Ballina is near a County Mayo parish where the next stop is America and an area where American presidents with Irish roots such as JFK are revered and remembered.
Joe Biden embodies the classic Irish politician from long ago, making it passing strange that a throwback pol from an earlier era was the one to beat Donald Trump in arguably the most important presidential race since Abraham Lincoln won in 1860.
Biden is of a type, a very recognizable character to the Irish, fiery at times, devoted to his church and clan, a backslapper and hand shaker who embodies an earlier era.
This was always obvious when he was vice president to Barack Obama at the annual St. Patrick's celebration at the White House. After the speeches Obama would approach the rope line like a 50-meter dash runner, shaking a hand here and there before bounding out.
But Biden would linger and linger, shake every hand, clap every back, take every selfie insight. The best politicians are first and foremost comfortable in their own skin, and Biden with his “hail fellow well met” manner and ability to listen personified that.
It is central to his ID as a successful politician. Biden has never met a person he didn't think he could persuade. His glad-handing was often taken for bumptiousness but it served its purpose to break the ice, set the comfort level with whomever he was speaking with.
I had occasion to interview him in 1987 when he was beginning his career. He quickly revealed he was deeply entrenched in his Finnegan and Blewitt roots while pondering for 10 minutes where on earth the name Biden came from.
He ranged around Irish history like a professional, marking out Theobald Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 Rebellion who brought rebel Catholics and Protestants together for a failed insurrection as one of his political heroes.
It was not Tone's militancy that Biden honed in on, but rather his ability to meld Catholic and Protestant and dissenter together in the great but failed United Irishmen Rising. They were known as "United Men" for short, and Biden clearly saw his own beliefs reflected in that rebellion.
Interestingly, Biden didn't have to proclaim himself Irish. There were plenty of heavyweights in the Senate like Ted Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan who carried that flag. With a last name like Biden, the new president-elect had to consciously decide that his Irish heritage mattered most.
He made no secret of that and stated in a subsequent letter to the people of Ireland before his visit there as vice president in 2016 that being Irish had "shaped his entire life."
The best way to understand him may well be that description of himself. He is sociable to a fault, but that disguises a razor-sharp intellect and an insightful mind.
He often quotes the late Senator Moynihan, that to be Irish “is to know that in the end, the world will break your heart.”
Biden has certainly had his heartbroken, but the other gifts his Irish heritage has given him are humor, compassion for the underdog, and understanding, key attributes that Trump completely lacks.
Back home in Mayo and Louth, they are waiting for the day their boy, the great-great-grandson of a humble shoemaker makes his way back to where it all began. They can't wait, and one senses neither can he.