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Experts have delved into Joe Biden's Irish roots - and they go back a while

There’s a whole lot of ‘great-great’ and ‘great-great-great’ grandparents in there.

Image: Cliff Owen

US VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden touches down in Ireland today for a visit during which he is expected to pay homage to his ancestral Irish roots.

In preparation, genealogists have been putting together his family tree. So just how Irish is Joe Biden?

Prepare yourself for quite a few ‘great-greats’ and even a few ‘great-great-great’ ancestors in there.

However, Biden’s closest link to Ireland is his great-grandfather, James Finnegan, who emigrated from Louth as a child in 1850.

Family history research company Ancestor Network carried out extensive research into the Vice President’s family tree ahead of his visit. And according to genealogist John Hamrock, his Irish roots are pretty strong.

Biden Cuomo LaGuardia Airport Source: Seth Wenig

According to Hamrock, all eight of Biden’s great-great-grandparents on his mother’s side were born in Ireland in the first half of the 19th century.

And two great-grandparents on his father’s side were born here too.

Having 10 of his 16 great-great-grandparents born in Ireland makes Biden five-eighths Irish.

“Biden’s family were labouring people, who came from fairly common stock. They were among a generation of Irish people who emigrated to America at the height of the Great Famine,” Hamrock told TheJournal.ie.

Joe Biden is quite proud of his Irish roots and it’s something he takes pretty seriously.

Let’s start at the beginning

Biden was born on November 20, 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and says he grew up in a family that was steeped in Irish values.

In an interview with RTÉ this week, Biden said the Irish trip means ” a great deal” to him, as it was a visit he had hoped to make with his son Beau, who died of cancer last year.

“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. It took great courage,” he said.

Biden’s mother, Jean Finnegan, was born in the US to Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt.

According to the research, Ambrose’s dad, James Finnegan, arrived in New York on the SS Marchioness of Bute in 1850 with his mother and two younger brothers when he was just seven years old. The family came from the Cooley Peninsula in Louth.

His father, Owen Finnegan, a 24-year-old shoemaker, had arrived a year earlier on board the SS Isaac Wright.

Capture Biden's great-great-grandfather on the SS Isaac Wright passenger list. Source: www.ancestornetwork.ie

James Finnegan later married Catherine Roche, whose parents Thomas and Bridget Roche were also born in Ireland, although it’s unclear where. Thomas Roche, who was born in 1813, is listed as being a stonemason.

Finnegan Familt Tree of Joe Biden (1) The Finnegan side of Joe Biden's family tree. Source: www.ancestornetwork.ie

Jean Finnegan’s mother, Geraldine Blewitt, also had strong Irish connections.

Her four grandparents – Patrick Blewitt, Catherine Scanlon, Mary Arthurs and James Stanton – were all born in Ireland between 1830 and 1845, according to the research.

The most is known about the Blewitts, who are believed to have come from Rappacastle, near Ballina, Co Mayo.

Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt emigrated to the US in 1851 on board the SS Excelsior. He was accompanied by his wife Mary Mulderrig and their seven children, including Patrick Blewitt – Biden’s great-great-grandfather.

Patrick Blewitt, then aged 18, was listed as a sailor on board the ship.

Blewitt Family Tree of Joe Biden (1) The Blewitt side of Biden's family tree Source: www.ancestornetwork.ie

A couple of Irish figures also popped up in Biden’s father’s side of the family.

His great-great-grandparents John Hanafy and Mary Ward were born in Ireland. Mary Ward’s parents (Biden’s great-great-great-grandparents) John and Mary Ward were from Co Galway, according to the research.

Hamrock said researching Biden’s family tree took “quite a bit of detective work”, with census, parish records, land records, trade directories and birth, death and marriage records all used to aid the search.

“It’s more challenging the further back you go,” Hamrock said, adding records in Ireland were often patchy when it came to ship passenger lists and Catholic Church records prior to 1850.

“It takes good methodology and perseverance.”

Read: Joe Biden’s visit will close roads in Dublin

Read: US Vice President Joe Biden is coming to Ireland next month

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