(Ballina) Outside the Harrison pub, owner Derek Leonard, perched on a ladder, hangs red, white and blue streamers and drapes the American flag over the windows. Joe Biden returns this week to the lands of his Irish ancestors and Ballina is preparing for it with excitement.
Inside the bar is already a photo of Derek Leonard with Joe Biden taken during his 2016 visit as vice president to this small town on the banks of the River Moy in northwestern Ireland. .
The American leader, who uses and abuses his Irish origins, had promised to return when he became president. It will soon be done: after arriving in Belfast on Tuesday evening to commemorate 25 years of the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, he will travel to the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday and finish his tour in Ballina on Friday.
He will speak to thousands of people in the city where his family lived before emigrating to Pennsylvania in the 19th century, fleeing like so many others the famine which ravaged Ireland.
Derek Leonard, who asserts with authority that his ancestors rubbed shoulders with those of Mr Biden in the city, had a five-meter-high mural painted of the president when he won the presidential election in 2020.
For Mr. Leonard, it would be a “great honour” to meet Mr. Biden again if he came to see the mural, located on the downtown street where Edward Blewitt, the great-great-great-grand-grand, lived. father of Joe Biden.
“It’s a very proud day for our family and for Ireland,” Joe Blewitt, a distant cousin of Mr. Biden who still lives in the Ballina area, told AFP.
A few days before the arrival of the president, it is he who takes care of the many requests from the international press, while exercising his profession as a plumber.
“Ballina is a very special place for him,” he explains. Mr. Biden had invited the Blewitt family to his inauguration ceremony but they were unable to attend due to the pandemic. They did, however, make the trip to the White House in March for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
“It’s very special, of course, and very difficult to describe, to know the President of the United States,” laughs Joe Blewitt, 43. “He’s like us. He gives off an impression of power, but he is an ordinary man. »
Inside the Ballina Costume Company, Jane Crean dutifully sews flags for Joe Biden’s arrival.
“Everyone is in party mode,” says the costume shop owner. “It will position Ballina on the map […] it will highlight Ballina, which is a fantastic town, and attract visitors”.
The excitement can be seen even in the window of a sports store, where the models have been dressed in NFL jerseys. A poster calls out to Joe Biden: “The kettle is on Joe, come on.”
Ernie Caffrey, a former Irish senator and owner of a gift shop in Ballina, believes his establishment is on the site of Joe Biden’s ancestor’s home.
Two local historians have proven, the 86-year-old claims, that an old brick wall behind his shop was part of Edward Blewitt’s house.
“We’re next to what’s left of the original Blewitt house,” he says. “It’s a miracle it’s still there, because the whole town has changed in 200 years. »
Near St. Muredach’s Cathedral, where Mr. Biden will speak on Friday, Ballina City Council President Mark Duffy says Mr. Biden’s story resonates with many Irish and Irish-Americans .
“The Irish left Ireland during famine and oppression,” he recalls. “We come full circle today with a son of Ballina […] becoming President of the United States. »