Apr 17, 2023

President Biden Delivers Remarks to the People of County Mayo Transcript

President Biden Delivers Remarks to the People of County Mayo Transcript
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President Biden Delivers Remarks to the People of County Mayo. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Mayor of Ballina, Mark Duffy.

Mayor Mark Duffy (00:31):

Good evening Ballina.

Are we ready to give a hometown welcome to President Joe Biden? That wasn’t bad, but we’ll give it another go. This time, I want everyone from right down on his home street of Garden Street to the Market Square in Ballina where we’ve got big screens, from Pierce Street, up Bar [inaudible 00:00:44] and down the Key, to hear on the banks of the historic River Moy, behind the cathedral. Are we ready to give President Biden a homecoming welcome? Tonight we are celebrating in Ballina. We are celebrating our history, our heritage, our culture, and most importantly, our people. We’re celebrating each and every person from County Mayo and afar that has come here tonight on this historical occasion. We’re also remembering tonight, the people who are no longer with us, who are part of the fabric that have made us who we are. Proud County Mayo people and proud Irish people.

The Ballina story was not always celebratory, we’ve had our difficult times. On these streets and on these lane ways during famine, so many people died and emigrated. Many went to Scranton, our sister city in the USA. They went in search of a better life. One man, Edward Blewitt, went to Scranton. Like many of him from this area, thousands of us from County Mayo, went to Scranton and went down into the coal mines, worked the railways. But coming out of those coal mines came hope and came the Edward Blewitt story that has now become the Joe Biden story. In Scranton, like Ballina, we know where we’ve came from, we’re proud of who we are. And in just a few moments time, the president of the USA is back for the third time in Ballina, County Mayo.

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, will speak next. After Taoiseach speaks, I hope that you give a rousing powerful western soulful homecoming welcome to the 46th President of the United States of America, President Joe Biden. Have a great night.

Speaker 1 (03:27):

[foreign language 00:03:27].

Please welcome Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Leo Varadkar (03:43):

President Biden, Ambassador Cronin, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. President, welcome back to Mayo.

[foreign language 00:04:00]. A county very close to my heart as well as your own, and thank you for choosing to make this such a big part of your visit.

The story of Ireland can be told through poetry and music, but most eloquently it’s expressed through our people. It’s a story of longing for a better life, a better society, and a better world. A story of unimaginable courage in the face of loss. And above all, it’s a story of love, for country, for family, and for community. It’s your story, Mr. President, as well as our own. Thank you for your lifelong commitment to peace on our island, your friendship, your leadership that you’ve shown in protecting all that has been achieved, and for everything that you’re helping to do to build a better future here, in America and around the world.

In this place, hope and history are not often far apart. 25 years ago when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, to use the words of Maya Angelou, my favorite American poet, we released our fingers from fists of hostility and allowed the pure air to cool our palms. History reminds us, despite this wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again. By facing our past together, on our island we learned a brave and startling truth. That nothing is ever a truly impossible.

In the darkest days of our country’s history, the Blewitts and the Finnegans and countless other families left these shores for a better life in the New World, Mayo has changed considerably, and Ireland has changed considerably, since Edward Blewitt fled these shores during the worst days of the famine. We were a country at the time starved of food, of medicine, in despair. Starved of opportunity, and starved for even longer, of basic rights and freedoms. A country that was being denuded of its people, a country that was not in charge of its own affairs.

Today, Mayo, as you’ve witnessed, is linked to the world by fiber and by air. It’s connected to communities across the globe through its people. Mayo is home to American companies that provide good jobs for so many people, and a new technological university which provides the greatest passport for all, an education. Here outside St. Muredach’s Cathedral, we must rededicate ourselves to playing our part in the fight between darkness and light, despair and hope, injustice and dignity. We pray for the wisdom to guide us, the words to speak up for those without a voice, the shield to protect our planet and the strength to do what is right always.

