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Joe Biden Receives Surprise Medal of Freedom, May Return to Ireland This Summer

Vice President Joe Biden receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, the highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama.

By Adam Farley, Deputy Editor
February / March 2017

In January, Barack Obama surprised former Vice President Joe Biden with the highest honor that can be bestowed on an American citizen by the government – the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. It was the only one he gave out during his presidency.

Biden admitted he was taken by surprise and had no idea the award was being given, thinking he was attending a dinner of family and staff before his and Obama’s departure from the White House.

“I don’t deserve this,” Biden said during an emotional acceptance speech, “but I know it came from the president’s heart. There is a Talmudic saying that what comes from the heart, enters the heart. Mr. President, you have crept into our heart, you and your whole family.”

Biden is also hoping to take a well-deserved vacation in his ancestral home county of Mayo this summer, the Mayo News reported in January. He also hopes to bring his son, Hunter.

Biden, who frequently cites Seamus Heaney in speeches as well as the advice of his Irish American mother, has deep ties to Mayo. His great-great grandfather Patrick Blewitt was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo in the early 1830s and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1840s and today has numerous of cousins in the county, including Ireland’s most famous rugby brothers, Rob and Dave Kearney (fifth cousins once removed), and Brendan Blewitt and his grown children Laurita and Joe, the closest living Irish relatives of Biden.

In January, Laurita, Joe, and their brother-in-law Francis O’Flaherty were invited to the White House to witness the surprise awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Biden, organized by Obama.

Biden, Laurita said, “wasn’t aware of it. He thought it was dinner with the Obamas and his wife and then we were there with his family, his staff and close friends. It was amazing to witness him receive the Medal of Freedom.”

Last June, Biden visited Mayo in a trip he had planned to take with his son Beau who died the previous year from brain cancer. That trip also included stops in Louth, where his Finnean ancestors emigrated from, and Dublin to meet with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

At the time, in the middle of the 2016 presidential race, Biden offered a sharp rebuke to the immigration policies proposed by Donald Trump. “We’re defined by a common creed that says our children, if they work hard, if they’re loyal, they can live a better life than the generation before them,” he said. “It’s defined by a simple, simple, simple belief that we share, that anything, anything, anything is possible, a belief shared by the vast majority of immigrant families that have come to the United States.” ♦

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