Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial

Yad Vashem,  Jerusalem, 12 August 2013

After my courtesy call at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem to present a copy of my letter of credence (I am Ambassador designate until I present my credentials to the President), I visited Yad Vashem, the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.  My guide for the visit was Rob Rozett, Director of Libraries.  The centre piece of the complex is the Historical Museum.  It comprises a main hall, a long wedge of concrete sliced deep into a hill and forming a canopy over a series of rooms that trace sequentially the rise of anti-Semitism, Nazism and the Holocaust. 

Fact is piled on startling fact: the Polish population was 3.25 million before the war and by its end 3 million had been killed, reducing Polish Jewry from 10% of the population to a mere remnant.  As Rob explained, the exhibition of photos, film, archives and artefacts determinedly asserts the individuality of victims so that the human cost is not lost in the figures of fatalities that are themselves so astronomical as to become merely objective. 

Listening to Rob trace the evolution of the tragedy one cannot escape the realization that there was an inexorable determination at work by the architects of the Holocaust, from the vilification and ritual public humiliation of Jews to their isolation in camps and Ghettos and their eventual transportation to the death camps.  The footage of Hitler’s infamous 1939 speech predicting the destruction of the Jews of Europe displays the ferocity and clarity of his determination.  He was the driving spirit of the genocide but it took many individuals and organisations to give it effect.  Throughout the exhibition there are photographs of the implementers of the Shoah.  Their names and faces are on lids that open to boxes containing information about their very normal lives and qualifications – husband, father, doctor, Ph.D, accountant.  It is this conscious and determined effort by educated men to eliminate an entire human group that constitutes the effrontery, the grand moral offence of the Holocaust that makes it the crime of crimes. 

Mysteries abound that continue to haunt.  How could such a civilized country like Germany engage in such evil?  Why were Jews, a mere 0.8% of population and themselves proud Germans, accepted by the vast majority to be such a threat at the mere prompting of the Nazi Party?  How could so many people participate, condone or by acts of omission allow the thuggish Nazi leadership have its way in this scheme of such vast malignity?  And – most frightening of all in some ways – how easily average citizens across Europe were recruited to form a cog in the butchery of millions of their fellow human beings.

Nazi determination to complete the genocide of the Jews even as the war is manifestly lost illustrated its centrality to Nazi ideology.  By early 1944, the Soviet Army is rampaging on the Eastern Front toward Germany.  The Allies are preparing for the invasion of Western Europe and the race to Berlin.  Time is running out, Germany’s defeat is inexorable and only a matter of time.  In Hungary, the Jewish community has escaped the worst of it because the Government, though allied to Germany, had refused to hand them over.  Hungary is host to some 800,000 Jews.  Hearing of secret Hungarian talks with the Allies, the Nazis invade Hungary in March 1944.  They decide to play catch-up: deportations of Jews begin in May and, astonishingly, within eight weeks 437,000 Jews are rounded up and transported to Auschwitz-Birkeneau.   

My family and I had visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC last year.  It was personally very interesting to compare that experience with Yad Vashem.  Both have in common the evocation of what the Holocaust constituted, with graphic and unforgettable images of barbarity and slaughter of individuals and families; the murder of children is unavoidably even more incomprehensible. Both too testify to the intimacy of murderer and victim – the removal of spectacles, shoes and clothes from the living, the act of killing men, women and children whether by bullets or Zyklon B, the looting of possessions and body parts, the callous burden of disposal of such large numbers of victims.

In Washington for me the most startling image was a simple one; against a plain black background, in a frameless glass case, a Brownshirt uniform was displayed, cosy light brown corduroy, swastikas on the lapels, flaring jodhpurs.  This was the font of evil, a physical artefact from the scene of the crime.  Many donned that uniform and later other uniforms that allowed the wearer to abrogate the normal human decencies.  The truth of the uniform was that general causative explanations of the Holocaust cannot relieve the burden of moral obligation from the individuals who took part.   

