After losing his son last year, Joe Biden yesterday gained an Irish family.
It was an emotional day for the American vice president as he travelled back to his ancestral home in Co Mayo with members of his family — a trip he had planned with his son Beau before his death.
“My family has gotten bigger,” Mr Biden said after meeting some of his relatives for lunch in Heffernan’s bakery in Ballina. “My mother had the expression, Jean Finnegan, she would say ‘remember Joey you are defined by your courage and you are redeemed by your loyalty’, this is loyalty,” he said.
However, it all was a bit much for 10-month-old Cillian O’Flaherty who screamed as he was handed to his famous relative.
But along with gaining a clatter of Mayo cousins, Mr Biden also found out he is related to Ireland’s most famous rugby bothers.
Mr Biden’s brother Jimmy — one of a number of the family, including his grandchild Hunter (Beau’s son), who has accompanied the vice president to Ireland — was eager to publicise his family ties with Rob and Dave Kearney.
Jim Biden said: “The Kearneys, the guys who play for the national team, they’re our fifth cousins once removed. I just found out this morning. My son is going to be playing rugby at university so I’m going home, I’m going to get on the plane and track these guys down.
“I understand that they’re quite good, it’s in the genes.
“I need to track down these Kearneys, tell them that Jim Biden, the vice president’s brother, is trying to track them down.”
He added the trip had been a very important one for the family and one they felt they had to take in the wake of Beau’s passing. He died from brain cancer at the age of 46.
“The vice president has been trying to do this for a number of years and the passing of his only son Beau — he passed away a little over a year ago — they had been planning the whole trip. It’s a very emotional trip, especially to the vice president and my sister is on the trip as well.
“My mother Jean Finnegan — she would always announce herself as Jean Finnegan to anybody who would listen — we always just loved being here and with this warm welcome it’s just wonderful. It feels like home, it really does.”
Laurita Blewitt, whose father Brendan is the one of the closest living Irish relatives of the Bidens, said it had been an “emotional” trip for the family but they were “overwhelmed” by the response they received.
“We have been waiting so long for today. He chatted about his family and we chatted about our family,” she said.
“We’ve known about the connection for eight years, since he was elected and we’ve been in contact for the last few months but this was the first family meeting. It was a very emotional trip for him because of Beau.”
Earlier in the day, the grey sky had turned to rain as the vice president’s plane touched down in Ireland West Airport in Knock at around 1.40pm, but that didn’t dull the enthusiasm of the 100 local schoolchildren who came to welcome Mr Biden to Mayo.
Michael Marren, a pupil in Cloonlyon National School was excited to see Mr Biden and had even done a background check on him.
“I looked up about him and I know what he has done and stuff,” the 11-year-old said.
Mr Biden was then whisked off to the ancestral home of the Blewitt family in Ballina, who left Ireland in around 1851.
Out on the street, Mr Biden shook hands, posed for selfies, and kissed numerous babies — with one of his entourage even questioning where all the tots were coming from.
There was even time to sign a plaster cast, after Conor McCarron asked him to add his signature to the list of names scrawling up his arm including Enda Kenny and RTÉ’s Teresa Mannion.
“I might put it up on eBay,” the 14-year-old said after being asked what he would do with the cast when it is taken off.
But along with the kisses, jokes, and banter on the street — which Mr Biden appeared to greatly enjoy — there were a number of serious but touching conversations.
Sinéad Quinn, who lost her husband to cancer two years ago, turned out to greet the vice president and share her experiences with him.
Ms Quinn, who has three children under six said: “I lost my husband two years ago, his first anniversary was actually around the time that Joe’s son Beau died. I told him that we had been bereaved by cancer, I said I appreciated all he is doing and that I am aware of the work he is doing through the blue ribbon cancer campaign.
“He said he had been in my circumstances, he lost his wife, so he understood,” Ms Quinn said after Mr Biden kissed her on the forehead.
After visiting Castlebar and Westport, the day was finished off with a proper session by The Chieftains in Matt Malloy’s pub.
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