It’s hard to tell who is the most famous about Ballina in County Mayo; Joe Biden, Joe Plewitt or Joe Plewitt.
A white Volkswagen Crafter is decorated with a picture Mr. BidenThe slogan is “Joe Biden for the White House and Joe Beloit for Your Home”.
It’s the calling card of the heating and plumber contractor, who also happens to be the President-elect’s third cousin, once removed.
“Joe is my father’s third cousin,” says Mr. Beloit. “My dad always knew it, but the media started tracking him when he was on his way to the vice presidency, and he really took off.”
The couple first met in 2016, when then Vice President Biden, a five-eighth-year-old Irishman, visited one of his grandparents’ homes on Ireland’s west coast.
“We had lunch with him that day,” Mr. Blewitt recalls. He is such a likable man, a really humble man.
“He’s just a big family man. He’s had a lot of tragedies in his life. I have young children, and he just told me to hold and cuddle them as much as possible. That just shows what kind of man he is.”
Mr. Blewitt and other family members visited the White House in January 2017 at the invitation of Mr. Biden, to witness him receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
Later that year, he was no longer the vice president, as Biden crossed the Atlantic on another visit to Ballina, disrupting the local hospice.
“It’s not political prowess,” says local consultant Mark Duffy of Joe Biden’s passion for his Irish roots.
“He came here in a personal capacity as well. Ballina was already twinned with his hometown in Scranton, Pennsylvania, so there are really strong bonds there.”
These ties began in the dark days devastated by famine in 1850, when Joe Biden’s grandfather, like many Irish before him, left Ballina for the United States.
A witty guy, Edward worked on the Ordnance Survey and the local joke is that he really put Ballina on the map.
“It’s a nice story about a migrant leaving during the rough times here in Ballina, the famine,” says Duffy.
“Now, one of his grandsons is president of the United States, so it’s just a beautiful immigrant story, and that’s something we’re all proud of.”
They are also proud on the other side of the country, on the Kouli Peninsula in Ko Louth. Here, Biden’s great-grandfather, John Finnegan, married Mary Kearney in 1813.
Both families were from humble subsistence farming backgrounds, but the Kearney family found an ingenious way to raise extra money: collect seaweed and sell it as fertilizer to other farmers.
Their son, Owen Finnegan, left for the United States in the 1840s, which means that the new American president has not one but two houses of Irish ancestors. He took the time to visit Cooley on his 2016 trip to Ireland.
The Irish in the Oval Office
22 American presidents have claimed some form of Irish heritage. Here are just a few:
Barack Obama – Moneygall, Co Offaly
Ronald Reagan – Balliburin, Inc. Tipperary
Richard Nixon – Timahoe, Co Kildare
John F Kennedy – Donganstown, Wexford
Biden boost for domestic tourism
The tourism heads of Co Mayo and Co Louth hope to increase Biden if and when international tourists return to Ireland. But in Dublin, the Irish government is also pushing hard for a more fruitful relationship with the White House.
In particular, high-ranking figures in government told Sky News that they are “pleased” with Biden’s election victory, who sees a proud Irish-American victory in the presidency – though not in reality – as the Brexit negotiations come to an end.
In September, Biden tweeted, “We cannot allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a victim of Brexit. Any trade deal between the United States and the United Kingdom should be conditional on respecting the agreement and preventing return is difficult.” .
This is music to the ears of Dublin diplomats, and it could deeply sway the minds of British negotiators in the coming days. Others, however, say the Irish legacy of the president-elect should not be overestimated. While he would be instinctively more sympathetic to Irish and EU concerns about Brexit, he is far from the top of his priority list as he tries to address his divided nation.
Statecraft is also far from the minds of those in Ballina. Publican Derek Leonard proudly stands beside a framed photo of him with the illustrious city visitor, looking forward to what they see as an inevitable presidential visit.
“The excitement is increasing, you can feel it,” he says.
He doesn’t care that an abstainer is unlikely to lift Joe Biden a pint of black stuff into the sky, as his predecessors did.
“It’s unbelievable for Ballina, for Irish Americans, for Irish here. It’s immeasurable. Perception is just identifying that we have an American president who hails from Ballina.”
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