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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Irish Roots

Cake and champagne as Biden's Irish ancestral homes celebrate inauguration

The president’s heritage traces back to Ballina in Co Mayo and the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth.

featureimage Brian Lawless Fifth cousin of President Joe Biden, Councillor Andrea McKevitt at her home on the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth with a specially baked cake to mark Biden’s inauguration Brian Lawless

JOE BIDEN’S ANCESTRAL homes on the west and east coast of Ireland have celebrated his inauguration with champagne and cake while waving Irish and American flags.

The US president’s proud links to Ireland are well known and often spoken about by the Democrat.

He is seen by many as the most Irish American president to date, with his heritage tracing back to Ballina in Co Mayo and the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth.

Many of his distant cousins toasted his swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, marking a significant moment for Ireland’s native son.

Homes across both counties were decked out in the stars and stripes.

On the east coast of Ireland is the Cooley Peninsula, where Biden’s great great-grandfather James Finnegan left for the United States.

Andrea McKevitt, who is a fifth cousin of Biden’s, marked the inauguration with a low-key celebration.

McKevitt watched on with her family over Zoom as “cousin Joe” was sworn in.

embedded257638155 Brian Lawless Fourth cousin of President Joe Biden, Veronica McKevitt (sitting) and her daughters Councillor Andrea McKevitt (right) and her sister Ciara, applaud Biden at their home on the Cooley Peninsula Brian Lawless

The family toasted the moment with champagne, cheese burgers and fries.

“We didn’t get to have the celebration we wanted but we were joined by uncles, aunties and cousins over Zoom to watch it all.

“We hope he gets the chance to visit the Cooley peninsula soon as we are all so excited to have him return.

It will be a proud day to welcome him back and the sooner the better.
There is a great sense of pride of having him as the president. It’s a magical atmosphere having one of our own in the most important office in the world.

“Joe has an affinity to Ireland, he will be a great friend to Ireland.

“Many Irish people left these shores in search of the American dream, and Joe is a prophet of an American dream and he shows what hard work and determination can do.

“His dedication to the Good Friday Agreement was comforting for us in Ireland.”

John Finnegan, from Carlingford, is a fourth cousin of Biden’s, and described the moment as an “emotional day”.

embedded257636587 Niall Carson Derek Leonard stands in between his banner display for Joe Biden outside his pub Harrison’s, in Ballina Niall Carson

Finnegan welcomed Biden when he visited Co Louth in 2017.

“We watched the TV all day to see him arrive and be sworn in – it’s a very proud moment that he once belonged here and now he’s in the highest office in the world.

“It’s been an emotional day for everyone and we are all so proud of him.

“He is a very charming and very friendly and very down to earth, calm and a smiley person. He makes you feel so welcome and doesn’t make you feel any less than him.

“He’s not a quitter and never gave up, he went on and got to where he is today through hard work.”

Nearby, in the town of Dundalk, the council erected an American flag outside the council building and lit up a water feature in the American colours.

Fianna Fáil councillor Emma Coffey was instrumental in marking the day in the town.

Coffey, who also has links to the Irish for Biden group, said there has always been an admiration for Biden in the county.

“With Level 5 coronavirus restrictions we couldn’t really mark it in a significant way, so we arranged the flag to be flown outside the council building and the fountain in the town square be lit up,” she added.

“It’s a nod of our support to him. It’s a great day for Irish American relations and democracy and world relations.”

Meanwhile, in Ballina on the other side of the island, locals gathered to take selfies under Biden’s mural in the town centre.

Biden’s great, great-grandfather Patrick Blewitt was born in the town and left Ballina in 1850 and travelled to America.

Posters in shop windows display “whau Joe” which is Ballina slang for hello.

embedded257636590 Niall Carson Mark Duffy, county councillor for Ballina, stands in front of a mural of Biden Niall Carson

Independent councillor Mark Duffy said there had been huge excitement in the town since the US election.

“Co Mayo had suffered from mass emigration during famine time but for one of our diaspora to go on to become US president is something we’re all very proud of,” he said.

“We’re just looking forward to building on those links and hopefully welcoming Joe Biden to Ballina in the not so distant future,” he said.

Artist Smiler Mitchell and publican Derek Leonard, who were behind the mural in the town, said they never expected it would attract such interest.

“It went a little bit further than we expected,” Mitchell said. “I think we’re up on around two billion viewers at this stage which is nice publicity for the town.”

Leonard said they sent a video to Biden when they erected the mural in September prior to the election and he had responded to them via his Irish cousins.

“He was so chuffed. He said he would definitely be back as president next year,” Mr Leonard said. “Lo and behold he’s president. He’s said on more than one occasion that he expects to be back in Ballina as President of the United States so we’re looking forward to it.”

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