At Yad Vashem, the most profound occasion came toward the end.  Rob had had to leave to give press interviews because on the day of my visit Hungarian war criminal Laszlo Csatary had passed away.  Yossi Gevir took over and escorted me to the Hall of Names.  The wall of this circular space is shelved with the black dossiers of the names of those known to have died in the Holocaust.  Some 4.2 million names of the 6 million victims have been traced, authenticated and inscribed.  The search goes on, aided by technology, threatened by the passage of time.  Yossi explained the painstaking process of collating and verifying the names.  In the centre of the Hall, below a circular handrail, a rocky funnel frames a pool of water.  From your reflected image, your gaze vaults upwards to photos of a selection of photos of victims in the chimney ceiling; the space between symbolises the journey from the source of life to its end, our reflections the remembrance of the Shoah.  The physical metaphor of the well is compelling but it was toward the books on the shelves that one’s gaze kept returning. The simple white letters on their black spines seem to speak in whispers. 

We turned to approach the exit, up an incline to where the concrete walls that lean together to form the wedge’s apex curve outwards toward a vista of bright sky, pines and olive groves on the hills of Jerusalem receding before you.  Mere consciousness of the effectiveness of the architectural intent could not suppress the sense of welcome and relief that one had exited to such light and landscape, that an unmade day beckoned with possibility.  God, as someone once said, only owes us a sunrise.  The rest is up to us.

Séamus Heaney once wrote that early Christian monks in Ireland would lie in their dark corbelled beehive huts for days on end, fasting and meditating with a heavy rock on their chests.  One can only imagine where their Dark Age minds travelled as they sought out devils to wrestle.  Casting off the rock, they would emerge into the sunlight, their spirits vaulting heavenward. Though the devils are very different, the architects of Yad Vashem brilliantly achieve a similar effect.

The Chairman of Yad Vashem, retired Brigadier General Avner Shalev, graciously met me and over coffee we discussed the Holocaust, what it said about human nature, models of remembrance and lessons for us today.  As with our conversation, history and evil, capricious twists of history and inexorable tragedies, ironies and explanations return again and again to the Holocaust’s ineffable sadness, the loss of so many and so much. 

There is much more at Yad Vashem than its central and incomparably dramatic and compelling Historical Museum – the exhibition pavilion, the Art Museum, the learning centres, and the location itself.   My visit was only a first one but I left with an inescapable impression.  The modern secular Yad Vashem complex stands in evocative power and significance alongside the other great sites of ancient Jerusalem.

ENDS

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Farewell Korea

Ambassador’s Farewell Message

 7 August 2013

My posting to Korea has come to an end and my family and I depart tomorrow for Tel Aviv.  I have greatly enjoyed being in touch with you and thanks to those who have given me feedback.  Without it being part of the design, these messages have formed a diary of sorts of my time here and of the activities of the Embassy.

For me and my wife Mary, one of our highlights was the collective effort of the Embassy, the Irish Chamber of Commerce, the Seoul Gaels and the Irish Association of Korea hosting the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum (APIBF) and the GAA’s Asian Gaelic Games in October 2011.  Another was the visit last year of the delegation from the North South Ministerial Council and the discussions we had with Korean officials about partition, reconciliation and cross-border cooperation.  The re-engagement of the IDA in Korea is very welcome development in building the marketing team at Ireland House. 

Public diplomacy – through the Asia Society, Universities, various different organisations and media interviews, was a personally rewarding experience which forced me to compress Ireland’s story for audiences possibly aware of us in general but certainly not in any detail.  Koreans, I found, were fascinated and surprised by the resonances between our colonial histories.  I was reinforced in my conviction that Irish literature – of Yeats and Joyce in particular – is a universal and compelling calling card. 

Overall, adjusting to operating in a country with so little exposure to Ireland and with such a different culture, in sharp contrast to my previous postings in the US, was a tremendous learning experience.  Making an impact here requires far more strategic, concerted and coordinated efforts by Ireland than is required in our familiar traditional markets.

Ireland of course does have a long relationship with Korea, what one might describe as narrow but deep.  Our search for historical connections between Ireland and Korea turned up some gems and underlined that relations between our two countries have been forged by people not governments, partly a fact of our mutual colonial histories, partly the sheer geographic difference between us.

Irishmen serving as senior officials in the British Empire came here at the end of the 19th century and observed the absorption of Korea by a Japan that was intent on having its own empire.  Irishmen and women of great faith and compassion, notably the Columban Order, came here since the turn of the 20th century.  Many of today’s Irish missionaries have been here four or five decades.  I deeply admire their quiet but relentless work with the poor, the disabled and those suffering from HIV/Aids. 

