The White House in Washington, D.C, is approximately 3,253 miles or 5,235 km from Ballina, Co. Mayo, but from January 20th 2021, a descendant of Ballina emigrants will move into one of the most famous residences in the world (which, incidentally, was designed by Irish architect James Hoban!).
In a story that will resonate with many Irish, and many Irish-Americans, Joe Biden’s great-great-great frandfather Edward Blewitt (1795-1872) and his family departed from Garden Street, Ballina during the Great Irish Famine (1845 – 1851) to the land of opportunity, the United States of America. According to historians, the incoming 46th US President is five-eighths Irish, a vast majority of which stems from his late mother Jean Finnegan Biden’s side of the family.
Read: How Joe Biden’s Irish ancestor saved thousands of lives during the Famine
The Blewitts settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania where the incoming US President was born in November 1942. And coincidentally, Ballina is twinned with Scranton PA.
Mr. Biden’s family history was traced by the North Mayo Heritage Centre near Crossmolina, and in June 2016 then US Vice President Biden, his siblings and his grandchildren paid a visit to Ireland to trace their ancestry. On June 22nd 2016 a US Air Force C17 plane touched down in Ireland West Airport Knock carrying the future 46th US President. He was welcomed to County Mayo by then Mayo Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The Bidens moved on to Ballina where the streets were thronged with locals to welcome back one of their own, and the Bidens were reunited with their Blewitt cousins from Knockmore!
Read: Six things to know about the US Vice President’s visit to Ballina
Watch the remarks made by then Vice President Biden below:
During Joe Biden’s 2016 visit Mr. Biden promised to return to his ancestral county, and keeping his promise, he returned the following year to turn the sod for the foundation of Mayo Roscommon Hospice in Castlebar. This was a deeply personal moment for Joe, as two years earlier his son Beau Biden had passed away from cancer. Unable to return to Mayo for the official opening of the hospice due to his work securing the nomination of his political party’s candidacy to contest the 2020 US presidential election, Joe Biden made sure to take time out of his schedule to record a special video message for the official opening of the hospice.
In the middle of 2020 while the third great grandson of Edward Blewitt of Garden Street was criss-crossing the United States on the campaign trail, and the world was fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the volunteers of Ballina Community Cleanup group quietly set about creating a tribute to one of the town’s sons.
The Joe Biden mural on Market Square in the heart of the town was created by artists Pádraig ‘Smiler’ Mitchell and Leslie Lackey and as the US election count was underway, became a viral sensation. The world’s media flocked to the town to see the work, placed just metres away from the site of the Blewitts homestead (behind what is now Harrison’s Bar) and to hear the story of how a son of the town, who held his West of Ireland roots so dear, found himself on the cusp of becoming the most powerful man in the world.
30 years after Ballina native Mary Robinson was elected the first female president of Ireland, US media outlets declared Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware (and Ballina!) the President-elect of the United States of America.
We would like to wish the ‘Ballina Bidens’ all the best in their role at a challenging time in US history, and we hope that this presidential term will be one of peace, unity and healing. It is the hope of many in Ballina and North Mayo and indeed the White House that the President and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will pay a visit to ‘Dear old Ballina’ soon, and we look forward to welcoming them to North Mayo in the near future.
And of course, we look forward to welcoming back all our US friends and relatives to North Mayo, as soon as it’s safe to travel again.