Joe Blewitt is one of the busiest individuals in Ballina. As he prepares to welcome a relative — U.S. President Joseph Biden — his phone is continuously ringing with calls from locals and international media.
Biden is scheduled to visit Ballina, the community from which one of his great-great-grandfathers emigrated to the United States in 1850, during his trip to Ireland the following week. Blewitt, a distant cousin who first encountered Biden in 2016 when he visited as vice president, reported that the U.S. president promised to return once he was elected president.
“He stated, ‘I’m going to return to Ballina,'” And God willing, he will return to Ballina,” said Blewitt. His Irish origins run deep within his spirit.
Last month, Biden relatives including the 43-year-old electrician were invited to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day. According to him, the “unreal” experience included a thirty-minute private encounter with the president.
“He is a social person. Blewitt, who shares Biden’s prominent cranium, says he resembles the president “from the mouth up” and that he enjoys meeting Irish people.
The Irish people return his affection.
A new coat of paint is being applied to buildings and American flags are being suspended from storefronts in Ballina, a thriving agricultural community of about 10,000 people in western Ireland that calls itself the “salmon capital”
In 2020, a mural of a smiling Joe Biden was erected in the city center. In the 19th century, many residents of Ballina and surrounding County Mayo migrated to Pennsylvania. Ballina is paired with Biden’s hometown, Scranton.
“I don’t believe there is a family in Ballina without a connection to the United States,” said Anthony Heffernan, proprietor of Heffernan’s Fine Provisions, where Biden had lunch with his relatives during his 2016 visit.
“It was a great day for Ballina,” recalled Heffernan.
“He was eager to discuss the history and current state of the municipality. He was very familiar with the territory.
Biden will visit Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday and Wednesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace accord, according to the White House. He will then travel south to the Republic of Ireland, where he will address the Dublin parliament.
Irish towns where Biden grew up welcome him
On Friday, he is scheduled to deliver a speech in front of the 19th-century cathedral in Ballina, which, according to local legend, was partially constructed with bricks supplied by his great-great-great-grandfather, Edward Blewitt, a brickmaker and civil engineer.
10 of Biden’s 16 great-great ancestors were from the Emerald Isle, according to the Irish Family History Centre. During the Great Famine of the mid-19th century, which murdered an estimated one million individuals, they all fled to the United States.
Additionally, Biden intends to visit the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, approximately 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Ballina on the east coast of Ireland. James Finnegan, his great-grandfather, departed the windswept, mountainous peninsula as a child in 1850, one of more than a million Irish who emigrated during the famine years.
There is a tremendous deal of euphoria in the area. Everyone is wondering “What’s going on, when will he arrive, and where is he going?” Andrea McKevitt, a local politician and distant Biden relative, stated the following.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the president will use his voyage to Ireland to emphasize “how his family history is part of that larger shared narrative” between the United States and Ireland.
The excursion also serves as a reminder of the importance of Irish Americans in American politics. Since John F. Kennedy’s visit in 1963, Ireland has welcomed American presidents with open arms. Barack Obama was greeted with jubilation in 2011 when he visited Moneygall, where one of his great-great-great-grandfathers was born.
“My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas,” he said in Dublin.
More than thirty million Americans, or nearly one in ten, claim Irish ancestry. Richard Johnson, senior lecturer in American politics at Queen Mary University of London, stated that Irish Americans no longer constitute a solidly Democratic voting cohort, but that it is still “good politics domestically” for Americans to emphasize their Irish origins.
“One of the reasons Irish identity resonates so strongly with Americans is that American identity is in part predicated on the idea that the United States broke away from the British Empire and charted its own course,” he explained. The Irish experience contains a kind of reverberation of that narrative. It gives the impression that the Irish have shared a common experience of escaping British rule, which I believe is appealing to Americans.”
Leo Varadkar, the prime minister of Ireland, stated that Biden “has always been a friend of Ireland” and that the visit would be “a chance to welcome home a wonderful Irish-American president.”
In Ballina, according to Blewitt, preparations are being made for a resounding welcome for Biden.
He stated, “The streets will be crowded.” It will be similar to St. Patrick’s Day.