The maelstrom of the Korean War sucked in many from around the world to fight under the UN flag.  Here again, people of Irish birth and heritage made their own contribution, sometimes indeed the ultimate sacrifice.  We conservatively estimate up to two hundred Irish born lost their lives here but it could be more.  The number of fatalities of those of Irish heritage is countless, bearing in mind the scale of US losses.  If you have a chance, visit our new Irish memorial at the War Memorial of Korea.  It was unveiled last April in the company of veterans from Ireland back here for the first time since the War.  They marvelled at the progress that Korea has made.  Their revisit and the reception we hosted at the Residence for them and our partners in this project – the Irish Association of Korea, the Somme Association, the Royal Irish Regiment Association and our sponsors, among others – was a very special occasion for all of us and a particularly fond memory.  Having spent so many years on the peace process back home, offering that welcome had a very personal significance for me.

My visits to the DPRK were a fascinating study in contrasts and comparisons: from the manifest differences in wealth to the shared aspects of the common Korean culture on the peninsula.  Ireland’s support for the work of Concern and the WFP in particular has been enduring and significant, delivered in a way consistent with the principles of good humanitarian donorship, irrespective of the political situation here.  We are rightly proud of Irish Aid and the Irish public’s support from its programmes despite our current fiscal difficulties.

Finally, I want to thank my wife Mary and my family.  Life abroad as a diplomat is a team effort and Mary brought an invaluable contribution, from ferreting out supplies and furnishings in Seoul’s many markets to acting as a hostess for dinners and receptions: all this and running our family too.  My kids have to follow in our wake, first Korea, now Israel.  They have to adjust to new schools, make new friends, adapt to new environments.  I loftily (and conveniently) think that ultimately they gain more than they lose but it is they who have to work through each day until that imagined reward. 

My successor, Aingeal O’Donoghue, is an old friend and a great Diplomat.  She will put her own stamp on Irish Korea relations and in doing so, like me, she will rely on the Embassy’s team, our contacts, the Irish community and our Korean friends. I wish you all the very best.

Eamonn

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Yeats, Eliot and the Shock of the New, 1913

2013 International Conference on W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Modern and Contemporary Poets and Writers

 Opening Remarks, Hanyang University

25 May 2013

 HE Dr Eamonn McKee, Ambassador of Ireland

 Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished academics and visitors, fellow lovers of literature, it is my honour to offer welcoming remarks to the 2013 International Conference on W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Modern and Contemporary Poets and Writers.

I want to thank Hanyang University for facilitating this Conference and The Yeats Society of Korea, The T. S. Eliot Society of Korea, and The Modern British and American Poetry Society of Korea for hosting it. 

This Conference is also made possible by the sponsorship of the National Research Foundation of Korea; the Embassy of Ireland to Korea; the Department of English and College of Humanities, Hanyang University; and Dankook University.

I am delighted that we at the Embassy have been able to provide the newly translated travelling exhibition on Yeats which is on display now in the corridor. While much of this information is not new to the scholars of Yeats attending here today, we hope that it will be of interest to the passing student and bring some more information about Yeats into Korean. We hope that it will be able to travel to many universities around Korea and it is available for this purpose.

The topic of this Conference is an ambitious one, set out in its sweeping title. The title embraces two of the titans of modern literature, both Nobel laureates.  One is an Irishman of Anglo-Irish background and sensibility and the other an American born naturalized English citizen.

They and the influence of their work are placed in both the modernist movement and in the contemporary literature of both poets and writers. In focusing on Yeats and Eliot, this Conference explores an ongoing concern of literature: how to make sense of the modern world. 

In literature, Yeats and Eliot were part of an artistic vanguard grappling with the accelerated pace of change that defined the modern age.  The art critic Robert Hughes summed this up as “the shock of the new”.  Culture, knowledge, social structures and mores, ways of life and traditions, all accumulated over centuries, were all affected by the maelstrom of the new. 

In short order, modernity would dramatically close the gap between humans and monkeys, men and women, rich and poor, the urban and the rural, the citizen and the monarch, the imperial and colonized, the sacred and the secular, the divine and the scientific, man and the machine. 

Amidst all this chaos, where lay truth?  Indeed beyond subjective experience, was there any such thing as truth, a definable reality amenable to perception and the pen?  If writers, poets and artists generally have a common purpose, it is to make sense of the world. 

