US president Joe Biden has received a physical piece of his family’s past at a heritage centre in Co Mayo.
He was presented with a 200-year-old brick recovered from the site of his family’s ancestral home in Ballina.
On his final day of engagements in Ireland, he spent more than an hour at the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Centre meeting people and learning more about his Irish roots.
Ten of the president’s 16 great-great-grandparents are believed to hail from Ireland, and while he has links in Co Louth, those with Co Mayo associations are believed to be the strongest through the Blewitt family.
The president was accompanied during the visit by former taoiseach Enda Kenny, who hails from Co Mayo, and his wife Fionnuala, as well as his son Hunter and sister Valerie Biden Owens to a musical welcome from a harpist and fiddle player.
Mr Biden met historian Sinead McCoole who showed him three artefacts from the Jackie Clarke Museum in Ballina, including the cockade which Theobald Wolfe Tone wore on his hat at the time of his capture by the British in 1798.
He also spoke to expert Brendan Walsh about the history of North Mayo, the Irish-American connections, and the background of the Blewitt family.
Mr Biden keeps in close contact with the Blewitt family, who attended the White House St Patrick’s Day receptions in 2022 and 2023.
The highlight of the visit was likely to be his meeting with former Fine Gael senator and councillor, Ernie Caffrey, whose shop and gallery is located on the site of the Blewitt ancestral home.
Mr Caffrey, and his daughter Miriam, presented the president with a brick enclosed in a case from the cottage where President Biden’s forebear Edward Blewitt once lived.
Mr Biden said “it’s a 200-year-old brick” as he read an inscription on the case, adding: “That’s incredible.”
Mr Blewitt, who is now in his 80s, said the president was delighted to receive the memento.
“We have a gift shop and a gallery,” he said afterwards. “Our family has been there for over 100 years.
“I extracted three bricks from the original fireplace and I presented one of them today to President Biden.
He was delighted with it. He thanked me and he had a read of (the inscription) He made a few comments such as ‘amazing’.”
Edward Blewitt was a brick manufacturer who supplied 27,000 bricks to the building of St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina in 1828.
He lived in a cottage where Mr Caffrey’s shop is located. The only remaining part of the cottage was the fireplace, which contained the yellow-hued bricks.
In the cathedral’s minute book for 1928, it is noted that Mr Bluid was paid £21 from the bricks. They were used for the pillars in the nave of the Cathedral to hold the roof.”
Speaking after Mr Biden had spoken to him, Mr Caffrey said the minutes had spelt the Blewitt name phonetically, as ‘Bluit’.
He said he was very honoured to meet the president, even though it involved waiting for him outdoors for several hours on a cool April day with periodic showers.
“It was worth getting frozen for a few hours. We will thaw out now,” he said.
Edward’s family left the country during the Irish famine in 1850 to sail to America, like many others, for a new life.
Mr Biden went on to walk through an archway in a stone wall and along a path lined with trees to a driveway where a group of people were assembled by a sign with a painting of the president at a lectern in front of a cathedral. “President Ballina, Co Mayo, Ireland,” it read.
Mr Biden met his cousins from the area ahead of his address in Ballina on Friday evening.