US president Joe Biden has said “everything between Ireland and America runs deep” as he concluded his historic tour of the island.
Mr Biden made a public speech in the town of Ballina in Co Mayo on Friday where he spoke throughout of his fondness for the relationship between the US and Ireland – describing it as “united by history, heritage and hope”.
“Hello Mayo, it’s great to be hearing you all, it’s great to be back here in Ballina”.
Mr Biden said the town is home to Ireland’s first female president (Mary Robinson), one of your youngest mayors, and maybe to Ireland’s first female astronaut – Norah Patten.
Joe Biden thanked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for “his remarkable hospitality, his generous remarks and maybe most importantly for his friendship”.
He thanked all the performers, particularly The Chieftains – telling them he saw them in 2016, adding: “I’m grateful you came back for one more time to perform tonight”, describing himself as a long-term fan.
Joe Biden said his ancestor Edward Blewitt worked in the old Ballina brickyard, and he saw a record from 1828 that he was paid 21 pounds and 12 shillings to help supply 27,000 bricks for St Muredach’s Cathedral, which was nearby as he addressed the crowd.
“As he laboured, I’m sure he would imagine that one day his family would worship here, that his children would be baptised here like his son Patrick was, and that future generations of his family would mark the milestones of their lives here in the sturdy walls, but I doubt he ever imagined his great-great-great grandson would return 200 years later as president of the United States of America,” he said.
“Isn’t that amazing.”
He also thanked Ballina for celebrating his election as president in 2020.
“You decked out the town I’m told in red, white and blue with cars and crowds gathered in the market square singing the green and the red of Mayo,” he said. “It means the world to me, it meant the world to me and my entire family to be embraced as Mayo Joe, son of Ballina.
“My mother, my grandmother – whose maiden name was Blewitt – would be smiling down on me right now.”
“Most of all I want acknowledge my family, all the Blewitts, you make me proud,” he said to cheers.
He went on to talk about his visits across the day, including the former military chaplain Father Frank O’Grady who gave his son Beau his last rites.
“It was incredible to see him, it seemed like a sign,” he said.
Once again speaking of his Irish ancestry, Mr Biden said millions of Americans claim to have Irish heritage – adding: “More would if they could.”
In his speech, President Biden quoted from a poem written by his great-great grandfather, from Co Mayo, and said it is a time to recommit to progress.
“This one was from 1925 toward the end of his life. He called it ‘The Workers’,” he said.
“It goes like this: ‘The march of progress cannot cease our hearts and minds – and our souls are bound in faith to sublime things’.
“My friends, people of Mayo, this is a moment to recommit our hearts, our minds, our ardent souls to the march of progress. To lay the foundation brick by brick by brick, for a better future for our kids and our grandkids, one of greater liberty, opportunity and dignity just like our ancient ancestors did for us.
“I’ve never been more optimistic and I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve never been more optimistic, but what we can achieve if we stick together and stick to our values.
“This is a time of enormous possibilities. And united by history, heritage and hope and maybe most of all by courage, nothing is beyond our reach.”
Mayo for Sam”, Joe Biden shouted as he ended his speech in Ballina.