about the “incredible economic opportunities” for Northern Ireland.
The prime minister described the UK’s relationship with the US as being “in great shape”, describing them as “very close partners and allies”.
Mr Biden called for the restoration of powersharing at Stormont during a keynote speech at Ulster University, and praised the work of the UK and EU to strike the Windsor Framework on post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The Republic leg of the president’s four-day tour of the island will see him travel to Dublin, Co Louth and Co Mayo.
Mr Biden became the sixth person to travel through Dublin Airport while serving as US president, following Barack Obama’s visit to the country in May 2011.
Ireland’s Ambassador to the US Geraldine Byrne Nason was also among the politicians and officials to greet the president, alongside her US counterpart Claire D Cronin and her husband Ray.
He is also expected to deliver a number of speeches over the course of his three days in the country, – including in Dublin, at St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina and to the Dáil.
Mr Biden is due to meet President Michael D Higgins on Thursday, followed by a further meeting with Mr Varadkar, whom he recently hosted for St Patrick’s Day.
The White House said Mr Biden will take part in a tree-planting ceremony and the ringing of the Peace Bell at the President’s official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin.
Before his departure back to the US on Friday, Mr Biden will visit Co Mayo, where he has also connected with distant cousins.
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He will tour the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock and visit the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Centre’s family history research unit.
Earlier on Wednesday, the White House denied Mr Biden was “anti-British”, with Amanda Sloat, senior director for Europe at the US National Security Council, saying: “It’s simply untrue.”
“The fact that the president is going to be engaging for the third time in three months, and then again next month and then again in June, with the Prime Minister of the UK shows how close our co-operation is with the UK,” she added.