Modernity would provide a rich if profoundly challenging environment for this purpose.

A hundred years ago, in the time of Yeats and Eliot, the shock of the new was changing daily life, reinterpreting our understanding of the world, shaping new ideologies and altering the course of human history.

In 1913, New York’s Grand Central Station opened.  The zipper is patented.  Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is premiered in Paris.  Suffragette Emily Davison dies under the King’s horse at Epsom.  Henry Ford opens his ground-breaking assembly line, producing a new car every three minutes.  A pilot manages the first loop-the-loop.  Einstein edges closer to his general theory of relativity.  Vienna is home simultaneously to Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky and Freud.  It is also the home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand who death a year later would pit the newly modernized armies of Europe into a new kind of mechanized warfare.

In Ireland in 1913, the many strands of Irishness – Catholic and Protestant, Gaelic and Ascendency, nationalist and unionists, home rulers and republicans, British-Irish and Irish-Irish are all held in balance, the future yet to be defined.  Expectations are high and arguments heated when the House of Commons passes the Home Rule Bill. 

T.S. Eliot is at Harvard studying philosophy and Sanskrit.  Yeats is working on his collection, Responsibilities.  As its title suggests, Yeats is beginning to explore the harsh even grubby life around him, lamenting that Romantic Ireland is dead and gone.  Three years later, he would be shocked into a new appraisal of his “motley” surroundings by the Easter Rising and the men and women who “utterly transformed” Ireland through insurrection.

One hundred years later, we are still living with the shock of the new.  Contemporary life is a continuation, even an acceleration of the shock of the new.  Writers and artists are challenged to absorb, adapt and make sense of a world shaped and reshaped by the inventions of the digital age and the internet.

Texts, Tumblr, Twitter; Facebook, Yahoo Google; Wikipedia and Wikileaks;  iphones, ipads and  itunes; drones and remote control warfare;  twenty-four hour news; new mass media, new mass surveillance, new mass transports; genetics and what it tells us of our past and future; globalization and its discontents: writers and poets have been handed enormous new tools but also an enormously complicated and fast-changing world. 

If the shock of the new is over a hundred years old, then what is new is what is now for us traditional.  It is what we expect, the recurrence of pattern, the pattern of change itself.  We expect the new just as in the pre-modern age they expected the same, season by season, year by year.

But this we have in common with all ages since the invention of language: we still rely on our writers and poets to make sense of our world. I commend your discussions and your search for what Yeats and Eliot, and all they have influenced, have to tell us.

Thank you.

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Century Ireland and the Recovery of Complexity

Ambassador’s Message – Century Ireland 1913-1923

10 May 2013

As you will have seen from previous messages recently concerning the Irish Korean War Memorial and veterans’ revisit, the overarching theme was the recovery of hitherto lost or ignored strands of Ireland’s national narrative, in this instance the tradition of Irish service in the British Army and the armies of other nations. 

This is part of a process: this week, for example, a Bill was passed by Dáil Éireann (the Irish parliament) pardoning soldiers in the Irish Army who deserted to enlist with the Allied armies and fight in World War II.  As the Minister for Defence, Alan Shatter T.D., said, “It is estimated that over 60,000 citizens of the then Free State and in the region of 100,000 who resided on this Island fought against Nazi tyranny during the Second World War. For too long in this State we failed to acknowledge their courage and their sacrifice….”

Up to the Easter Rebellion in 1916, that narrative was a very complicated one.  It embraced many versions of Irish identity spanning the range from unionism and its identification with Britain, the British monarchy and the Empire to militant republicanism devoted to using armed force to gain Irish independence and establish a uniquely Irish state.  In between, individuals and organisations grappled with where they stood on the national question.  The main nationalist party, the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond, supported Home Rule as did most nationalist opinion. The Rebellion led to the eclipse of Redmond and his Party and the emergence of Sinn Féin.

You can catch a flavour of these times, their complications and the stories making the headlines in May 1913, in a great new project called “Century Ireland”.  It is a collaborative effort by Boston College, RTÉ and a host of partners, including many of Ireland’s cultural institutes.  You can find Century Ireland here: http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland

The website is wonderful: visual, informative and fascinating.  Stories include haunting cases of infanticide, the struggles of the suffragettes, and the passage of the Home Rule Bill. 

