‘We look forward to rolling out the red carpet for cousin Joe’ - Louth prepares for Biden visit

Biden was previously photographed in a Louth graveyard, and it is hoped he will include the Cooley Peninsula, and his ancestral home in Whitestown, in his Irish visit

Eamonn Thornton and his unmistakable van. He met Joe Biden when he visited Whitestown, Co Louth, on a previous visit. Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson

In a quiet country graveyard caught between the Cooley Mountains and the Irish Sea is a headstone with a tiny American flag placed at its base. The headstone in Kilwirra cemetery is for the Finnegan family, and marks the final resting place of some of the ancestors of US president Joe Biden.

On a previous visit to Louth President Biden was photographed at the graveyard, and it is hoped he will include the Cooley Peninsula, and his ancestral home in nearby Whitestown, on his next visit to Ireland, which will be his first as US president.

Among those in Washington this week is Louth County Councillor Andrea McKevitt, who is a fifth cousin of the president. “We are looking forward in Cooley to rolling out the red carpet to welcome cousin Joe back again,” she said.

Other distant relatives hoping to see him again are the Kearneys. David Kearney said he, his wife Siobhán and former Ireland rugby international son Rob spent 2½ hours with the president in the White House on St Patrick’s Day last year.

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Mr Kearney said: “It was an absolutely unique occasion.” The family had met Mr Biden and his brother Jim on a previous visit to Louth.

Mr Kearney said he believes “the president feels connected to Ireland and (feels) very strongly about upholding the work done in the peace process and the fact that it is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it would be an appropriate time for a visit”.

“He will get a hero’s reception in Louth, I am sure. He has really highlighted Louth and Mayo, and it is quite something that the leader of the free world has these connections,” he added.

The single-storey stone building that is believed to be the physical ancestral home of the president’s relatives is owned by Robbie Coan and Aoife Curran for nearly 30 years. Mr Coan said: “If the president wants to call in and have a cup of tea, he would be very welcome, and we will happily show him around.”

Down the road lives Michael Murphy who met the president on a previous visit. “I got a selfie with him. I was the first person he met when he came into the pub (Lily Finnegan’s). He grabbed my phone and said ‘let’s get a selfie’, so we got the selfie straight away!”

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Further down the road is Eamonn Thornton who believes that his ancestors would have played football with the president’s ancestors.

Mr Thornton’s van is unmistakable. It has “The President of United States Joe Biden. From Whitestown, Co Louth...to the White House, Washington” on it, and on Tuesday Mr Thornton was proudly displaying an autograph he got from the president which reads “It’s good to be home”, and signed by “Joe Biden, son of Jean Finnegan”.

He met the now president on one of his previous visits, and said “he is a down to earth man (and) naturally enough coming from a Catholic country like Ireland he has not lost the appeal and personal touch with people”.

Dundalk tourism officer Sinéad Roche also said a visit would be very welcome. If he was to visit Dundalk town he would be following in the footsteps of president Bill Clinton who visited in December 2000 and would make the town famous for having hosted two presidents of the United States.

“We look forward to hopefully welcoming President Biden back to his ancestral home in the Cooley Peninsula next month. His genuine grá for the people of Ireland, especially the counties of Louth and Mayo, has endeared him to many, and a warm welcome awaits him upon his return,” she said.

She added that the president, “by all accounts was very close to his grandfather and grandmother Finnegan. He has in turn kept the spirit of Co Louth alive within his own family, and this continues down the generations with his son Hunter naming his daughter Finnegan Biden.”