When U.S. television networks declared Joe Biden had won the election, Brenda Blewitt popped open a bottle of champagne in her home in Kildare, Ireland, and joined an online celebration with dozens of relatives.
“Oh my God there was such excitement, such excitement,” said Ms. Blewitt, who was still buzzing this week from the election result. “It’s such an honour to know that this person that you’ve met, that you’ve chatted to, is now the president-elect of the United States.”
Mr. Biden has close ties to the Blewitts and deep roots in Ireland. Many of his ancestors fled the Irish famine in the 1850s and headed to the United States. They included Patrick Blewitt, Mr. Biden’s great-great-grandfather, who left the town of Ballina on Ireland’s west coast with his family and eventually settled in Scranton, Pa., the president-elect’s birthplace. Others hailed from County Louth on the east coast, including his great-grandfather James Finnegan, who also ended up in Scranton.
Mr. Biden has spoken fondly of his visits to the Emerald Isle – including trips to Ballina in 2016 as vice-president and in 2017 with his family – and how he overcame a stutter as a child by reciting the works of Irish poet William Butler Yeats. “James Joyce wrote, ‘When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart’,” Mr. Biden said before his 2016 visit. “Well, Northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart. But Ireland will be written on my soul.”
Those personal connections have taken on new meaning now that Mr. Biden is about to become the 46th U.S. president. Ballina and County Louth have been thrust into the global spotlight, and Mr. Biden’s relatives have been fielding media calls from around the world. The Irish government has praised Mr. Biden’s victory, and there’s talk that his first foreign trip as president will be to Ireland.
“It’s fair to say I think that he’s the most Irish of Irish presidents since John F. Kennedy,” Prime Minister Micheal Martin said last week.
Irish officials are also hoping Mr. Biden will become an ally on Brexit and a firm backer of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence and cleared the way for the removal of controls along the border with Northern Ireland.
There are already indications that Mr. Biden is less enthusiastic about Britain’s departure from the European Union than President Donald Trump, who has supported Brexit and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tough talk during U.K.-EU negotiations.
“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Mr. Biden said during the campaign.
He has also tied Britain’s adherence to the agreement to negotiations on a U.S.-U.K. trade deal, which Mr. Johnson badly wants and Mr. Trump has championed. Any trade deal would be “contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period," he said via Twitter in September. Those comments were seen as a rebuke of Mr. Johnson’s recent threat to violate portions of Britain’s EU withdrawal agreement, which could result in restrictions along the border.
“I think the language that president-elect Biden is using is very encouraging,” said Emma Coffey, a county councillor in Louth, which is on the border. Ms. Coffey worked on the Irish For Biden campaign, which encouraged people to phone relatives and friends in the U.S. and urge them to vote for Mr. Biden.
“Brexit had a huge consideration in relation to [the campaign],” she said. “There’s obviously going to be a very direct impact here from Brexit, and Joe Biden has already come out very vocally for protecting the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr. Johnson’s office has tried to put a positive spin on Mr. Biden’s election win, and officials have insisted the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. remains strong. But Mr. Biden has never met Mr. Johnson and last year reportedly referred to the Prime Minister as the “physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump.”
Whatever happens on Brexit, Mr. Biden is already a hero to millions of people in Ireland. There’s a giant mural of him in Ballina’s market square, and the Carlingford Pipe Band in Louth has written a special anthem called An Ode to Local Joe.
“It’s been absolutely crazy,” said Joe Blewitt, who runs a plumbing company in Ballina and has a picture of Mr. Biden on the side of his truck. Mr. Blewitt was among a handful of locals who defied COVID-19 restrictions and gathered in the square last week to sip champagne and toast Mr. Biden’s victory. He met Mr. Biden in Ballina and was among several family members invited to Washington in 2017 to watch Barack Obama award Mr. Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“He’s just really a normal guy,” Mr. Blewitt added during a break from house calls. “He’s not one of these guys that keeps talking about himself. He wants to know about you as well.”
His sister, Laurita Blewitt, spent a week volunteering on Mr. Biden’s campaign last February in Las Vegas. She was also instrumental in getting Mr. Biden involved with a hospice project in Ballina, and he came for a ground breaking ceremony in 2017. “We’re very proud of him – he’s a terrific human being,” she said this week.
Back in Kildare, Ms. Blewitt, who is Laurita and Joe’s sister, is still coming to grips with Mr. Biden’s win and what it means for Ireland. Her family, including her six- and eight-year-old daughters, has been following the election and the aftermath closely. “We’re very invested in it,” she said with a laugh. “It’s not your everyday, is it?”
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