Local History by Seán Beattie


Glengad and the White House

It was the great Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill who said that all politics is local. For the population of Wilmington, Delaware, USA, it is a moment of truth, as it was here that the President-elect, Joe Biden took his first steps into the political arena following a Council election in 1970. 

A descendant of an Inishowen family also became involved in politics in Wilmington, a town of 70,000 people, about this time. His name was William “Bill” McLaughlin, whose parents came from the east of the peninsula, Glengad. His father was James Jackie McLaughlin from Ross Head. He followed the same route as my uncles but they settled in Brooklyn, NY, having travelled to America on the Furnessia, from Moville. James left Glendad in 1903 and joined the hundreds of Inishowen folk who had settled in Boston. In 1904, he married Ellen Crossan and they made their home in Wilmington. They had twelve children and one of them, William (Bill) had a taste for politics in Wilmington, where he became acquainted with a resident, the talented Joe Biden, a fellow councillor. Both had ambitions: Biden made it to the Senate in 1972 but McLaughlin remained in the home strait. He was successful and served two terms as Mayor of Wilmington from 1977 to 1984. Although their cv’s were quite different, they remained close friends and Biden never forgot that it was on New Castle County Council that he learned the rules of the political game. According to Sheila McClay in her book Tar Isteach, it was Bill McLaughlin who encouraged Biden to enter politics – and change the course of American history.

Bill McLaughlin died in 2008 aged 91. As Vice-President, Joe Biden kept close to his roots and delivered the eulogy at Bill’s funeral. The William McLaughlin Building in Wilmington stands today in his memory. James and his wife are buried in the Cathedral Cemetery of Wilmington. When he left Glengad over a century ago, little did James Jackie McLaughlin think that one day his son would be honoured by a future President of the United States.

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