One story reports on the announcement of a new telephone cable to be laid under the Irish Sea “to give Dublin a direct connection with the English telephone system for the first time.”  The report goes on “Up to now, anyone in Dublin who wishes to talk on the phone to someone in London, has to have the call passed through a series of connections from Dublin to Belfast, from there under the Irish Sea to either Glasgow or Carlisle, and then down through the length of Britain to London.”  Times have certainly changed.

The portal was inspired by the decade of centenaries of formative Irish historical events that we celebrate and commemorate between now and 2023.

As to why the Easter Rebellion replaced complexity with simplicity, that is a long story.  In summing it up, Yeats brought all of his powers to bear on the event.  “Easter 1916” is one of his finest works, visual and lapidary, penetrating and awestruck; “all changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty is born.”

Have a great weekend,

Eamonn

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Irish Memorial Dedication, War Memorial of Korea, April 2013

Ambassador’s Message – Irish Memorial Dedication Ceremony, 25th April

26 April 2013

Of course it rained.  What Irish event would be complete without rain?  So we sat under marquees avoiding the drips instead of being protected from the hoped for sun at our dedication ceremony yesterday morning.  Our Embassy staff were busy with place names and all the myriad details that make an event unfold smoothly. The site had been checked and rechecked by Carol Walker of the Somme Association and Trevor Ross of the Royal Ulster Rifles Association and Colour Sergeant of the Royal Irish Regiment.  The podium was put in place and sound system checked.

We assembled under gray skies: the Ministers for Veterans Affairs of the RoK and Canada, Mr Park Sung-choon and Mr Steven Blaney; the Ambassadors and Defence Attachés of Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia; Director of the War Memorial of Korea, Mr Sun Young-jae; Deputy Director of Foreign Intelligence, Korean Defense Intelligence Agency, Brigadier Moon Yong-seok; Chairman of United Nations Korean War Allies Association, Mr Chi Kap-jong; Director of 60th Anniversary of Korean War Commemoration Group, Ministry of National Defense, Brigadier General Park Young-bae; Chief Warrant Officer, Oliver Cunningham, of the US Forces and native son of Ireland; Father Donal O’Keefe representing the Columban Order; Lt Col Owen Lyttle of the Royal Irish Regiment and his NCOs and soldiers, resplendent in their caubeens and dark green dress uniforms with scarlet sashes. 

As we took our seats, the RIR piper led the procession of veterans and their escorts down the ramp that sweeps into the recessed memorial cove under the looming Seoul War Memorial.  Carol Walker of the Somme Association acted as MC and I gave the opening address, below, translated into Korean by our own Kevin O’Rourke, retired Columban Father, writer and professor of Korean literature.  Minister Park of Patriots and Veterans Affairs as well as the Director of the War Memorial spoke, recognising the Irish contribution, particularly at Happy Valley. 

The memorial itself was unveiled by Ranger Geoffrey Edgar, veteran Albert Morrow, Sister Catherine Oh of the Anglican sisters and Stephanie McNamara, niece of Columban priest Thomas Cusack. Canon Jennings placed the brass cross, made from spent shell casings from the battlefields of Korea, beside our Memorial and offered his prayers. 

There was a hush as veteran Mark McConnell was brought forward to recite his beautiful and rending Korean Lament.  His strong and clear recitation was deeply felt by all.  Fourteen wreaths were laid, the ritual officiated smartly and solemnly by the RIR.  Father Mick McCarthy of the Columban Order, still serving in Korea after fifty years, laid one on behalf of the seven Columban Fathers who died during the War.  Henry O’Kane, veteran, ex-POW and author of O’Kane’s War, laid the wreath on behalf of the veterans.

The dedication of the Irish Memorial is very appropriate this year.  It is eighty years since the Columbans arrived in Korea, sixty since the end of the Korean War and thirty since we established diplomatic relations. 

With this Memorial in place at the Memorial of the Korean War, Seoul, the memory of those of Irish birth and heritage who lost their lives here and those who fought for Korea’s freedom will not be forgotten.  The names of the seven Irish Columban Fathers and one Irish Anglican missionary Sister who died during the War are inscribed.  The Memorial will serve as a focal point for annual commemorations, for visitors who will come to search for it and for the casual visitor who will come upon it.

The project to erect the Memorial was a collective effort; by the Irish Government, the Embassy here in Seoul, the Somme Association, the Royal Ulster Rifles Association, the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Association of Korea.

