Ballina Manor Hotel, Mayo
“Northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart, but Ireland will be written on my soul”
Joe first visited his ancestral home in Ballina in 2016 as Vice President of the United States and was welcomed home with open arms. He then returned to County Mayo in the year 2017 at the request of his cousin Laurita Blewitt to turn the first sod on the Mayo Roscommon Hospice Centre. Fast forward to December 2020 a year many would like to forget but one Joe Biden will remember as a great victory when it was confirmed he would take residency in the White House as the 46th president of the United States with Kamala Harris as the first ever female Vice President.
The long-awaited results brought a great buzz to Joe’s ancestral home, here in Ballina and indeed in Ballina Manor Hotel with many news stations and camera crews staying with us while reporting from The Joe Biden Mural in the town’s Market Square while the whole world watched and waited on the outcome.
Joe Biden has spoken fondly and often of his Irish heritage and his love for the Irish people which prompted him to learn more about his family roots. If you too would like to find out more about Joe Biden’s Irish heritage and ancestral background, please read on.
Joe Biden successfully traced his Irish roots back to both the Blewitt’s from Co. Mayo and the Finnegan’s from Co. Louth. With Irish ancestors traced in both his mother’s and his father’s lineage, he is estimated to be “roughly five-eighths Irish”. His mother’s entire family tree traces to Ireland with ancestors named Arthurs, Blewitt, Boyle, Roche, Scanlon, and Stanton accompanying her Finnegan kin. The last one-eighth comes from his father’s side, which contributed the Hanafee name. Biden’s quintessentially Irish American mother was born in 1917 to Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, so it seems appropriate to focus on the Finnegan and Blewitt branches that played such a strong role in shaping the person he would become.
The Finnegans side of Biden’s family are primarily based in Cooley Peninsula Co. Louth. Records show that Mr Biden’s great-great-great grandfather, John Finnegan, married Mary Kearney in County Louth in 1813. From a poor farming background, the family struggled greatly but fortunately had salvage rights to a small stretch of the Louth coastline named Mara-na-trá which translates to “on the edge of the seashore”. The family cleverly found a way to earn some extra income by selling the rotting seaweed they gathered along the seashore to neighbouring famers as fertiliser.
A new generation brought with its new ideas. Biden’s great great grandfather patriarch Owen Finnegan made the decision to move to America in 1849. He arrived in New York on May 31, 1849 joined by his wife Jane and family a year later in 1850. A new life brought new opportunities for the family and throughout the years all except one chose to relocate throughout America. Owen and Jane’s youngest son James stayed closest to home. Census records provide a hint as to why this might have been, two of four records document him as blind. This inconsistency may suggest he was not completely blind only partially and why he did not line out for the Civil War or follow his siblings as a cobbler. Instead, he was a musician.
After marrying Catherine Roche in 1866 and living in Rochester, New York for several years, James moved to Olyphant, on the outskirts of Scranton, Pennsylvania where both the Finnegan and Blewitt families where to settle. His brother-in-law Peter, also lived there, which would prove fortunate for James’ youngest son, Ambrose, born in 1884. Ambrose had a rough upbringing with his mother passing away before his second birthday and his father dying when he was just ten years old. Just before his death, James wrote a will leaving his prized violin to Ambrose, a snippet of information that revealed that he had in fact been blind and was literally a blind fiddler his entire life.
It was on June 1, 1909 that the Finnegan and Blewitt families finally linked destinies, when Ambrose Joseph Finnegan married Geraldine Catherine Blewitt.
President Biden’s earliest traceable direct ancestor is his great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt (ca. 1795-1872), born in north County Mayo, Ireland. The first documentary evidence for Edward Blewitt is in parish records for Kilmoremoy, on the outskirts of Ballina, County Mayo.
Edward Blewitt and his wife Mary Mulderg had eight children, one of which was (Patrick) the future great-great grandfather of the now President. Evidence suggests Patrick Blewitt was baptised in 1832 when the couple were living on Patrick Street (now Garden Street) in the heart of Ballina Town. This is only a 5-minute walk from Ballina Manor Hotel.
Life during this period was not easy for any family especially one with young children and work was difficult to find. Fortunately for the Blewitt family, they had decent employment as Land Surveyors. Brothers Edward and James both worked for two iconic “Irish institutions between the 1830s and 40s, which were The Ordnance Survey and the Valuation Office known more commonly as Griffith Valuations”. Today, these valuations and maps are incredibly valuable to geographers and historians throughout Ireland providing information on individuals, their living conditions and terrain of the country during that time. The OS work was a huge and detailed undertaking plotting each ditch, hill and stream that blanketed the land. Evidence of Edward working with the organisations is visible in a handwritten letter to Dublin Castle at the beginning of the year 1845.
Edward worked as part of this organisation for three years until his services were no longer needed as the work in the area was nearing completion.
