By Eoin McSweeney, CNN
Nov 8, 2020
(CNN) – The stars and stripes have been fluttering all week on the streets of Ballina — the town of just 10,000 in the west of Ireland where US president-elect Joe Biden’s Irish ancestors hail from.
Ten of the former vice president’s 16 great-great-grandparents were born in Ireland, according to the Irish for Biden campaign, with Edward Blewitt, Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather, providing the Ballina connection.
On Saturday, as CNN projected Biden’s White House win, Ballina residents came out to celebrate their distant kin’s success.
“I think Ballina has saved the world tonight, because without Ballina, there would be no Joe Biden,” Smiler Mitchell, a local publican, told CNN.
Balloons were tied to cars and the crowd sang “The Green and Red of Mayo,” a famous ballad about the county where Ballina is situated. One car with a cardboard cut out of Biden in the front seat had a license plate which read, “PENNSYLVANIA BIDEN #1.”
In the lead-up to the election, the community held a “Ridin’ for Biden” event around the bridges crossing the River Moy with a carousel of cars passing the town’s iconic cathedral and finishing in front of a mural of the man himself, erected in the town’s main square.
“Ballina has always been an underdog town in the west of Ireland, which has had its own challenges in the past,” said local politician Mark Duffy.
“Now we think it’s our time to shine and put our best foot forward. We look forward to welcoming as many visitors from across the US and across the political divide.”
He noted that the town is in a beautiful part of the world, with lakes, mountains and urban forest in the surrounding area.
Biden still has distant relatives in the town.
Joe Blewitt, a third cousin, who has met the president-elect several times, said his namesake “is totally down to earth.”
“He’s a family man,” Blewitt told CNN by phone.
But Ballina isn’t the only Irish town with a Biden connection. On the opposite side of the country — in Carlingford, County Louth — a community pipe band was set to premiere an anthem for Biden at noon on Sunday.
Biden’s great-grandfather James Finnegan arrived in New York on the Marchioness of Bute ship in 1850 from Carlingford, a coastal town located about 70 miles north of Dublin.
In honor of their most famous son’s election win, Carlingford’s local parish priest planned to ring the bells of the church with school children and members of the community in attendance.
Paul Allen, the lead organizer of the Irish for Biden campaign, told CNN the town was overjoyed with the result.
“Joe Biden is a quintessential Irish American and it shows what a combination of hard work and determination can do,” he said.
The campaign had encouraged Irish people all over the world to phone a relative in America and ask them to vote for Biden.
“The nurse working in Chicago, the firefighter in Boston or the policeman in New York, the construction worker building America; that’s the Irish American connection,” Allen added.
The Carlingford community hosted Biden in 2016 and in advance of his visit, he wrote a letter which said: “Northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart. But Ireland will be written on my soul.”
Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, Micheál Martin was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Biden on his victory Saturday.
Back over in Ballina, more celebrations were expected on Sunday.
The town, twinned with Scranton, Pennsylvania, is also home to Ireland’s first woman president, Mary Robinson, who was elected 30 years ago to the day on Saturday.
“Her message was one of hope and a light in the window for the diaspora,” said politician Mark Duffy. “…30 years later to the day, one of the descendants of our diaspora, who would have left Ballina in such a dark and bleak time for Irish history, has gone on to hold the highest office in the land.”
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