(Ballina) A parenthesis, intimate and symbolic, before plunging back into the American political arena: Joe Biden ended a visit to Ireland on Friday, where he was celebrated as a child of the country.

“It’s like coming home, really. Over the years, the stories here have become a part of my soul,” the US president said, taking his leave of the country in a speech in Ballina (northwest), one of his family’s cradles, in front of some 27,000 enthusiastic spectators.

His journey in the footsteps of his ancestors, already charged with emotion, had taken a very personal turn, during a visit to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock, earlier in the day.

The American president, the only other Catholic to have conquered the White House with John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had planned to gather there in private.

He also unexpectedly met a former US Army chaplain who administered the last rites to his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, said the priest of the shrine, the father Richard Gibbons, at the BBC.

“The president was crying, it really touched him, and we prayed for his family,” the priest said.

“It was like a sign,” Joe Biden said in his speech, before heading back to the United States.

The Democrat, accompanied by his other son, Hunter, and his sister Valerie, also visited a historical and genealogical research center on Friday, he who had meticulously traced the course of his maternal ancestors, who emigrated in the middle of the 19th century. century.

The American president had certainly not waited to arrive in Dublin to proudly claim his heritage, which also allows him to polish an image of a middle-class child, having grown up in Pennsylvania (east) in a close-knit and hardworking family.

But when he said Thursday, in Dublin, that he “didn’t want to go back anymore”, it was to wonder if he was really joking, so much Joe Biden gave free rein to his attachment to the homeland of his distant ancestors. .

“As the Irish saying goes, your feet will take you where your heart is,” he wrote in the guestbook of his visit.

In his final speech in Ballina, however, he returned to more political overtones, extolling the shared values ​​of Ireland and the United States.

“We are fighting for freedom, democracy,” he said, while at the exact same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, the one he may face again in 2024, Donald Trump, was addressing the powerful gun lobby, the NRA.

“Even in times of darkness and despair, hope has kept us moving forward into a brighter future of greater freedom, greater dignity, greater opportunity,” he said. the Democrat, taking up his favorite political refrain.

In recent days, Joe Biden, who had started with a whirlwind visit to Belfast, had spoken of serious subjects: the blocking of institutions in Northern Ireland, the war in Ukraine…

But the Democrat above all seemed to offer himself a parenthesis, away from world news and the 2024 presidential campaign, in which he says he “intends” to throw himself.

He took all his time to chat, shake hands and take selfies, in a warm atmosphere that he will not find in the United States, a country violently divided politically, and where he is hardly popular.

If Joe Biden was actually celebrated in Ireland — “you are the most Irish of American presidents, not because of your family tree, but because of your soul,” Prime Minister Leo Varadkar assured him on Friday — this trip did not immediately aroused disproportionate interest in the United States.

The main American television channels, for example, did not broadcast his last speech live.