At Home Abroad
East and West in The House: The White House
Part 1: The West
By Regina Costello
This New Year is greeted with new guests in The House. One from the West – Ireland; one from the East – Asian Afro Jamaican. Both Americans. I like to say that it mirrors my house. I made my home as an Irish woman with an Asian man. We are both Americans.
Our different ethnicities initially formed the building blocks of our relationship and to this day, we continue to celebrate and share both traditions with our growing family. The ethnic diversity in The House is representative of the diversity of the United States. There is real hope for better days ahead for all of us, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion or persuasion. Many in the Cleveland Irish community exude great pride in welcoming one of our own, President Elect Joe Biden to the most important House. The White House. Céad míle fáilte.
The meat and potatoes of Irish roots is the family. President Elect Biden is deeply conscious of his Irish roots and is proud of his family heritage. And while the Irish family dynamic is fluid and accepts social changes, the fundamentals remain the same and are evident in Joe Biden. The family is still the dominant influence on Irish people.
The 2020 Irish attitudes and values survey found 62% considered the family and home as the main influences that form their thinking and opinions. An overwhelming 80% of respondents prized family support over friends, health or employment. This anchor remains firmly embedded in a modern Irish society of growing ethnic diversity, increasing separation and divorce numbers since 1996, and a rise in same sex cohabiting couples since legalization of civil partnerships in 2011.
Without a doubt Joe Biden’s heart and path are heavily influenced by his family. He speaks often and fondly about them. As Annabelle Timsit, a Geopolitics reporter wrote in November 2020 “To understand Joe Biden….one has to know his family history.” The great American tale began with his great-grandfather, James Finnegan, County Louth, who emigrated during The Great Famine. All of his Joe’s maternal great-great grandparents were born in Ireland between 1800 and 1850. In 2016 he visited Ireland as the American Vice President. On the eve of that trip he wrote a touching letter than included the following lines:
“And it’s a trip I’m so deeply grateful to be taking alongside my children and grandchildren…
…Over the course of my life…. I’ve been honored to have held a lot of titles. But I have always been and will always be the son of Kitty Finnegan. The grandson of Geraldine Finnegan from St. Paul’s Parish in Scranton; a proud descendant of the Finnegans of Ireland’s County Louth. The great-grandson of a man named Edward Francis Blewitt, whose roots stem from Ballina, a small town in Ireland’s County Mayo – sister city to my hometown in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
The depth of emotion for his Irish roots and love of family are apparent in the letter above. Let’s dive deeper into his Mayo roots which I know will touch the hearts of most of our readers. Megan Smolenyak, American Genealogist provides much data about Joe’s ancestral roots. Joe Biden’s mother’s (Finnegan) maternal family has ancestors in the Arthurs, Blewitt, Boyle, Roche, Scanlon and Stanton families.
From his father’s side, one finds ancestry in the Hanafee family. Immigration to American by his ancestors occurred during the middle of the 19th century primarily settling in Scranton, PA. Joe’s mother was born to Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt. Edward Blewitt brought the family to America. This is Joe’s great-great-great grandfather. Per the ship’s manifest, aboard was his 18-year old son Patrick, and history suggests he had already worked as a cabin boy and lived in Chile. It seems that may have previously lived in the U.S.
Patrick made Scranton his home, but employment offered him opportunities to live elsewhere throughout America and even Brazil. This explains why Biden’s great-grandfather, Edward was born in New Orleans. He worked in construction and climbing the ladder, he became the first Irish American to become Senator. He lived his Irish heritage by joining groups including the Mayo Men’s Benevolent, Social Patriotic and Literary Association, the precursor to the Mayo Society of today.
The many personal tragedies President Elect Joe Biden has suffered, resulting in lifelong scars have greatly influenced his life, creating in him a compassion, sympathetic ear and ability to comfort others in great pain, the latter which is no stranger to him. After the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy, he made kind phone calls to parents. This year, America needs such traits in a leader – an understanding demeanor, an open heart, and an objective mindset to propel the country forward in the best interests of all American citizens.
Senator Chris Coons said to Joe Trippi, (Democratic strategist) that Joe’s life experiences enable him to “heal our relationships with the world….He can restore our position of strength and leadership in the world. But he can also restore a sense of optimism about the American people and heal the incredibly deep divisions that were already there…”
Shelter from the Storm
We can expect him to draw inspiration from his rich Irish heritage, traditional family values, and the poetry of Seamus Heaney that he so loves, as he paves the stony road of the future. I look forward to my home abroad providing “the shelter from the storms, from all sorts of storms.” (William J. Bennett) that it once was for all of us.
Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, by Joe Biden
*Regina is a Graduate from the National University of Ireland, Galway and a Post Graduate from the National University of Ireland, Dublin. She is the former Curator of the Irish American Archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society, former Executive Director of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission and former Executive Coordinator of the Northern Ohio Rose Centre. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Mayo Society of Greater Cleveland. She can be reached at [email protected]