Nearly 5,000 kilometers east of the White House, a portrait of US presidential candidate Joe Biden looms over his ancestral home in Ballina, on the west coast of Ireland. Here, distant relatives and residents alike are proud to see one of their own challenging Donald Trump.
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“Obviously, we’re very much behind Joe Biden,” Laurita Blewitt, the Democratic candidate’s distant cousin, told AFP. “We have this family bond, this friendship, this relationship with him,” adds the 37-year-old Irishwoman.
Genealogist Megan Smolenyak traces the family line of Joe Biden to County Louth, in the east of the country, as well as Ballina, a town of 10,000 people dotted with brightly colored facades and crossed by the River Moy.
In 1851, his great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt left for New York with the diaspora fleeing poverty in Ireland.
Despite the years, the Biden family and the town of Ballina have maintained a bond.
Joe Biden, 77, has been there twice: first in 2016, greeted by crowds of locals who came to see Barack Obama’s vice-president, then in 2017, during a visit to an establishment in regional care, two years after losing her son Beau to cancer.
Ballina is further twinned with Scranton, PA, where Biden was born in 1942.
“Inscribed in my soul”
Joe Biden once wrote that when he dies, “Northeastern Pennsylvania will be etched in my heart. But Ireland will be inscribed in my soul. ”
He is not the only American statesman with Irish roots. John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Barack Obama and many others have claimed links to the “Emerald Isle”.
Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, who has distant family ties to Moneygall in County Offaly, traveled to their ancestral land, making sure to grab a pint in the local pub.
Since Obama’s trip in 2011, a “Barack Obama Plaza” has even been erected – a motorway service station located at junction 23 of the Dublin-Limerick road.
The journeys of these personalities illustrate the myth of the “American dream” – of families fleeing poverty to start a new life full of opportunity in the United States.
For the small Irish nation, this American diaspora is a significant diplomatic asset.
Ten percent of Americans claim Irish ancestors, some 31 million people, a figure six times higher than Ireland’s five million people.
These historic ties have led American politicians to act as intermediaries to end the three decades of “Troubles” which bloodied the British province of Northern Ireland until the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998. .
More recently, Joe Biden warned that London could not reach a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington if that deal and the principle of no physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland were not respected.
“The ties between Ireland and the United States are incredibly strong,” said Ballina’s local adviser Mark Duffy, giving her extra weight on the international stage.
The bitter election campaign and divisions between the Trump and Biden clans even exported to Ireland.
Joe Blewitt paid the price. This plumber, third cousin of Joe Biden, decorated his van with a nod to the presidential campaign: “Joe Biden for the White House and Joe Blewitt for your house.”
But he received hate messages, including an aggressive call. “Trump is going to be president,” an American-accented voice told him.
“There is a lot of hatred,” says the 41-year-old man.
“When I visit the United States, it’s not the welcoming place it used to be,” said Laurita – who traveled to Las Vegas to campaign for Biden to be the Democratic candidate in February.
She keeps her fingers crossed for the outcome of the ballot: “I hope we can celebrate here on November 3”.