Over the last week it was wonderful to meet the veterans and encounter in those conversations the living tradition of Irish recruitment to the armed services of Britain and the Commonwealth, not to mention other Diaspora destinations like the US, by Dublin men and men from our towns and villages, by our emigrants and our emigrant generations.  It is a part of our history that is rich and exciting to explore as we approach the anniversaries of our State’s founding in the years ahead.

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Deputy Head of Mission, Ruth Parkin, my wife Mary and all the staff at the Embassy, I would like to say what a pleasure it was to work with our partners on this.  And as someone who formerly was involved in the Irish peace process, it was great to experience such a collective effort by people from all the different traditions and identities on the island of Ireland.  We worked united in good will and dedication to the preservation of the memory of those who made in the greatest sacrifice in the name of enduring ideals.

Finally, I wish to thank our sponsors, the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, the fundraisers at the Somme Association and Irish Association of Korea, Hanwha Chemical, Hyundai Motors, Standard Chartered Bank and Korean Air whose generous support made this project and its associated revisit for Irish veterans possible.

You can see photos of the event at our Twitter Account at @IrishEmbKorea.

 Dedication Ceremony

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Presiding Remarks

H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland to the Republic of Korea

We have gathered here in this quiet dell, on the hallowed ground of the War Memorial of Korea, to honour and remember those of Irish birth and heritage who died in the Korean War.

It is a stone monument because stone is an enduring material and we inscribe on it memories that must not be lost to time. 

It is a simple plinth topped by an image of the island of Ireland.  For the Irish of birth and heritage, irrespective of their affiliation with an identity or another citizenship, the island of Ireland is home, the repository of our culture, our community, our family roots and our sense of what we are. It is a hexagon because each facet serves to commemorate a particular aspect of the Irish contribution to the Korean War.

We recall the Irish missionaries who came to Korea, built communities through faith and compassion and who, in the dark hours of war, refused to leave those communities. 

We recall those of Irish birth who joined Irish regiments in the British Army and who shipped under the UN flag to Korea as part of the Commonwealth forces; and those who had emigrated to America and came here with US forces.  Ireland’s tide of emigration carried many into the armed services of the many countries that would fight here under the UN flag.

We recall those of Irish heritage who fought in so many and in such large numbers of the UN Command, predominantly British and US forces but also in Canadian, Australian and New Zealand units.  Their sense of being Irish, of Irish stock and character, was a strong feature of their identity. 

In Ireland, we value and guard that sense of Irishness, the sense of belonging for all of our Diaspora.  And we do so here today.

This monument will bear symbols.  They are symbols of a complex Irish historical narrative where Irish identity can mean different affiliations, different identities and different perspectives.

Because of the Irish peace process and the historic reconciliation between the people of Ireland and Britain, we can embrace all of those traditions and identities are part of the story of Ireland, part of what we are. 

This is a work in progress.  The unveiling of this monument is part of that process, a recovery and an acknowledgement of the service rendered in the armies of other nations, in the service of the United Nations.

Unveiling this stone monument is a simple act but it is symbolic of so much more. It is a reverential acknowledgement of the role of the Irish in the Korean War. It is a testament to the Ireland’s complex history and our embrace of that complexity.   Above all it is a remembrance that Irish lives were given in compassion and service to the people of Korea, in the defence of freedom and in the cause of the United Nations.

Thank you. 

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Commemoration, Happy Valley

Ambassador’s Message – Commemoration at Happy Valley, 24th April

 26 April 2013

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Col. Robin Charley, his daughter Catherine, the Somme Association and the indefatigable commitment of historian and journalist Andrew Salmon, the memory of the Battle of Happy Valley has been recovered.  As you know from previous messages, this desperate action in January 1951 saw heavy casualties for the Royal Ulster Rifles (157 dead, wounded or captured), the 8th Royal Irish Hussars (10 tanks lost) and other units of the Commonwealth’s 29th Brigade.  They delayed the Chinese advance on Seoul, allowing for many of its citizens to evacuate in what Korea remembers simply as “1.4”, the lapidary code for the 4th January evacuation across the Han.

The recovery of the memory of the action at Happy Valley was manifest on Wednesday in a simple ceremony of dedication at the battle site.  The dedicated efforts of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans affairs and the 30th Mechanised Infantry Division meant that the site for the battle’s memorial plaque was cleared and terraced and a temporary wooden arch erected.