Mr. President, we know that your life story reminds us that although tragedy may shape us, it never solely defines us. Love of country, of family, and of each other, moves us forward, providing new hope and inspiring others along the way. President Biden, you are the most Irish of all American presidents. Not because of what is written on your family tree, but because of what is enshrined in your soul. We didn’t need to gather here today in our tens of thousands to say, “Welcome back to Ireland.” Because in your heart, you never left. Thank you very much, Mr. President. We look forward to your words.

Speaker 2 (08:07):

Please welcome the son of Ballina and the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden.

Mayor Mark Duffy (09:35):


Mary. I see the light. Hello Mayo. It’s great to be here with you all. It’s great to be back in Ballina during your 300th anniversary. This town is the home of Ireland’s first female president, one of your youngest mayors, and maybe to be Ireland’s first female astronaut, Nora Patton. Mr. Mayor, thank you for welcoming back to town and I also want to thank the Taoiseach for his remarkable hospitality, his generous remarks, and maybe most importantly for his friendship. I want to thank the bands that played earlier. God, you guys are amazing in academics. Let’s give another big hand, by the way, to the Chieftains.

I remember being with you back in 2016. I’m grateful you came back for one more time to perform tonight. Thank you the Chieftains, your music is incredible and I’ve been a long time fan. My good friend, my good friend Enda Kenny, former Taoiseach, a Mayo man is here with Finola’s wife, God love her. She’s going to go straight to heaven. I love you both, but most of all, I want to acknowledge my family. All the Blewitts, you make me proud. You make me proud. All year. The words of the great Mayo poet Antoine Raftery, have been ringing in my head and it goes like this. He said, ‘Now the spring is coming. I shall raise my sail since it entered my head. I won’t stay still until I shall stand in the center of county Mayo’. I mean that I had to be here. My son, hunter and my sister Valerie and I made several stops across Mayo today we visited Knock Shrine where I was hosted by Father Richard Gibbons. We also met out of the blue. We didn’t know he was there, a former military chaplain, father O’Grady, who gave my son, last rights in Walter Reed Medical Hospital in Washington. It was incredible to see him. It seemed like a sign. We traveled up to North Mary Heritage Center where I learned even more about my roots in Mayo. Roots that led me back here to Ballina and the St.Muredach, what a magnificent cathedral. I also learned, if you go far enough back, you can find a record of one. Edward Blewitt who worked for several years in the ordinance survey mapping his entire area of Ireland. But even before that, it turns out he worked in the old Ballina brickyard. We found a record, or I should say the historical slide. He found a record for me in 1828. He was paid 21 pounds and 12 shillings to help supply this bricks for this cathedral. 27,000 of them.

I was able to hold one of them in my hand today, they’re damn heavy. As he labored. I’m sure Everett imagined that one day his family would worship here, that his children would be baptized here like his son Patrick was, and that future generations of his family would mark the milestones of their lives here in this sturdy walls. But I doubt he ever imagined his great, great, great grandson will return 200 years later as president of the United States of America.

Isn’t that amazing?, and I want to thank you. I want to say thank you. I heard you all had an impromptu celebration the night I was declared the winner in 2020 election, you decked out the town, I’m told in red, white, and blue with cars and crowds gathering the market square, singing the green and the red of Mayo. Well, I tell you what 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. They’re smiling down on me right now and I can tell you what that song speaks to me. It goes like, ‘Oh, the feeling that came over me to stay forevermore, forevermore. Stay forevermore and on the green and red of mayo. Oh, the green and red of mayo. Oh, the green and red of Mayo.

The truth of it is being here does feel, I know I’m going to say it feels like coming home. It really does. Over the years, stories of this place have become part of my soul, part of my family lore. It was here where I imagine my great, great, great grandfather took shade under yew trees after a long day at the Brickyard. It was here I imagine his children climbed the limestone cliffs and played in the muddy bogs and fished in the river more.

