Philanthropist Brian Burns, grandson of immigrants from Sneem, County Kerry, has been formally asked by the Trump administration to be the new American ambassador to Ireland, the Irish Voice has learned. Burns’ name first surfaced in an IrishCentral article.
The quick appointment is in marked contrast to the Obama administration who took almost two years to announce their second term ambassador Kevin O’Malley.
Trump told New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman in December that he intended to pick his long-time friend Burns for the post, but the official call from the White House didn’t arrive until last week. Burns immediately accepted, and he and his wife Eileen are now preparing for the Senate confirmation hearing necessary to approve the nomination. A date has yet to be set for the hearing, but it is expected to happen before St. Patrick’s Day.
Burns was deeply honored and humbled by the decision. “To think of it: my grandfather was a very poor immigrant from Co. Kerry in 1892 and a little over 120 years later I am being selected as a representative of 35 million or 40 million Americans of Irish heritage and this president to go to Ireland. It is astonishing; I have to pinch myself,” Burns recently told The Irish Times
Brian and Eileen Burns are residents of Palm Beach, Florida and live not far from Trump’s country club, Mar-a-Lago, now known as the winter White House given the new president’s fondness for spending time there. On Friday night, Trump and his wife Melania dined with the Burnses at Mar-a-Lago and discussed the appointment.
“They had a great dinner, and the president is excited for Brian and Eileen to arrive in Dublin and represent their country. They are deeply honored and humbled to be able to do so,” Turlough McConnell, a native of Co. Donegal and Burns’ chief of staff, told the Irish Voice.
Burns, 80, is expected to easily win confirmation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has long been active in Irish American affairs and is closely tied to the American Ireland Fund. He the benefactor of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College, home to one of the biggest collections of Irish writings outside of Ireland. Burns named the library after his father, a noted attorney, professor and close adviser to Kennedy family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy.
Burns is an attorney, businessman and the owner of the largest collection of Irish art outside the U.S. which he showcases in his home, and offers to universities and cultural institutions. His works have been displayed at Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Yale Center of British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona.
Burns was a principal benefactor of the first Irish Famine memorial in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was dedicated in July 1997 by former Irish President Mary Robinson and in 2012 donated a key Famine-era painting from his collection to Quinnipiac University’s Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Connecticut.
Brian and Eileen Burns are members of Mar-a-Lago, and have regularly spent time with the Trumps there throughout the years. Once Trump announced his White House campaign, the Burnses immediately gave their support.