A military band welcomed the Irish veterans as they debussed in the bright afternoon sunshine.  Deputy Head of Mission Ruth Parkin and Carol Walker of the Somme Association marshalled everyone and everything in place. I gave an opening address (see below).  Speeches were offered by Major General Ryu Sung-sik and Lt Col Lee Young-hyok of the 30th Mechanised Infantry Division, ROK Army, and Lt Col Owen Lyttle, CO, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment. Canon Robert Jennings, now of Co. Wicklow, Veteran and Chaplin of the Korean War took the service. The Royal Irish Regiment bugler sounded Reveille for a minute’s silence and the Regiment’s piper played a lament.  Wreaths were laid by the RIR, the Somme Association, the Ministry of the Patriots and Veterans Affairs, the RoK Army and the Embassy.  We all felt the poignancy of the moment as veteran Spencer McWhirter laid a wreath on behalf of his comrades, fallen and present.

After the ceremonies, the veterans, relatives and supporters were taken on a battlefield tour by Andrew Salmon, including the location where the bodies of the fallen were first buried before their final internment at the UN Cemetery in Busan.  It was a solemn and moving day for all concerned.

The site of the commemoration bore the hallmarks of its recent and temporary, if meticulous, construction – terraces of beaten earth held in place with planks and stakes, grassy approaches underfoot, wild shrubs along its margins.  It is very gratifying to report that the Koreans who have come to know of this battle and its direct relationship to “1.4” have taken to it to heart now.  Lt. Col Nam of the Ministry of National Defence and Major General Ryu underlined their commitment not only to making the site permanent but also to re-establishing the battlefield memorial that was erected in 1951 and moved in 1962 to Northern Ireland.

I will be in touch again later with news of yesterday’s dedication ceremony of the Irish memorial at Seoul War Memorial.

Best regards,

Eamonn 

“Commemoration of the Battle of Happy Valley”

Wednesday 24th April 2013

Remarks

Dr. Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland to the Republic of Korea

 Mayor of Yangju, Mr  Hyun Sam-sik; Major General Ryu; Brigadier General Park; Brigadier Lemay; General Park; distinguished guests; veterans of the Korea War; our Korean hosts; local residents; those who have travelled far to come here, and supporters and relatives of those who fought here.

The Irish Government’s support for this project, the revisit and the Memorial are part of an important process.  That is a process of recovery of the many interpretations and experiences of what is Irish identity.

The recovery of all the strands of Irishness is part of the wider embrace, born of the Northern Ireland peace process, of all of the identities and traditions of those who share the territory of the island of Ireland.  It is therefore my privilege and honour to be here at this service in Happy Valley.

It is a sombre occasion.  We recall the many fine men lost their lives here, often in defence of their comrades in desperate circumstances. They knew that disengagement would be extremely dangerous.  It was made fatally so by an accident of war and the onslaught of the Chinese army.  It is also an inspiring occasion. The Royal Ulster Rifles and the Irish Hussars gave no ground to the enemy and only pulled back under orders. There was much heroism on this field of battle.

It was in keeping with the martial tradition of the Royal Ulster Rifles, stretching back to the Napoleonic Wars and including much action in World War II. It was in keeping with that of the 8th Royal Irish Hussars who traced their lineage back to Derry in the 17th century. It was in keeping with the martial tradition of so many Irishmen over the generations that enlisted for military service with distinctly Irish regiments in the British Army.

Dogged in defence and valiant in this action here, the men of the 29th Brigade gave vital breathing space for the evacuation of Seoul, inscribed now in the memory of all Koreans as simply “1.4”.  Looking about us now, it is difficult to imagine that key actions of the Korean War were fought here.  This is not a comment about the passage of time.  Rather, it is a measure of what was achieved here.

For in fighting, under the UN flag, the forces of North Korea and of China, the men of the Royal Ulster Rifles, the 8th Royal Irish Hussars and other units of the Brigade such as the Northumberland Fusiliers, and Glosters and the 45th Field Regiment, were fighting for freedom.  Because of the freedom won, the Republic of Korea was enabled to begin an astonishing journey of development.

That journey would take them from being a war-torn aid recipient to being the 13th largest economy in the world and now an aid donor.  The peace and prosperity of South Korea today is a direct result of the sacrifices made in these fields in defence of liberty and the international rule of law.

