STRANGE COINCIDENCE Ballina and Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton in Pennsylvania have been twinned since 1990, long before the new President Elect’s ancestral roots with Ballina became apparent. Pic: Conor McKeown
All news is local and while a lot of people all around the world might be grateful for Joe Biden winning the US Presidential election, the former Vice President’s success has a particular resonance here in Mayo.
One hundred and 70 years ago, his great-great-great grandparents Edward and Mary Blewitt and their eight children left Ballina for the USA, setting up in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Many more from Ballina followed as Scranton became an unofficial extension of Ballina.
The two towns are officially twinned, coincidentally before the connection with Joe Biden became big news.
And what big news it has become. Elsewhere in these pages, local Cllr Mark Duffy compares the amount of free publicity the town as received as akin to a multi-million euro investment in the town – an investment for which the dividend will be felt in terms of tourists who may seek to visit the town.
That Ballina is superbly appointed at the mouth of the River Moy and as the gateway to north Mayo and Erris adds immeasurably to its appeal.
It is trading off far more than being just Joe Biden’s ancestral home, even if that is currently its ace of hearts.
Obviously there will not be any rush of tourists there in the coming weeks due to Covid-19 but one would hope that the town will benefit over time.
We have seen for many years since the Wild Atlantic Way came into being that many foreign tourists come no further north than Galway despite the splendid coastlines in Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.
Anything that pulls a bit of custom to this side of the coast is to be welcomed.
Credit is due, too, to the Ballina Community Clean-Up group and local artists Padraig ‘Smiler’ Mitchell and Lesley Lackey who had the foresight to paint an fabulous mural of Joe Biden on a wall in Market Square in the town two months ago.
It became a focal point for media outlets in the run up to the election and since, creating huge interest in Ballina nationally and internationally.
Sometimes such efforts as those in Ballina can be seen as opportunistic, as if a place is trying to force its way into the reckoning.
But it’s not true here because Joe Biden has spoken very fondly of his Ballina and Irish roots. It is clear his Irishness means a lot to him. He has forged a tight bond with his cousins, the Blewitt family in Knockmore, outside Ballina.
At the invitation of Laurita Blewitt, he came over to Castlebar in 2017 to officially turn the sod on the new Mayo Roscommon Hospice building and invited Laurita over to join his election campaign during the Democratic primaries in Nevada in February, introducing her on stage as ‘my Irish cousin’.
There was something remarkably serendipitous about last Saturday, when the election was called in Joe Biden’s favour.
It was 30 years after another child of Ballina, Mary Robinson was elected as the first woman President of Ireland.
Mary Robinson famously placed a candle in the window of Áras An Uachtaráin, which always remained on for our diaspora all over the world.
Thirty years later, a man whose ancestors left Ballina in pursuit of the American Dream, had climbed to the highest office in the world.
No wonder people in Ballina are walking tall this week.