Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Retraces Rockhurst Roots

Friday, May 24, 2019
Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall during a visit to campus

The students might be gone for the summer, and the campus looks a lot different, but for Daniel Mulhall, every step across campus is a reminder of his bustling summer in 1974.

That was the year Mulhall, now Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., first came to America while he was a college student in Ireland on a J-1 summer work visa, staying in Corcoran Hall on the Rockhurst University campus. Though he wasn’t enrolled as a student at the University, he said he was an active part of campus life, attending lectures, and spending time with his American counterparts in residence hall common areas.

Last week, Mulhall returned to Kansas City for the first time since then, part of a four-state tour revisiting sites from his time here 45 years ago.

“I’ve had a marvelous trip down memory lane,” he said. “As they say, I’ve changed a lot since then but I haven’t forgotten the experiences I had in this city, at this college.”

That J-1 summer work visa was an incredible opportunity, he said, to see the world, and that first trip was a time of a lot of firsts for Mulhall. Not only was it his first trip out of Ireland, but his first time on a plane at all. During his time here, he was introduced to American baseball and football, as well as Kansas City barbecue, and worked at Kansas City stalwart diner and burger destination Winstead’s. Not without irony, he also purchased his first copy of Ulysses by James Joyce — a seminal work of Irish literature — at the University of Missouri-Kansas City bookstore. He started reading the book — which he now acknowledges as among the influential on his life — in his room in Corcoran Hall room.

In addition to all of those milestones, Mulhall said he also learned a lot about both a culture different from his own, lessons that continue to shape his understanding of the world around him. And so much of it, he said, is owed to the people who he came into contact here — those who both welcomed him and mentored him during his stay. Particularly, John Sullivan, ’39, who not only sponsored his visa but also invited him and another Irish student, sponsored by Eddie Aylward, over for regular dinners and visits.

“It was remarkable, the support we got,” he said.

Given the impact Mulhall’s stay in Kansas City had on his life, it’s no surprise he would want to retrace his steps. During his visit, Mulhall visited with University staff and faculty and members of the Aylward and Sullivan families, attended a reading at the Irish Cultural Center of Kansas City, stopped in at Corcoran Hall where he once lived, and returned to Winstead’s for a tour of the kitchen, lunch with Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James, ’80, and a massive “skyscraper” milkshake to boot.