I wish to commend the Korean people and their authorities for their deep and abiding acknowledgement of this sacrifice.  No effort is spared, no courtesy refused when it comes to the veterans of the Korean War.

I wish to pay a particular tribute to the Ministry of National Defence, the RoK Army and particularly today to the 30th Mechanised Infantry Division for their unstinting support in our efforts to mark this site of the Battle of Happy Valley.

This service today and the erection of the information plaque are vitally important to the preservation of the memory of what was done here, why and by whom.

I wish to acknowledge that one veteran of this battle, who has done so much to make this week possible, cannot be here today.  Col. Robin Charley had planned to be part of this, along with his daughter Catherine who also contributed so much to the events of this week.  Regrettably his loved wife is seriously ill and he remains at her side.

On behalf of the fallen and all those who fought at Happy Valley, we salute the veterans who have come here to recall this Battle and to honour their comrades.

Thank you.

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August 6, 2013 · 12:06 pm

Irish British Welcome Reception, Korean War Veterans

Ambassador’s Message – Remarks at Welcoming Reception, Veterans from Ireland

24 April 2013

You might be interested in my remarks yesterday at the reception which I co-hosted with the British Ambassador, Scott Wightman, to welcome British veterans of the Korean War, including the contingent from the island of Ireland.  I might add that men of Irish heritage who served in English Regiments were also there.

This afternoon we are holding the first commemoration at the Battle of Happy Valley, followed tomorrow morning by the dedication of our memorial to all those of Irish birth and heritage who died during the Korean War.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Veterans of Ireland Revisit – Welcoming Reception

Remarks by HE Dr Eamonn McKee

Residence of the British Ambassador, 23 April 2013

Thank you Scott for all your assistance and cooperation and that of the Embassy. Thanks too to Brigadier Jacques Lemay [Defence Attaché] for your positive approach and openness.  I warmly welcome the participation of the veterans from Ireland.  For them, it is the first journey back to Korea since the War. For us at the Embassy, it is the first time that we have supported and participated in the revisit of veterans of Irish birth and heritage.

They say life is a journey.  As soldiers and veterans, you have journeyed far more and experienced more than most. You were present at one of the world’s great conflicts here in Korea more than sixty years ago, the only war waged under the flag of the United Nations.

Because of that war, and your contribution, the rule of international law was upheld.  The freedom of South Korea was protected.  Today, 50 million South Koreans enjoy prosperity and freedom. The evidence of this is all around you today and in such stark contrast to the Korea you first encountered.

The life of a nation is also a journey, marked along the way by significant events that shape that narrative for the future.  I was lucky enough to part of one of those events, the negotiation and signing of the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast in 1998.  We are still working through all of the many hard-fought but immensely positive developments that have sprung from that historic accord.

The essence of the GFA was the need to respect and accept all of the identities and traditions that share the island of Ireland. This has led us to embrace not only those distinctive traditions of nationalism and unionism, but the variations within those traditions. This includes the tradition of Irish service in the British Army, Navy and Air Force.

It also includes the tradition of raising and garrisoning regiments in Ireland.  The names are not only redolent of Irish history but the history of Europe and the history of  the British Empire; the Irish Hussars, the Irish Guards, the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers, the Royal Ulster Rifles and today the Royal Irish Regiment, to name only some.

The National Volunteers were raised at the behest of the Irish nationalist leader John Redmond.  In fighting for little Belgium during WWI, they saw themselves fighting for Irish independence. The Irish Volunteers were raised and stayed at home with the same objective in mind. Such is the complex and fluid narrative of our history.

In Korea, the recognition of this tradition is also the recovery of the contribution of the Royal Ulster Rifles and the King’s Own 8th Royal Irish Hussars to the 29th Brigade’s defence of Seoul under the UN flag in January and April 1951.

The erection of the Irish memorial at Seoul War Memorial and of the information plaque at the Battle of Happy Valley is part of that process of recovery, acknowledgement and commemoration. I am delighted to welcome the veterans of Ireland and their supporters here for this week.

I wish to thank warmly the cooperation of the Somme Association, the Royal Irish Association, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Irish Association of Korea and all our sponsors for their vital contribution to this week’s very special events.

Thank you.

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August 6, 2013 · 11:55 am