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Biden Reminisces About His Irish Roots

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DICKSON CITY, Pa. (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden reminisced about his Irish ancestors and his childhood friends while celebrating St. Patrick's Day near the northeastern Pennsylvania city where he grew up.

Biden spoke late Tuesday evening at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County, which held its 110th annual dinner outside Scranton.

Biden left Scranton for Delaware when he was 10 but has returned to the area several times as vice president.

"I'm happy to be home in Scranton. I can talk forever here and you wouldn't know the difference," Biden quipped, a reference to the lengthy roster of speakers before him.

He was escorted into the ballroom by a pipe band and spoke in a ballroom packed with hundreds of Irish-American men clad in tuxedos, green ties and boutonnieres of green-tinted carnations. A four-piece band played festive Irish music.

Earlier in the day, Biden hosted Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny at his official residence for St. Patrick's Day breakfast. He drew criticism for joking as he welcomed Kenny that "anyone wearing orange isn't welcome in." The quip offended supporters of the Orange Order, the grassroots organization for the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland.

The vice president largely steered clear of politics and policy Tuesday night, speaking instead about growing up in an Irish-American enclave in Scranton and learning life lessons at his grandfather's kitchen table.

Paraphrasing the Irish author James Joyce, who once said, "When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart," the vice president said: "When I die - it's not hyperbole - Scranton will be written on mine. It is the place from which all the values I hold dearest sprung, right here in this Lackawanna Valley soil."

He said the Irish assimilated quickly in America, despite facing prejudice.

"I think it's because of our heritage," he said. "To be Irish is always about dignity, it's always about dreaming bigger, never smaller. That's who we are, and you know, that's what made this country."

He ended with a toast.

"God bless the Irish!" Biden said.

It was the third time Biden addressed the Friendly Sons, which was co-founded by his great-grandfather. Biden also addressed the group in 1973 - at the beginning of his Senate career - and again in 1998.

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