Joe Biden will visit the Irish town of Carlingford to trace his ancestral roots

Situated on the shores of Carlingford Lough in the north east of Ireland and close to the border with Northern Ireland, Carlingford is one of the best preserved medieval towns on the Emerald Isle.

Called “Carlin Fjord” by the Vikings, it was founded in the 12th century by the Norman knight Hugh de Lacy, the 1st Earl of Ulster.

Ten of US President Joe Biden’s ancestors were born in Ireland and all left for the United States during the Great Hunger (1845-1852), a time of mass death, starvation and migration due in part to centuries of British colonization , late blight of the potato, and widespread poverty.

Biden plans to visit two cities in Ireland related to his roots during his four-day visit to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Those towns are Ballina in County Mayo in the west of Ireland and Carlingford in the north east.

AP Photo

A publican displays a U.S. flag outside the Blue Square bar in Ballina, Ireland on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. – AP Photo

The latter boasts some of Ireland’s finest medieval buildings, including an original town gate, which also served as a prison, and a medieval mansion known as ‘The Mint’.

Just three miles from Carlingford is the tiny village of Whitestown, which many locals hope will revive the area’s struggling tourism industry, ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s great-great-grandfather James Finnegan left Whitestown for America in the late 1940s.

Lily Finnegan’s pub, established in the early 1800s, is still here, although it is unclear if these Finnegans were related to James Finnegan, there were said to be eight different Finnegan families living here in the early 1900s.

The tiny cottage where James Finnegan lived remains, according to local historian Lita Notte who lives in the village: “Before the famine most people had to leave because there was no food here and there was no prosperity for anyone,” she said .

Biden’s Irish roots have been traced for generations, with eight of his great-great-grandparents on his maternal side and two of his great-great-grandparents on his paternal side born in Ireland.

Alan Johnson, the owner of the historic Taaffe’s bar in the city, is related to Biden on his mother’s side who is from just over the border in Northern Ireland, while Turlough McCarthy is related through the Finnegan family of Whitestown.

“It’s good to see that Joe is the president of America now and I never thought that me on the northern side – Drumintee – and Turlough here on the southern side – Cooley – that we would have such a close bond,” Johnson said.

“We are very proud that Joe comes from Cooley – his ancestral home – and is now the President of America. It’s an incredible feeling and the community is so proud of him,” McCarthy said.

There is much to see here for history buffs and nature lovers alike.

The imposing King John’s Castle is named after King John, Lord of Ireland, who supposedly stayed there for three days in 1210.

The castle is built on a raised rock platform commanding excellent views of Carlingford Lough.

Peter Morrison/Copyright 2023 AP.  All rights reserved.

A mural of President Joe Biden adorns the side of a shop in Ballina, Ireland on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. – Peter Morrison/Copyright 2023 AP. All rights reserved.

Carlington itself developed around the castle, becoming one of Ireland’s leading trading towns until it suffered a steep decline around the 17th century.

Historian Lynda Stevens is the Community Heritage Manager at Carlingford Heritage Centre.

“The interesting thing about Carlingford is that it has so many examples of medieval heritage. You have two beautiful castles – Taaffe’s Castle and The Mint as it’s known, although we had a charter to mint coins it was actually more used as a merchant’s seat house. On the hill there is also the Church of the Holy Trinity, originally from the 13th century and now a beautiful historic center that houses a permanent exhibition of the city,” he explained.

Carlingford Heritage Center is a must-see for visitors keen to learn more about the local history and includes a mural of the medieval town seen before modern developments changed it.

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