Ahead of President Biden’s visit to Northern Ireland next month, a beautiful town on the Republic of Ireland’s rugged Atlantic coast is preparing to roll out the red carpet for its most famous offspring. In Ballina, a small market town known for its salmon fishing, the American leader is considered a native son – even though he is five generations removed.
Mr Biden’s grandfather, Edward Blewitt, was born in Ballina. In the 1840s he moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania to escape the Irish Famine. Nearly 200 years later, the residents of Ballina are preparing for a spectacular homecoming.
While the dates and details of Mr Biden’s trip across the Atlantic have not been confirmed, it is widely expected that he will visit his ancestral birthplace south of the border after arriving in Northern Ireland in early April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which he said earlier this month he would do.
The deal, of which Mr Biden has been a vocal proponent, essentially ended decades of sectarian violence on the island between The Troubles, republican forces determined to make Northern Ireland part of the republic, and unionists who want to keep it. UK
Peace was established by the Good Friday Agreement has been suppressed in recent yearsHowever, mainly the UK’s “Brexit“Divorce from the European Union, of which Ireland is a member.
According to recent British media reports, Mr. Biden is expected to visit Belfast, Northern Ireland, on April 11, delivering a keynote speech the next day that will highlight business opportunities for American investors in the region, following UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Recent post-Brexit trade deals with the EU.
On Tuesday, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 raised the terror threat level in Northern Ireland from significant to severe, indicating that an attack in Northern Ireland was considered “highly likely”. The move comes amid an increase in dissident Republican activity, one of which Recent shootings On a senior police official last month.
Security concerns aside, Joe Blewitt, one of Mr Biden’s distant cousins, is among Ballina residents awaiting a possible visit by the US leader. Blewitt has been in Washington with Mr Biden this year, along with Irish leader Leo Varadkar. St. Patrick’s Day Celebration at the White House. He has met his high-profile relatives on multiple occasions.
“He (Biden) is a really down-to-earth guy,” Blewitt told CBS News. “My dad always knew we were related, but things really came to a head when he was running for vice president with Obama.”
On a visit to Ballina in 2016, Mr. Biden met with Blewitt and his sister Lorita, and Blewitt had a private dinner with the then vice president.
Jarlath Munnelly, whose organization “Ballina 2023” extended Mr Biden an official invitation to the town last year, said Ballina would welcome the US president – and he hoped for a few more handshakes.
“We know we can definitely do a really good public event,” he told CBS News. “We’re getting a sense that the president wants to make some sort of public address, and there’s no better place (than Ballina) for that.”
The seaside town’s ties to Mr. Biden go beyond family ties. The city has been associated with the president’s own hometown of Scranton for decades.
“Our sister city relationship is extraordinary, as many Scranton residents trace their ancestry to County Mayo, many specifically to Ballina,” Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti told CBS News in an emailed statement. “Having this deep connection between our cities and being able to celebrate and share our pride in having a U.S. president call our cities home is truly special.”
Locals told CBS News that Mr. Biden made a good impression on people he met during his previous stop in Ballina, making a potential repeat visit by the current president all the more exciting.
“It was really nice,” Miriam Caffrey told CBS News. “You know, he was very relaxed and involved with everybody. He had time for everybody… It’s amazing to think that the president of the United States has ancestors from Ballina.”
Annie Mae Ripp, a local politician, recalled chatting with Mr. Biden about their parallel careers in public service.
“I was introduced as a local councillor, and he just said, ‘Does everyone know you? Do they know your car? When I started politics, everyone knew where I lived and everyone knew my car.’ He was especially happy because of his connection to Ballina,” Rip said.
A visit by the US leader will carry special significance for the town this year as Ballina celebrates the 300th anniversary of its founding. Locals have already seen the potential benefits to their economies that a relationship with Mr. Biden could bring, and they expect more of the same next month.
Courtesy of Joe Blewitt
Artist Padraig Mitchell painted a mural of Mr Biden in the city’s main square while campaigning for the presidency in 2020. The photo went viral and attracted tourists from all over the country
“It was the most requested selfie in Ireland in 2020,” Mitchell boasted.
Pub owner Derek Leonard helped paint the mural and recalled welcoming Mr Biden to his pub, the Harrison, on his second visit to the city in 2017.
“He came in and he spent a few minutes here after walking around town,” Leonard told CBS News. “He had a great interest in his family history.”
Courtesy of Derek Leonard
According to Leonard, Mr. Biden was aware of the mural as he campaigned for the White House and promised to visit Ballina as president to see it in person.
For Annie Mae Ripp, a visit by President Biden would add to the long history of Irish Americans returning to their roots in the Republic.
“This tour is going to be incredible,” he said. “We have a beautiful tradition where people want to come and see where their ancestors came from and now everyone will be anxious to see one of the most important people in the world with a family background in Ballina.”