The Vice President spent the fourth day of his trip in Dublin, addressing the people of Ireland. That begin with remarks to the graduating Class of 2016 in the Trinity College Public Theatre before touring the Trinity College Library with his family. Notably, he had a chance to see some of the original manuscripts of James Joyce — one of his favorite authors.
Here are a few excerpts from his speech at Trinity College today, to the graduating class:
“…Before we began our journey I spent time with both President Higgins and with the Taoiseach. And then the Taoiseach and I went out to County Mayo, which is where my Grandmother Finnegan’s side of the family came from and visited Ballina, her hometown, the town of my ancestors 160 years ago.
We met more than a dozen of our new relatives, and some of the most genuine, lovely people. It was a strange thing, we sat down for lunch … and it was as if we’d eaten Sunday dinner or lunch with one another off and on for the last 25 years.
So even before great waves of emigration brought so many of us Irish to the shores of America to make their home in American soil, it sharped our spirit of freedom and our drive for independence and launched an irrevocable friendship between the United States and Ireland.
I’ve been asked several times during my time here in Ireland what has this trip meant to me. And the truth is that this trip has been incredibly personal because it’s about family. And there’s nothing more consequential in my view.”
Next, it was on to Dublin Castle, where Biden spoke before a large crowd on the shared heritage of the United States and Ireland, touching on the history and values they have come to share. He reflected on what it’s meant to him to be with his family in the land of their forefathers, noting that tomorrow, he’ll head onward to County Louth, from which the Finnegan side of his family hailed.
Here are some excerpts related to his family history from that speech:
“A few days ago three generations of my family walked along Garden Street in Ballina, in Mayo. The town that was once home to my great-great-great grandfather, Edward Blewitt and his son, Patrick, my great-great grandfather.
Patrick, when he was a teenager, went to sea, as they say, became a seaman, traveled to the United States, found a home in my country and returned to Ireland in 1851 to gather up the entire Blewitt family — mom, dad and eight children.
They left Ireland for Liverpool, where they boarded the Excelsior to sail to America. As we Bidens walked Garden Street, my family and I literally wondered what it must have been like to leave everything behind. We imagined attending an American wake -— the last time you’d see your family, your friends, the soil that you love.
We imagined writing that first “Amerikay” letter — asking loved ones to join them, yearning for home. One of my great, great uncles wrote the following letter home. He said: “If there was a road made of furze from America to Ireland, I’d walk it in my bare feet.” I’d walk it in my bare feet. What a plaintive notion.
Tomorrow, we’ll wonder the same in County Louth. … we’ll visit the church where my great-great grandfather, Owen Finnegan, and his family were baptized. They were in the Cooley Peninsula, down at the very tip, near Carlingford where they made their living from the land and the sea. Later Owen became a shoemaker.
In May of 1849, Owen traveled to Newry, where he boarded the Brothers, another ship bound for America. And a year later, Owen’s wife, Jane, and their children — they had at the time, including my great-grandfather James, who was in the census books in New York listed as a blind fiddler -— boarded the Marchioness of Bute to join him.
For 60 years, the Blewitts and Finnegans brought Ireland to their home in America. They worked hard. They raised their families. But they never, never, never forgot where they came from. Every time I’d walk out the door, my Grandfather Finnegan would say, not a joke, Joe, remember, the best drop of blood in you is Irish. He’d never been to Ireland.
In Scranton, Pennsylvania, by 1909, my grandparents, Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, met and married. It was in Scranton, where Catherine Eugenia Finnegan, our mother, was born and later married my father Joseph R. Biden, Sr., whose saving grace was that on his mother’s side there was a Hanafee from Galway. Otherwise, my Grandfather Biden — they’d ask my Grandpop Biden, they’d say, what kind of name is Biden? He’d say, Dutch. It’s English. Full confession. Bless me father, for I have sinned.
But it was in Scranton where I were born that I inherited my mother’s side of the family’s overwhelming pride in being Irish, a pride that spoke to both continents, a heart and soul that drew from the old and new.
My great-grandfather was the first Irish-Catholic state senator, they say — I can’t prove that — in Pennsylvania, Edward Francis Blewitt. He had an engineering degree from Lafayette College, but he had a poet’s heart.
In 1919, one of the over hundred poems he wrote, had the following lines, speaking of “his Ireland”. He said:
“From the fairest land, except my own,
‘Neath sun or star or moon,
the citadel of Liberty,
My mother’s land, aroon.”
That pride has been passed down in every generation in our family. And my mother imbued in her children and her grandchildren an absolute certitude that they were equal — and I mean this sincerely — they were equal to any man or woman on Earth; and that everyone was our equal, deserving of dignity.”
Following his speech at Dublin Castle in Ireland, Biden shares a few thoughts the overwhelming sense of hope, and the resiliency of the Irish.
(Official White House Video. Rachel Kopilow, Senior Video Producer)
Biden rounded out his day with remarks at the American Ireland Fund’s 40th Anniversary Gala at the Trinity College Library Square Courtyard.
- Follow Vice President Joe Biden as He Walks in the Footsteps of His Irish Ancestors
- Vice President Joe Biden Touches Down in Ireland
- Vice President Joe Biden Visits County Mayo in Ireland
- Biden’s Ties to The Blewitts of County Mayo