'It feels like coming home,' Biden tells thousands in Co. Mayo at end of Irish visit

'It feels like coming home,' Biden tells thousands in Co. Mayo at end of Irish visit

US PRESIDENT Joe Biden concluded his visit to Ireland with a trip to Co. Mayo on Friday, where he told those gathered that his trip to Ballina was 'like coming home'.

Mr Biden was addressing thousands of people from outside St Muredach's Cathedral, which was built with bricks supplied by his great-great-great-grandfather, Edward Blewitt, who later emigrated with his wife and eight children to America.

Speaking after visiting the Knock Shrine and the North Mayo Heritage Centre earlier in the day, the president revealed just how much the county meant to him.

"I heard you all had an impromptu celebration the night I was declared the winner in the 2020 election," said President Biden.

Thousands came out to hear President Biden speak about his affinity for Co. Mayo (Imae: Julien Behal/Irish Government via Getty Images)

"You decked the town out, I'm told, in red, white and blue, with cars and crowds gathering in Market Square, singing 'The Green and Red of Mayo'.

"Well, I tell you what — it meant the world to me and my entire family to be embraced as 'Mayo Joe', son of Ballina.

"My mother and my grandmother — whose maiden name was Blewitt — they're smiling down on me right now."

He added: "The truth of it is, being here 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."

Emotional meeting

As well as finding out about ancestors from generations past, the trip also brought back memories of a more recent loss for the president.

In 2017, Mr Biden turned the sod of the proposed Mayo Roscommon Hospice and Palliative Care Centre, which he visited earlier on Friday.

The site contains a memorial plaque for Mr Biden's son Beau, who died from brain cancer in 2015.

President Biden views a plaque to his late son Beau at the Mayo Roscommon Hospice and Palliative Care Centre accompanied by, from left, cousin Laurita Blewitt, hospice CEO Martina Jennings, son Hunter Biden, sister Valerie Biden Owens and hospice chairman Mike Smith (Image: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Speaking on Friday night, the president revealed that shortly before visiting the centre, he had a chance meeting at Knock Shrine with the priest who gave Beau his last rites.

"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 the last rites in Walter Reed Medical Hospital in Washington," said Mr Biden.

"It was incredible to see him. It seemed like a sign."

'Enormous challenges'

The president concluded by saying the Irish were dedicated to delivering a better world for future generations.

With his own ancestors affected by Famine and more recent generations overcoming conflict, the Irish were now determined to help those suffering similar plights, said the president.

However, the country was also dedicated to leading the fight against other obstacles.

"We're facing enormous challenges around the world — challenges that are too great for any one country to solve alone," said President Biden.

"Together, we must take on these challenges of disease [and] food insecurity, which continue to devastate communities around the world just as they did in Ireland generations ago.

President Biden is greeting by cheers as he takes to the stage in Ballina (Image: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

"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 that has 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 war of aggression shattering the peace in 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.

A rainbow appears over the stage during a concert held prior to President Biden’s speech at St Muredach's Cathedral (Image: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

"And I want to thank you, I mean this from the bottom of my heart.

"I want to thank you for your 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."

Enduring himself further to his audience, the president signed off by wishing the county luck in overcoming arguably its biggest challenge.

"One more thing — Mayo for Sam! Mayo for Sam!"