The Great Famine (1845 -1850) ripped through the area and the Ballina Workhouse records depict the appalling scenes and mismanagement of the union in the locality. To avert further death, the relief commissioners believed that a public scheme of outdoor work was needed, and a general supervisor appointed to manage the workload.
Edward Blewitt was the just the man!
Working as an ‘over – seer’ for the Ballina Poor Law Union during the Famine, he oversaw the ‘labour-gangs’, the poorest of people. Taking them from the dreaded workhouse system and utilizing them in construction of roads and carrying out drainage work in the area. In general, the population preferred to be employed by Public works than rely on soup kitchens as it allowed them to keep some independence. The work was tough, for everyone, disgruntled and hungry the workers complained about employment conditions, tools and pay however, Blewitt soon overcame these problems, and the Ballina works were praised for the efficiency. As the Great Famine came to an end the Poor Law Union including Ballina began to lay off employees hired during the height of the crisis with all employees including Edward Blewitt redundant by 1850.
Blewitt then had a hard decision to make remain in a destitute Ireland in a town “ravaged by hunger and disease” or undertake the “perilous voyage of emigration to the unknown and America”. He chose the latter. Although he may have been influenced by his son Patrick who was recorded as part of the crew and records suggest that he possibly visited America previously. On arrival to the States, Edward Blewitt and his family settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania in town called Ballina which is very fitting as Ballina, Scranton and Ballina, Mayo happen to be sister cities.
Edward went on to work in the Ox Pong mines as did his two eldest son’s and by 1860 Patrick had retired from sea life and was working as a surveyor and mining inspector. Patrick’s son Edward F. Blewitt aptly named after his grandfather who sadly died of a drowning accident in 1872 was born in 1859 and went on to become a civil engineer before election to the Senate in 1907, perhaps where this is where Joe Biden’s love of politics stemmed from.
Edward F Blewitt and Mary Ellen Stanton married in 1879 and had four children one of which was Joe Biden’s grand-mother Geraldine C. Blewitt. Geraldine later married Ambrose Finnegan and had a daughter ‘Jean’ Finnegan who later became Joe Biden’s mother.
Blewitt – Ballina 2020
There are several of the Blewitt family that still reside here in Ballina and the surrounding area of Knockmore with whom Biden has kept close contact with and forged a meaningful relationship. Joe Blewitt a local plumber and his sister Laurita Blewitt have been the main source of contact between the distant cousins.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born on November 20th, 1942 in Scranton PA to Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Biden (née Finnegan) and Joseph Robinette Biden Sr. He is the eldest of four siblings. During Biden’s earlier years he and his family lived with his maternal grandparents until moving to Wilmington in 1932.
As a child and into his twenties Biden struggled with a stutter and has publicly discussed how he overcame this. One of the solutions he credits his success to, reading Irish poet Yeats and Emmerson aloud in front of a mirror. Something which he still incorporates into all his public addresses, a line from an Irish poet. Another is the unconditional support from his mother who “reinforced” him with positive affirmations each time he was self-doubtful.
As a result, school was difficult for Joe and he received mediocre grades but excelled in sport. At third level, he graduated from University of Delaware in 1965 with a double major in history and political science and three years later he earned a law degree from Syracuse University.
Meanwhile in 1966 Biden met his first wife Neilia Hunter, with whom he had three children with. He worked as a lawyer for the next four years in Wilmington. In 1970 he became the 5th youngest person to ever be elected to the US Senate. However, tragedy struck just a few weeks after and his wife and 13-month-old daughter were killed in a car accident. His two sons were hospitalised and Biden wanting to spend as much time as possible with his sons was sworn into Office in Beau’s hospital room.
He later remarried teacher Jill Jacobs in 1977 and had one daughter Ashley. He sadly lost his son Beau in recent years to brain cancer aged 46.
In 1978 and five consecutive times after, Biden won re-election to government. Over his political lifespan he has spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate, including eight years as chair of the Judiciary Committee and four years as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.
But his political career has not been without controversy. His behaviour towards women has been criticised and his opposition to forced busing to help promote desegregation was heavily criticized. However, he overcame these setbacks and decided to run for Office; first in 1988, again in 2008 and his most successful attempt in 2020. Although he did not reach full presidential status in 2008, he did become Barrack Obama’s running mate and Vice President for two terms.
On April 25th, 2019, Joe Biden announced his candidacy in the 2020 presidential election. Initially behind in the race, his household name soon took to the forefront after a rally in South Carolina. Although the election was in his favour, COVID-19 impacted heavily on the race for the candidates and voters alike. Reduced rallies, appearances, and an altered voting system to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. An increased number of early voters and a surge in mail in ballots, the world had to wait a little longer than previous years for the everchanging and neck and neck results.
But, by November 7th, 2020, Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election by the Associated Press and major media outlets. Despite the outcome, Donald Trump challenged the electoral results and filed lawsuits with the state and federal court claiming, “massive fraud”. The court findings ruled out voter fraud as there was no evidence to support this.
Biden was sworn into Office on January 20th, 2021, with Kamala Harris as his Vice President.