It was here where I imagined one of those children, my great-great-grandfather, Patrick, stood on the shores of Clew Bay and dreamt of becoming a seamen. When Patrick was just a teenager. He set sail for America for the first time. But in 1850s, the famine hit Mayo particularly hard. He returned to Ballina to gather the entire Blewitt clan, mom, dad, and all the children. And together they boarded the Excelsior to sail to the United States. Just as I imagine their life here in county Mayo, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to leave it all behind to leave the only place they ever called home and to hold out hope on shores beyond like so many other men and women of Mayo. Edward and Patrick carried

Mayor Mark Duffy (16:00):

… this hope with them across the sea. They settled in my hometown in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in Ballina’s sister city. As a matter of fact, I knew I was coming over. So you know what I did? I invited the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania to come with me. She’s here tonight. Paige Cognetti. It was there in Scranton where Patrick raised his own son, also named Edward. Edward Francis Blewitt, my great-grandfather. His Irish pride ran deep. He helped found the Irish American Association, now known as the Friendly Southern of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County. He chaired Scranton’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1897 for the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He became one of the first Irish Catholics ever elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate, and he became one of the first of my family to go to college, earning an degree in engineering from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

But while Edward had the head of a scientist, he had the heart of a poet. Years ago, after my mom died, a lot of the belongings were in my attic. I couldn’t get myself to go through them, to empty the boxes. But when I finally did, you know what I found in the attic among my mother’s keepsakes? Over 100 poems written by Edward Blewitt, Senator Edward Blewitt. And one from 1919, he wrote of his Ireland: “From the fairest land, except my own, beneath stars and moon and sun, a citadel of liberty, my mother’s land, Aroon.” It was in Scranton, where my mom, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan, met and married my dad, Joseph R. Biden Sr. He was a wonderful man, but his saving grace in the eyes of the Finnegans was he had a Hanafee from Galway as his mother’s side. It rescued the fact Biden’s an English name.

Together, they raised me and my siblings with a fierce pride in our Irish ancestry, a pride that spoke to both the history that binds us, but more importantly the values that unite us. To this day, I can still remember hearing my dad say at the dinner table, “Joey…” And I give you my word as a Biden, this is absolutely true. He’d say, “Joey, everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.” I can still hear my mom tell me, “Joey, nobody’s better than you, but everybody’s your equal.” These are the same values I’ve tried to pass down to my children and grandchildren, whom I’ve always dreamed of bringing to Ireland. In 2016, when I was Vice President, that dream became a reality. Three generations of my family walked along Garden Street, where Edward Blewitt, the brickmaker and surveyor, lived with this family.

It was on Garden Street we learned the true meaning of the Celtic expression, “A hundred thousand welcomes.” Matter of fact, I think I shook a hundred thousand hands that day. I also met the extended cousins, who instantly felt like family I’d grown up with on Sunday dinners on every single week. This strong bond brought me back in 2017 when I was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. No crowds, no motorcades, no Secret Service, just me and my brother, Jimmy, coming home to see family. During, the trip I had the honor of turning the sod at Roscommon Hospice. As many of you know, that hospice is now open, and thanks to my cousin, Laurita Blewitt and many of those… She’s incredible by the way. And many of those, there’s a marker. There’s a marker laid there in remembrance of my son. Beau passed away in 2015, a decorated war hero from… Attorney General to Delaware, after a valiant fight with brain cancer. So I can tell you how special it is that a piece of his legacy lives here among his ancestors. And thinking about it, I can hear my dad’s voice again. He’d always say, “Joey, remember, family is the beginning, the middle, and the end.” Beginning, middle, and end. That’s the Irish of it. The beginning, the middle, and end. Everything between Ireland and America runs deep. Our history, our heritage, our sorrows, our future, our friendship, our joys. But more than anything, hope is what beats in the hearts of all our people. For centuries, even during times of darkness and despair, hope has kept us marching forward toward a better future, one of greater liberty, greater dignity, and greater possibilities. In the earliest days of my nation’s history, thousands of Scots-Irish, alongside George Washington, defended those ideals, and then those democratic ideals were under threat during my nation’s civil war. That’s when the Irish immigrants who came after the famine, more than 150,000 of them, joined the fight to defend the liberty and equality, many serving in the legendary Irish Brigade.

