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Kevin O’Malley returns to St. Louis after serving as U.S. ambassador to Ireland

Catherine Martin//March 31, 2017

Kevin O’Malley returns to St. Louis after serving as U.S. ambassador to Ireland

Catherine Martin//March 31, 2017

Speaking at the Fourth of July celebration at Deerfield, the Ambassador’s residence

Speaking at the Fourth of July celebration at Deerfield, the Ambassador’s residence.

Presenting a certificate to singer/songwriter Ben Folds after a Creative Minds presentation

With U2’s Bono.

Photograph of Ambassador’s residence

Photograph of Ambassador’s residence

Photograph of Ambassador’s residence

Photograph of Ambassador’s residence

Photograph of Ambassador’s residence

Photograph of Ambassador’s residence

Signing the oath of office with Vice President Biden, Dena, and my son Brendan at the White House in September, 2014.


Taking the oath of office with Vice President Biden and wife, Dena O’Malley in September, 2014


Bela Fleck and Abagail Washburn perform at a Creative Minds program at Deerfield.

Vice President Biden speaks at a Creative Minds program at Deerfield



When St. Louis lawyer Kevin O’Malley attended a ceremony in Dublin kicking off his term as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, he thought about his grandparents, Irish immigrants who came to America with seven kids and $20 to their name.

“What would they think if they could see how this worked out?” he said.

O’Malley officially took on the ambassador role in October 2014, after being appointed by President Barack Obama. He returned to the U.S. last month and rejoined Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, where he had worked since 2003.

O’Malley is also a former prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice and a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. His legal career helped pave the way to his political post, he said.

“Being a lawyer opens up so many doors,” O’Malley said.

A whirlwind

Being a lawyer helped O’Malley get a meeting with Obama, also an attorney, after O’Malley had decided to support him in his first presidential election.

O’Malley got involved in Obama’s camp early on, he said, traveling around the country to campaign for him, and was involved again in his re-election campaign in 2012. He saw Obama as a great leader who is “unbelievably smart, very calm and very deliberate.”

A call from Obama in 2014 started the ambassador process for O’Malley. After that, he was vetted and went before the Senate for a confirmation hearing.

“It’s just like being in trial, except you’re the witness,” he said of the hearing.

At the same time, he was attending an academy for all new ambassadors, including career diplomats, who make up 70 percent of the ambassador pool, and newbies like himself. Although the training was useful, he said he wasn’t fully ready for what met him on the Emerald Island.

“There was no way to prepare for the welcome the Irish people and the Irish government give to the American ambassador,” he said. “The first few days were a whirlwind.”

The greeting was so passionate because “the Irish people love America and love Americans,” O’Malley said. Many people in Ireland have relatives in America, often who have been successful here, and see America as “a wonderful place.”

The American ambassador, a tangible representative of the country, therefore is somewhat of a celebrity among the Irish.

Once he got settled in, O’Malley set about accomplishing the goals he had outlined for his time as ambassador.

“The training as a lawyer in conflict resolution is a great preparation for dealing diplomatically with the situations that you face as an ambassador. The language is different but the process is much the same,” he said.

His top priorities were to continue promoting business connections between Ireland and the U.S., as well as finding and fostering connections between the next generation of leaders in Ireland and America.

To accomplish the latter, O’Malley began the Creative Minds series, which invited prominent U.S. individuals, including artists, musicians, writers and entrepreneurs, to share their experiences with Irish audiences. Notable St. Louisans, such as Square co-founder Jim McKelvey and restaurateur Danny Meyer, were among those who attended.

Twenty such programs took place during O’Malley’s tenure and Creative Minds was recognized by Obama during a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House. The program is scheduled through 2017 and O’Malley hopes it will continue in the future.

On the business goal, O’Malley said he looked for opportunities specifically for Missouri business, in addition to other places. Two business delegations from Missouri looking to expand to Ireland came over while he was ambassador and were able to discuss opportunities with officials.

“I wanted to connect Irish businesses and American business, and American and Missouri civic leaders with Irish civic leaders,” O’Malley said.

Two St. Louis start-ups subsequently planned businesses in Ireland, including Yield Lab, which now operates in Galway, St. Louis’ sister city in Ireland.

“A whole lot of credit for our establishment in Ireland is due to Ambassador O’Malley,” said Yield Lab Principal Matt Plummer.

In addition to the delegations, O’Malley traveled across Ireland to say a few words at the company’s grand opening this year and even came, dressed in a suit and mud boots, to support the group in the National Ploughing Championship, Plummer said.

“It’s very humbling to have somebody in his role stand up in a crowd of people and publicly support you,” Plummer said. “It’s hard to ask for more.”

Staying connected

Like O’Malley, Plummer thinks it’s important to make those business connections between St. Louis and Ireland. From his perspective, Ireland and St. Louis are very similar in that agriculture business is a huge part of the economy.

“The other thing is… with Brexit occurring, Ireland is the last English speaking country in the EU,” Plummer said.

O’Malley noted that, as well as a low corporate tax rate and a young, educated population as reasons that Ireland is an appealing location for U.S. companies looking to expand to Europe.

Although he isn’t serving in an official capacity anymore, O’Malley plans to continue helping foster those business relationships. He also wants to continue to rebuild the sister-city relationship with Galway, which had been inactive for some time.

O’Malley intends to go back to Ireland frequently — eight to 10 times a year. He is serving on the board of Greencore Group, an international food company headquartered in Ireland, and is teaching a course at University College Cork, where he’ll spend one week a semester.

He is also continuing involvement in Irish affairs at home, such as going to a gathering at Joe Biden’s house on St. Patrick’s Day that Irish officials attended, and traveling to New York for its annual Ireland Day event.

No one has yet been nominated to take over the ambassador post, but O’Malley said once a successor is chosen he plans to call whoever it is and offer any help he can.

“Even though there is a change of party, it shouldn’t, and won’t mean anything other than I’ll try to be helpful to whomever,” he said.

His successor is likely to face some complicated issues, such as possible fallout in Northern Ireland related to Brexit. O’Malley’s advice to his successor, he said, is the U.S. does have a role to play.

At Greensfelder, he will practice law in some capacity, but he said he’s still trying to figure out what that will look like.

“It’s too soon to say,” he said.

Whatever his role, Greensfelder Chief Executive Officer Tim Thornton said the firm is thrilled to have O’Malley back in St. Louis.

“His experiences as ambassador give him valuable insights into the strong connections businesses in our region and across the country can continue to build with Ireland,” he said. mo

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