Biden’s ancestral hometowns prepare warm Irish welcome

Biden’s ancestral hometowns prepare warm Irish welcome

BALLINA, Ireland (AP) — Joe Blewitt is just about the busiest man in Ballina. His phone rings constantly with calls from locals and the world’s media as he prepares to welcome a relative — U.S. President Joe Biden.

Biden is scheduled to travel to Ireland next week, with a stop in Ballina, the town from which one of his great-great grandfathers left for the United States in 1850. Blewitt, a distant cousin who first met Biden when he came to town as vice president in 2016, said the U.S. leader pledged to return once he’d won the presidency.

“He said, ‘I’m going to come back into Ballina.’ And sure to God he’s going to come back into Ballina,” Blewitt said. “His Irish roots are really deep in his heart.”

Joe Blewitt, a cousin of President Joe Biden laughs as he speaks to the media in his home town of Ballina, Ireland, Tuesday, April, 4, 2023. Excitement is building in Ballina, a small Irish town that was home to some of President Joe Biden’s ancestors. Biden is scheduled to visit the town next week, part of a four-day trip to Ireland and neighboring Northern Ireland. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Joe Blewitt, a cousin of President Joe Biden laughs as he speaks to the media in his home town of Ballina. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
The 43-year-old plumber was among Biden relations invited to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day last month. He says it was a “surreal” experience that included a half-hour private meeting with the president.

“He’s a people person. He loves meeting the Irish people,” said Blewitt, who shares Biden’s high forehead — he says people joke that he looks like the president “from the mouth up.”

“The Irish people love him back.”

Buildings are getting a new coat of paint and American flags are being hung from shopfronts in Ballina, a bustling agricultural town of about 10,000 at the mouth of the River Moy in western Ireland that proclaims itself the nation’s “salmon capital.”

The White House says Biden will visit Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday and Wednesday to mark 25 years since the Good Friday peace accord, before heading south to the Republic of Ireland, where he will address the Dublin parliament. In Ballina, he’s due to deliver a speech Friday in front of the 19th-century cathedral, which local lore says was built partly using bricks supplied by his great-great-great grandfather, Edward Blewitt, a brickmaker and civil engineer.