Joe Biden's Irish ancestral home toasts historic win

BALLINA, IRELAND (AFP) – In Joe Biden’s Irish ancestral hometown, distant relatives and well-wishers nursed happy hangovers on Sunday (Nov 8) after a night spent toasting the success of the new president-elect – and claimed credit for having “saved the world”.

“It was like watching a thriller on Netflix or something, it was just going on and on and then all of a sudden yesterday it just hit us out of the blue,” Biden’s third cousin Laurita Blewitt told Agence France-Presse.

“We’re absolutely thrilled and just can’t really put it into words,” the 37-year-old said.

Biden’s heritage has been described by experts as “roughly five-eighths Irish” and his roots run deep in Ballina – a town of 10,000 on Ireland’s west coast.

His great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt left for New York in 1851, part of the diaspora fleeing Ireland’s grinding poverty and the famines of the period, leaving sprawling family ties.

A distance of thousands of kilometres between Ballina and the White House has not diminished the ties that bind Biden to Ireland.

Prime minister Micheal Martin was one of the very first world leaders to congratulate Biden, ignoring President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of electoral malpractice.

“Joe Biden is the most Irish president since John F. Kennedy,” he told state broadcaster RTE on Saturday.

He hailed the chance to “reset” relations between the US and European Union at a time when Britain is exiting the EU, to Biden’s displeasure.

In the run-up to the election, publican Padraig “Smiler” Mitchell was among the throng of local artists to raise a towering pop-art portrait of the soon-to-be 46th president in the town, which Biden has visited twice before.

“I think Ballina saved the world last night, because without Ballina there would be no Biden,” he said as locals gathered in the shadow of his work on Sunday morning.

Some clutched newspapers bearing historic headlines while others posed for photos.

On the main street, a man shuffled by sporting an oversized Biden badge after a car passed tangled in red, white and blue tinsel.

“Today we’re just waiting for Donald now to move on, get out of there,” added Mitchell – a registered American voter who cast his ballot for Biden by post.

Biden has previously said that when he dies, “Northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart”.

“But Ireland will be written on my soul.”

The feeling is mutual for the residents of Ballina.

Despite an ongoing coronavirus lockdown in Ireland, they decked the town with his name and likeness – declaring him “Ballina’s best president Biden”.

Shuttered pubs and shops were covered with “Biden/Harris” placards, honouring the Democrat’s history-making running mate, Kamala Harris.

Locals assembled by the mural to watch the results roll in on a projected screen on Tuesday night.

Like America and the rest of the world, they faced a tantalising wait for US networks to call the result, but started celebrating anyway earlier on Saturday.

“We said, ‘Let’s make the call before CNN’,” a beaming Mitchell said.

Champagne corks were popped before the mural in a socially distanced gathering, before locals returned to their homes to cheer on privately.

“If Covid wasn’t here, we would have had a right party,” said Mitchell.

At home, those watching RTE’s main evening bulletin were reminded of the intimacy between Biden and Ireland.

The programme ended with a recording of the president-elect reading words by Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney: “Once in a lifetime / The longed-for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up / And hope and history rhyme.”

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