President Joe Biden has said “it feels like coming home” in his final address on his tour of Ireland as he spoke in his ancestral home of Ballina, Co Mayo.
He was introduced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and stepped out on stage at St Muredach’s Cathedral to Shipping Up To Boston by Dropkick Murphys.
Addressing a roaring crowd, Mr Biden talked at length about his ancestors, one of whom supplied bricks to build the cathedral.
“As he laboured, I’m sure he would imagine that one day his family would worship here, that his children would be baptised here like his son Patrick was, and that future generations of his family would mark the milestones of their lives here in the sturdy walls, but I doubt he ever imagined his great-great-great grandson would return 200 years later as President of the United States of America,” he said.
Earlier he was presented with a 200-year-old brick recovered from the fireplace of his family’s ancestral home in Ballina.
His great-great-great grandfather Edward Blewitt sold 27,000 bricks to the cathedral in 1827, which helped him buy tickets to sail his family to America in 1851.
Mr Biden also broke down in tears during earlier engagements, after an emotional and unplanned meeting with a priest who gave his son the last rites.
The chaplain who performed the sacrament for Beau Biden, now works at the Knock shrine in Co Mayo where the president paid a visit on Friday.
Fr Frank O’Grady performed the ceremony for Beau Biden before he died of brain cancer in 2015.
He received a call requesting that he meet the president, and later told RTE that the encounter was “like a reunion”.
“We had a nice chat for about 10 minutes. He was delighted to see me and I was delighted to see him,” he said.
“He gave me a big hug, it was like a reunion. He told me he appreciated everything that was done.”
Mr Biden was given a tour of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock – a Catholic pilgrimage site – by the Parish priest of Knock, Fr Richard Gibbons.
Recounting the emotional reunion between the Mr Biden and Fr O’Grady, he said: “It was an extraordinary afternoon. I won’t forget it, I can tell you that it was quite something else.”
After leaving Knock, Mr Biden travelled to Castlebar where he made a private visit to the Mayo Roscommon Hospice.
The president had a longstanding pledge to revisit the facility, having turned the sod on the development in 2017.
A plaque at the entrance to the hospice is dedicated to Beau Biden’s memory.
At the site the president, along with his son Hunter and sister Valerie, met with distant cousin Laurita Blewitt.
Mr Biden’s visit to Co Mayo ends his four-day tour of the island after he touched down at the airport in Knock on Friday afternoon.
The trip is another return to ancestral roots for the president after his trip to Co Louth on Wednesday.
Mr Varadkar joined Mr Biden at Ireland West Airport as Air Force One began the journey back to his home state of Delaware.
The Taoiseach said he was delighted with how the trip had gone – and declared that Irish-US relations “have never been better”.
He added: “Without any doubt we have an ally in the White House, we have an administration that is looking out for Ireland and that is a really special thing to have the biggest political power in the world, the biggest economy in the world, that has a president, an administration that is interested in a small country of five million people.”