US presidential candidate Joe Biden made a sentimental journey to Ireland to visit his ancestral home and trace long lost cousins.
Mr Biden walked the streets of Ballina, Co Mayo to see where his great-great-great grandfather lived during Ireland’s famine before emigrating to the US.
The visit took place in 2016 and was part of a six day trip for him to trace his roots before leaving office when he was Vice-President. He ran several hours behind schedule as he spent time shaking hands and kissing some of the thousands of well-wishers on the streets.
Mr Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt and great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan both left Ireland in the famine years. The connection with Co Mayo has been traced back as far as the late 1700s.
After lunch with the Taoiseach at the time, Enda Kenny, and relatives from the Biden and Blewitt families, Mr Biden gave a glowing report of the reconnection with his ancestry.
“By the way, the Biden’s are moving back – I didn’t know I had such a good looking family here,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed my day, my whole family… we have had a wonderful, wonderful time.”
Standing on the street in Ballina surrounded by a large contingent of his US and Irish relatives and arm in arm with some, Mr Biden recalled his mother Jean Finnegan’s words.
“She would say: ‘Remember Joey, you are defined by your courage, you are redeemed by your loyalty’. This is loyalty, man,” he said.
Mr Biden vowed to repay the welcome he has been shown in Ireland by hosting relatives in Washington DC.
One of the distant cousins, Clodagh Butler, of the Blewitt connections in Ballina, described meeting the Vice President. “He seemed like such a lovely man and he had such a good focus on the children as well,” she said. “He was really personable. It was a really great thing to meet him – it was wonderful.
“We told him that our granda was his fourth cousin and our mum was upstairs waiting to meet him as well, it was really good. “He said to us it felt like home for him too.”
Connor McCarron, 14, from Ballina, got Mr Biden’s autograph. Sporting a cast on a broken wrist, he was taken aback not just at the vice president’s walkabout but when Mr Biden signed his arm. “I might put it on eBay,” he said.
Day two of the visit saw the vice president fly to Ireland West Airport in Knock, Co Mayo on the US Air Force C17 plane after meeting President Michael D Higgins in Dublin.
The pair discussed human rights, issues in the European Union, the Northern Ireland peace process and illegal Irish emigrants in the US.
Mr Kenny compared the Biden visit to that of the Kennedy’s, and expressed what it would mean for his family both in the US and Ireland. “It’s kind of a journey for a sense of fulfilment,” he said.
Mr Biden was blessed by local priest Fr Richard Gibbons after he set foot on the tarmac at Knock.
A massive security operation was mounted as the 20 strong motorcade carrying the then vice president, his family and a huge secret service entourage swept through country roads in Mayo.
Mr Biden has made several private visits to Ireland but made no secret of his wish to visit before his term in office as Vice-president ended.
He had promised it to his son Beau, a veteran of the Iraq war, but he died in 2015 from brain cancer before the commitment could be met.
Among other engagements was a visit to Trinity College and a speech in Dublin Castle, an all-ticket affair but open to the public.
The keynote address touched upon the US and Ireland’s shared heritage, as well as “the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness”.