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'You'd know Joe Biden is Irish - he's good craic'

2023-06-04 01:37:16 source:The Washington Post author:Press center5 click:581order

"You'd know there's Irish roots in him because he's good craic like."

That's one Irishman's take on US President Joe Biden, and he would know, being related to him.

Back in 2016, the White House called the Irish Family History Centre, asking it to trace Mr Biden's ancestry ahead of an upcoming visit.

After weeks of searching parish records and land registers it compiled a list of his closest living relatives - many of who knew nothing of the connection.

Enter the Blewitts of Ballina, County Mayo, and the Finnegans of Carlingford, County Louth.

Trips to both counties feature on the US presidents whistle-stop itinerary of Ireland and his cousins cannot wait to see him back to cement the connections made during his visit in 2016.

Proud of his Irish heritage, President Biden said he was brought up on stories of the "faith and fortitude" of his relatives that left Ireland.

"I grew up in a household where my grandfather and grandmother Finnegan, all my mother's brothers and my father told us about the courage and commitment it took for our relatives to emigrate from Ireland - in the midst of tragedy - to distant shores where they didn't know what awaited them," he told RTÉ in 2016.

The Blewitt family are linked to president Biden through his great-great-grandfather Patrick.

The family were aware of their connection to the US politician for decades, and met Mr Biden in 2016.

He made a second visit to Mayo at their invitation in 2017.

According to Joe Blewitt, it was during this trip that he told his Irish cousins he would one day return to Ballina "as president".

"Of course I knew it was true.

"He's been in politics all his life - that man was bound to be president so I'm absolutely delighted," Mr Blewitt told BBC News NI.

The Blewitts have visited the White House several times, most recently last month for St Patrick's Day.

"It was a surreal, very special day for us... It's just one of those days when [it] goes too fast," Mr Blewitt said.

He speaks fondly of the president, describing his distant cousin as a down-to-earth, genuine character with a quick wit.

"He loves jokes... You'd know there's Irish roots in him because he's good craic like."

True to his word, Mr Biden is set deliver a speech to the people of Ballina on Friday.

"We're all happy to see him... It's great for the country, it really just tightens the close bond between America and Ireland," Mr Blewitt added.

Mr Biden's public address will take place outside St Muredach's Cathedral which was constructed using bricks sold by Edward Blewitt in 1828 - 27,000 of them earned him £21 and 12 shillings.

It was this money that afforded the family of 10 to eventually set sail to New York on the SS Excelsior in 1851.

About 250km (155 miles) to the east of Ballina in County Louth, the president will link up with the Finnegan side of the family tree.

Owen Finnegan emigrated to the US in 1849.

His family followed a year later and settled in Seneca, New York, with their namesake eventually being passed on to the president's own descendants - one of his grand-daughters is named Finnegan Biden.

Fianna Fáil councillor for the area Andrea McKevitt told BBC News NI that "the atmosphere is electric" across the Cooley peninsula as residents prepare to welcome Mr Biden with a sea of stars and stripes.

Ms McKevitt is a distant cousin, related through the president's great-great-grandfather Owen.

Andrea McKevitt's family were oblivious to the connection until 2016 when White House officials contacted her uncle to break the news.

"I think at the beginning he thought somebody was joking but then when we had paperwork and started looking into it, it proved to be true indeed," she said.

Ms McKevitt was also in attendance at this year's St Patrick's Day celebration at the White House, something she described as a "pinch-me moment".

"It was a family event," she joked.

"It wasn't until it was over I thought: 'Oh my God, I can't believe that's just happened'

"You're living in a dream nearly for the whole day waiting to go in and when you finally got there it was just amazing."

And through the Finnegans there's a Kearney connection with President Biden's fifth cousin once removed getting an invitation to the White House last month.

Former Ireland international rugby player Rob Kearney was singled out of the crowd, just a day before Ireland beat England to win the Six Nation's Grand Slam, with the president nailing his colours to the mast.

It's expected Mr Biden's engagements in Louth will be on a smaller scale than those on the opposite side of the country in Mayo, but Ms McKevitt insists there is no rivalry between the two counties.

"We're happy to let Mayo run with the big public address. Here in Dundalk we had President Clinton address us in 1998, so we can't get all the limelight," she said.

With the president's visit timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Ms McKevitt said it sends a "really strong, important message" to the people of Ireland.

"There was a deal made 25 years ago. It's time for us to keep moving and getting on to the next stage of the peace process," she said.

"Hopefully his hand of wisdom and hand of friendship can ensure that more work continues to be done so peace remains on this island."

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