U.S. Ambassador visits Wexford for festival opening

bY dAVID TUCKER

Published 27/10/2015 | 00:00

Ambassador Kevin F.O'Malley and his wife Dena at the opera house.
Ambassador Kevin F.O'Malley and his wife Dena at the opera house.

U.S. Ambassador Kevin F. O'Malley has just made his first official visit to County Wexford to attend the opening night of the Wexford Festival Opera and to take the opportunity the following morning to meet senior officials at the county council.

By David Tucker

But he said he would like nothing better than to return to Wexford 'in jeans and a sweater and walk the streets,' to meet the people and enjoy an experience removed from the trappings of an official visit.

'This is my first time I've been in County Wexford as Ambassador to Ireland. I was in Ireland with my dad and brother in '90s.. and spent most of the time in Mayo, that's where my grandparents were born and raised. I never suspected then that I would come back in an official capacity, they would all have been very surprised.'

'I'd not seen this opera before, it was a totally new experience. It's really a visual and sensory experience,' said Mr O'Malley, after watching the opening night production of Koanga, much of its melodic material based on African-American music.

He said the opera - with Americans Norman Garrett, Aubrey Allicock and Jeff Gwaltney - in the three lead roles - was an example of the cultural cooperation between the United States and Wexford - cooperation that was already in place in the shape of an alliance between Wexford Festival Opera and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which is a connection of his own that is close to his own roots

A native Louisian and attorney, the ambassador was partner in law firm Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C. in St Louis and was a Special Attorney of the Organised Crime Section of the United States Department of Justice.

He still misses the cut and thrust of the courtroom and was still working as an attorney until a month before his appointment as ambassador and confided that he sometimes goes into the courts in Dublin on his way too and from the embassy.

'I have been known to pop in,' he said. In crisp white, shirt, business suit and assured and calm demeanour, to those of us who have grown up with US court dramas on TV, it's easy to picture him in that scenario, perhaps the ideal training ground for becoming an ambassador.

Talking about his experiences in Wexford, the ambassador described the transition of walking from the modest outside of the National Opera House to the state-of-the-art O'Reilly Theatre as 'breathtaking'.

'I see it as a cathedral created by people with real knowledge and passion for music.. I felt almost a sense of reverence about that place,' he told this newspaper in an interview at the Ferrycarrig Hotel, his eyes drawn to the scenic beauty of the early morning mist hovering over the waters of the Slaney estuary.

'This is opera country.'

It was appropriate that Ambassador O'Malley's first official visit was to attend the opening night of the festival opera as he and his wife Dena are passionate about music and sons Brendan and Ryan are in the music industry.

It also melds with the Creative Minds scheme he launched earlier in the year, which invites prominent U.S. artists, writers, filmmakers, digital culture innovators, and musicians to share their experience with young Irish audiences.

The goal is to find ways to create new collaborations and encourage more creative economic linkages between young people in the United States and Ireland, something that this country's close connections with the US - both familial and cultural - in many cases a shared heritage - make all that much easier.

The most recent Creative Mind event was last Friday's appearance by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainright in Sligo.

Commenting on economic links between Ireland and the USA, he said both countries had benefited from an economic engine that had created hundreds of thousands of jobs - examples in County Wexford, he said, were BNY Mellon and CocaCola, and there were many opportunities for new start ups, particularly in the areas of the USA outside the main cities, particularly in the Mid-West and the South.

He said the special relationship between the two countries should never be taken for granted and needed to be nurtered and he hoped to further both business and cultural links.

'The USA would not be the country it is without Irish immigrants.. when you think about it my grandparents left here penniless without any education and went to the US where they created a big family and two generations later I have come back as ambassador.. it says a lot about Irish DNA and the opportunities that exist in the USA.'

'We just get one another,' he said.

The ambassador described his job as 'the best job in the USA'.

'I have been overwhelmed with the warm welcome I have received in every corner of Ireland. The people have been so good to my wife Dina and I.

'Every place we go to, someone wants to talk to me about a friend or relative in the USA, about a business idea.'

Commenting on the differences between being an attorney and being an ambassador, he said there was commonality between both, and both positions involved being persuasive. The approach, he said, might be a little bit different, but the ends are the same.

'You want to give people a chance to say what's on their minds and then present your facts.. to come to a good result,' he said.

Ambassador O'Malley has been an adjunct professor both at Washington University School of Law and St. Louis University School of Law. He is a nationally recognised author of a treatise on jury instructions that is used in federal jury trials throughout the United States.

He is known as a talented leader, expert manager, and forthright public speaker and he has been consistently chosen by the editors of The Best Lawyers in America for his work in medical negligence defence and white collar criminal defences.

Based on a career that has emphasised collegiality and common sense in litigation, he recently received the Award of Honor of the Lawyers Association of St. Louis, a recognition by plaintiffs and defendants attorneys of his abilities to resolve conflicts in a courteous and professional manner.

During his tenure as a federal prosecutor he received the Distinguished Service Award from the United States Attorney General. He was a legal instructor for the Central and Eastern European Law Initiative in both Moscow and Warsaw. In 2009 Ambassador O'Malley was appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to be the only non-physician on the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts, the medical licensing and disciplinary authority in the state.

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