When one other Irish Catholic president, only other one, John F. Kennedy, visited Ireland 60 years ago… You can clap for him, man. He was something else. He presented your parliament with a flag of the regiment of that Irish Brigade, honoring Ireland’s great contributions to American freedom. It still hangs there to this day. It’s a legacy of faith and fidelity to freedom to one another that has been handed down generation to generation to generation.

Today, the United States continues to honor that legacy, including that one of a Mayo-born Marine named Patrick Gallagher. Patrick immigrated to New York in 1962. He worked for the Senate campaign of one of my political heroes, Robert F. Kennedy. A few years later, when he wasn’t even a US citizen, Patrick joined the United States Marine Corps and deployed to Vietnam. In January of 1966, Patrick’s team was attacked in an ambush. When the enemy hurled a grenade at his team, Patrick threw himself on top of that grenade. He was willing to sacrifice his life to save his brothers in arms. He survived that attack today, but was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery. Sadly, he was later killed in action, but this year his name will be honored in iron as the United States launches a new Navy destroyer, the USS Patrick Gallagher, from Mayo.

You know, I’ve often said that we Irish are the only people who are actually nostalgic about the future. We always believe in a better tomorrow. It’s because no matter what, we’ve always, always carried hope in our hearts. It’s hope that lifted the way through the darkness and lighted it for us. Our strength has helped us overcome everyday hardships.

Mayor Mark Duffy (24:00):

And above all, our courage has allowed us to march forward in faith, even in the face of sorrow and setbacks. As you know all too well, this is not just a story of our past, but our present and our future as well. Earlier this week marked 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, 25 years of peace and progress, not just for the people of Northern Ireland, but people all across the island, as a reminder of the importance of peace I want you to accomplish when we work together in common cause.

Ladies and gentlemen, our world today stands at an inflection point where the decisions we make today are going to affect our futures for decades to come. And it’s in these moments where we need hope and courage more than ever. We’re facing enormous challenges around the world, challenges that are too great for any one country to solve alone.

Together we must take on these challenges of disease, food insecurity, which continue to devastate communities around the world, just as they did in Ireland generations ago. And I’m so proud to say that Ireland has not forgotten. You’ve stepped up as a leader to fight global hunger around the world today. We must tackle the climate crisis, those devastating impacts, to preserve our planet for generations to come. As I said to the Parliament, Ireland’s famous 40 shades of green now include green energy, green agriculture, and green jobs.

And with Russia’s brutal aggression, brutal war of aggression, shattering the peace of Ukraine, and in Europe, we must renew our commitment to our values our ancestors fought for. What do we Irish fight for? Freedom, democracy. It always must be defended. And I want to thank you. I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for an incredible generosity you’ve shown like so many other Irish families across this country who have opened up their hearts and homes to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s brutal violence. I’ve been there many times. Ireland remembers! Ireland remembers!

So let me end where I began, with the bricks of this cathedral. Only 200 years ago, the bricks touched by my great-great-great-grandfather, and his hands still hold up this storied nave and hold it aloft like the Irish American story itself. It’s a testament to our shared past, present and our future. It speaks to the sweat of the workers who raised the spire skyward brick by brick just as they did in communities all across my home country. Over 32 million Americans claim to be of Irish heritage, more would if they could.

And I imagine all the hope and hard work embodied in those Irish hearts inspired another one of my great-great-grandfather’s Edward Francis Blewitt’s poems. This one was from 1925, toward the end of his life. He called it The Workers. It goes like this: “The march of progress cannot cease while hearts and minds and heart and souls are bound in faith to sublime things.”

My friends, people of Mayo, this is a moment to recommit our hearts, our minds, our heart and souls to the march of progress, to lay the foundation’s 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 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 about 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. Every time I walked out of my grandfather Finnegan’s home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he yelled, “Joey, keep to faith!” Then I’d hear someone from the house yell, “No, Joey, spread it!” May God protect all those who serve the cause of peace.

And, oh, one more thing. Mayo for Sam! Mayo for Sam! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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