Ambassador’s Message – Ireland in Korea in Three Easy Pieces
8 April, 2011
As you know, the Embassy has been encouraging the discovery of Ireland’s historic links with Korea. We will be updating this next week on the Embassy’s website (www.embassyofireland.or.kr) because John McLeavy Brown, an Antrim native who arrived in 1893 and worked for Emperor Kojong, has just lost the honour of being the first Irishman here in a working capacity.
On three occasions this week I encountered aspects of Ireland in Korea that I thought you might find interesting.
On Tuesday, my wife and I travelled to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan. It is a meticulously groomed park of quiet dignity, with beautiful monuments honouring and remembering those who fell during the Korean War. There are some 2,300 UN soldiers interred there. The names of the more than forty thousand UN soldiers who died in the war are craved into black marble around a pond (reminiscent in fact of the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC). The graves bear the names of soldiers who fought with the Royal Ulster Rifles and Irish Hussars, many of whose members were Irish or of Irish extraction. Some 130 Irishmen serving with the RUR and 29 serving with US forces fought and died in Korea. Looking at the names inscribed in marble under the rubrics of the different US states, it was also clear that Irish Americans were tragically well represented among those who died. If you live in Busan or happen to have some free hours there, it is certainly worth a visit.
On Wednesday, I was delighted to visit Pukyong University where an MOU was signed with the University of Limerick on an international exchange programme for students and faculty. This link was made possible by Prof. Utai Uprasen, a Thai national who earned his Ph.D. in international economics from UL, was employed by Pukyong’s International and Area Studies Division and promptly set about forging links between his new University and his alma mater. Utai has been greatly encouraged by the President of the University, Maeng-eon Park and head of the International Faculty, Prof. Jong-hwan Ko. Josephine Page, Director of UL’s International Education Office, travelled to Busan to sign the MOU and help deepen relations by discussing a wide range of opportunities for cooperation. As she explained to me, UL believes that international education is a vital element in modern tertiary education and the University was delighted that Utai so diligently opened doors at Pukyong University. While at Pukyong, I gave a talk on “Ireland, what went wrong and how to fix it” to a full house of attentive and engaged students whose attitude clearly reflects the very vibrant international studies being developed there by Prof Uprasen and his colleagues.
Yesterday, my wife and I visited Sister Mary, of the Columban Order, who runs a shelter for those suffering from AIDS/HIV. A native of Athlone, she has been here for some forty years, having first arrived in January 1971. She remembered her first breath on leaving the plane, the intense Korean cold something she had never encountered in Ireland. From 1988, she worked with prostitutes, a large class whose occupation is rarely acknowledged, much less discussed and whose problems are considered virtually taboo. This led her to then work from 1997 onwards with an even more unmentionable group, those suffering from HIV/AIDS to whom she offers shelter, support and medical assistance. This is not a large group in Korea, officially numbered at 5,000 but its problems are magnified by the prevailing social taboo (so strong in fact that secrecy must veil the victims and their treatment). Sr. Mary’s work in Korea – discreet, compassionate, heroic by any measure – is one part of the mosaic of the Irish religious contribution here.
Finally, in regard to the news reports of radiation from Japan reaching Korea, the authorities here are adamant that the levels are minuscule and represent no threat to public health. We will of course keep you apprised on any developments.
Have a good weekend,
Ambassador of Ireland