Irish locals show their colors in Biden’s ancestral home

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Pedestrians read an information board beneath a mural of US Presidential candidate Joe Biden, in his ancestral home of Ballina, north west Ireland, on October 7, 2020. (AFP)
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Joe Biden’s third cousin Joe Blewitt — a local plumber — decorated his van with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the campaign: “Joe Biden for the White House and Joe Blewitt for your house.” (AFP)
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Updated 23 October 2020

Irish locals show their colors in Biden’s ancestral home

  • Biden’s family roots run deep in Ireland, with a heritage described as “roughly five-eighths Irish” by genealogist Megan Smolenyak
  • Ten percent of Americans claim Irish heritage — a 31-million-strong bloc vastly larger than the five-million population of Ireland itself

BALLINA, Ireland: Thousands of miles east of the White House in Ireland, a pop-art portrait of US presidential candidate Joe Biden towers over his ancestral hometown of Ballina, County Mayo.
In the town on Ireland’s rugged Atlantic coast, the Democrat’s distant relatives are thrilled to have one of their own bidding for America’s highest office.
“Obviously we’re 100 percent behind Joe Biden,” Laurita Blewitt, the former vice president’s third cousin, told AFP.
“We’ve got that family connection and we’ve got that friendship and relationship with him,” the 37-year-old said.
Biden’s family roots run deep in Ireland, with a heritage described as “roughly five-eighths Irish” by genealogist Megan Smolenyak.
She has traced his lineage to east-coast County Louth and Ballina — a town of 10,000 people, which is dotted with brightly colored shopfronts and bisected by the River Moy.
In 1851, Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt joined the legions of Irish fleeing famine and poverty for a fresh start in New York.
The mural was raised by a band of locals last month, and Ballina is twinned with Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Biden was born in 1942.
The 77-year-old politician has visited twice — first in 2016 when crowds turned out to see president Barack Obama’s deputy.
In 2017 he came back and turned the first sod for a new regional hospice — a cause near to his heart after his son Beau’s death from cancer two years earlier.
Biden wrote that when he dies, “northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart.”
“But Ireland will be written on my soul.”
He is mining a rich tradition of American statesmen touting Irish heritage.
In the 20th century, John F. Kennedy was most closely tied to the “Emerald Isle,” and had to overcome anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice to win the White House.
But others including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have all claimed ancestral links to Ireland.
Ten percent of Americans claim Irish heritage — a 31-million-strong bloc vastly larger than the five-million population of Ireland itself.
Those links helped give Washington an intermediary role in resolving the 30-year “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, a sectarian conflict that killed 3,500 in Ireland and the British province itself, before it largely ended in 1998.
Lately, Britain’s Brexit withdrawal from the European Union has threatened the cohesion promised by Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement.
US politicians have stepped in, warning London that a post-Brexit UK-US trade pact could be at risk if the peace is undermined.
Their alarm has reportedly been stoked by energetic briefing by the Irish embassy in Washington.
“The connections between Ireland and the US are incredibly strong,” said Ballina local councillor Mark Duffy.
“It is that soft power,” he added. “Ireland does definitely punch above its weight on the international stage.”


Music icon Cher meets Pakistan PM ahead of elephant’s move

Updated 27 November 2020

Music icon Cher meets Pakistan PM ahead of elephant’s move

  • The famed singer has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move
  • Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia”

ISLAMABAD: American pop icon Cher met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday ahead of the relocation of an elephant from Islamabad’s dilapidated zoo to a Cambodian sanctuary.
The famed singer, who has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move, arrived in the Pakistan capital this week to see the animal before the flight to Cambodia on Sunday.
“Appreciating her efforts in retiring Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary, the prime minister thanked Cher for her campaign and role in this regard,” a statement from Khan’s office read.
Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia.”
The plight of Kaavan — an overweight, 35-year-old bull elephant — has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad’s zoo, where conditions are so bad a judge in May ordered all the animals to be moved.
A team of vets and experts from Four Paws, an Austria-based animal welfare group, has spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the journey to Cambodia.
Experts have trained Kaavan to enter a large metal crate that will be used to transport the animal to the airport.
Volunteers working with Kaavan say he responds well to music and singing, and Cher is expected to belt out a song or two for the elephant before he departs Islamabad.