Co Mayo town ‘buzzing’ ahead of Biden visit, says relative of US president

Joe Blewitt Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The town of Ballina in Co Mayo will never have witnessed anything like the visit of Joe Biden, a relative of the US president has said.

Joe Blewitt, a third cousin of Mr Biden, said there is a “great buzz” in the area ahead of the president’s arrival.

Preparations are well under way for the event on Friday, which will be the culmination of Mr Biden’s trip.

Mr Biden is to give a public address at St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina.

His great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt sold 27,000 bricks to the cathedral in 1827, which helped him to afford to buy tickets for himself and his family to sail to America decades later in 1851.

Mr Blewitt was helping with final preparations on Tuesday when he spoke to the PA news agency.

He said: “We are building the stage at the moment.

US President Joe Biden will visit Ballina in Co Mayo on Friday Credit: Niall Carson/PA

“I am very excited, there is a great buzz all around the town. It has just been crazy.

“The town will never have known anything like it, it is just great.”

Ballina is twinned with Scranton in the US, Mr Biden’s hometown.

Independent councillor Mark Duffy said Ballina is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year.

He said: “President Biden coming to Ballina on Friday is a huge celebration of our story.

“So many people emigrated during the darkest hour in Irish history, the famine time.

“His great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt left here. He was a builder’s merchant here in Ballina and supplied 27,000 bricks towards the building of the cathedral where on Friday night he is going to make a historic address to the people of Ballina and the people of Ireland.

“It is a really symbolic moment between Ballina and his hometown of Scranton which are already linked. It shows the strong ties between the two places.

“As a council we are working around the clock, cleaning streets, the painters are out, community groups are painting different shop buildings. Businesses are decorating their shops; flags, buntings, banners are going up all over.

“There is a real celebratory mood in the town at the moment.

“It will be huge. He visited in 2016 as vice-president and he always promised he would come if he was US president.”

Mark Duffy is an independent councillor in Ballina Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

Councillor Annie May Reape said: “It is fantastic to see. It is gearing up and the people are so excited.

“There has never been anything like this before. He did visit us in 2016 as vice-president, but this is on a different scale.

“Having the president coming to a small west of Ireland town is beyond anyone’s expectations.

“The town is tremendously proud of the links we have with the president.

“I was walking around this morning and seeing it all. I just hope the weather stays good.

“The president did say he was coming home. He’s a lovely man and so, so friendly. I think he is really happy himself about coming back.

“Can you imagine the pride for us every time he mentions Ballina on the world stage?

“It puts us on the map. It will do wonders for us.”

Before his visit to Co Mayo, Mr Biden will spend time in Co Louth, where his great-grandfather, James Finnegan, was born.

He will tour Carlingford Castle on Wednesday.

Excitement was building in the county with several homes decorated with US flags near Kilwirra Church, where some of Mr Biden's relatives are believed to be buried.

A significant security operation is also continuing in the area with members of the defence forces carrying out searches of undergrowth.

Local resident Ambrose Carroll was one of those to erect a Stars and Stripes flag in his garden.

He said: "We did it last time he was here, a lot of people did the same. We said we would do it again because there's a lot of excitement around the place.

"I feel great about it. He seems to be a lovely man and I am looking forward to it.

"All round the area there are cousins."

Robert Brown, who runs a confectionery stand in Carlingford, said police have asked him to close on Wednesday.

"We have been asked for security reasons to vacate the area when the president is here," he said.

"From the point of view of the president's visit, it will be good for tourism, it will be good for the economy, and hopefully it will bring some investment to this part of the world."

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