Early Irish Connections with Korea

Bilateral relations are not just quotidian affairs but are shaped by history.  In many cases, that history is well known so Irish public diplomacy can build on that.  Our relations with the United States is perhaps the most obvious example.  In other cases, historical connections are less well known, even forgotten.  Irish Korean relations are a case in point.  If our historical connections are thin threads, they are nonetheless fascinating stories about the global Irish in times past and the sometimes bizarre coincidences between past and present. The unfolding story of Charles Morris told below could not have happened without the internet which demonstrates what a powerful tool it is in guiding us through the labyrinth of personal histories.  Uncovering and recovering that history not only helps strengthen Irish Korean bilateral relations but adds new mosaics from unlikely places to the picture of Ireland’s Diaspora.

Ambassador’s Message – Colonel McKee and Missionary Charles Morris in Korea

22 May 2012

As you might know, we at the Embassy launched a living history of Irish Korean links on our website.  We compiled what we knew into a narrative and invited anyone and everyone to submit additions.  We have so far managed to push back the date of Ireland’s first engagement with Korea: a distant forebear of mine, Col. Hugh McKee, on the USS Colorado, in Korea as part of a raiding party in 1871.   He led a group, which included four Irish born men, the first to reach Korea as far as we know (very regrettably from an Irish diplomatic point of view!)   They attacked a garrison on Gangwha island, near Seoul, and it seems that Pat Dougherty from Ireland killed General Yeo in the process.  Col. McKee died from wounds sustained in the raid and the Irish born US Marines won Medals of Honour. 

Incidentally, a Korean historian told me that some twenty-five years ago a descendent of Col. McKee visited the monument to General Yeo and met the General’s descendents there, so reconciliation was achieved.  We are needless to say hoping to find an Irish person who got to Korea before them with more peaceful intentions!

Another fascinating Irish connection has recently surfaced.  The following is something of a detective story, pursued by Frank O’Donoghue, whom some of you may recall was Deputy Head of Mission here up until last year and the new Deputy Head of Mission, Ruth Parkin.  I want to thank Frank for his dogged research on Irish Korean relations, despite finishing his posting here. 

The story has thrown up some extraordinary coincidences.  Frank had thought that Charles Morris, an Irish born missionary active in Korea from 1901 until his death in 1927, may have been born Church of Ireland but could not find a registration of his birth in either the Anglican or Methodist churches of Portlaoise, Ireland. Out of the blue, a granddaughter of Morris, Ms Janet Downing, contacted the Embassy because she saw the reference on the Embassy website.  She provided us with her detailed and fascinating contribution.  When Ruth mentioned the story of a Methodist who died in Korea but was born in Laois to her parents (her father is a Methodist minister), her mother immediately suggested Ballyhupahaun as a possible location for Charles Morris’s birth without any knowledge of the context.

Our serendipitous team of detectives have given permission for me to publish their exchanges below, for which thanks.

As you will see, the story is a wonderful series of human and historical connections, linking Huguenot settlement in Ireland in the 18th century; the conversion of an Irish Huguenot to Methodism by the founder of Methodism John Wesley during the latter’s last of many trips to Ireland (some twenty-one between 1747 and 1789);  Irish emigration to American; American missionary work in Korea; and Irish American genealogical research in Ireland which yielded yet another amazing coincidence involving an old post card. 

We have put obituaries of Charles Morris on the Embassy website which give an indication of the esteem in which he was held in Korea.  It is also clear that his wife was a heroic missionary too, staying in Korea for another thirteen years after his death in 1927.

 I hope you enjoy the story.

Best wishes, 

Eamonn

Extract from Frank’s email, December 2011

“In the spring of 2011, along with a fellow country man and Anglican priest, we stumbled upon the above-mentioned Irish born but US reared and educated Methodist missionary in Korea from 1901 to 18 January 1927.”
 
“The Reverend Charles David Morris is buried in the Yangwhajin or Foreigners’ Graveyard in Seoul, South Korea(Republic of Korea). On the steel stake beside his gravestone there is biography in which it is stated that Charles David Morris graduated from Drew Theological Seminary in 1900 and ministered as far north as Pyongyang and places between there and Seoul such as Incheon.  It was also stated that he was of French Huguenot origin. My own surmise is that Charles David Morris was Church of Ireland (Anglican/Episcopal) when in Ireland as a community of Huguenot descendants worshiped in French in Portarlington, County Laois ( then Queens County) until about 1869 but that his family joined the Methodist Church after they settled in the USA.”

 

Extract from Frances Bristol, General Commission on Archives and History,
The United Methodist Church,
New Jersey, USA, January 2012

“Dear Mr. O’Donoghue,

Thank you for your request.  There is quite a bit of information available at this location on Rev. Morris, but, unfortunately, no mention of the names of his parents.  Attached to this message please find extracts from the Mission Biographical Reference file on Rev. Morris.  Also included is an extract from the Alumni Record of Drew Theological Seminary related to Rev. Morris.”

 

Extract from Frank’s email to myself and Ruth, May 2012

“Ambassador, Ruth,

This is some research provided me by the United Methodist Church concerning one Charles David Morris. I have found from the attached that he was born in 1869 in a place called Ballyhupahun, Queen’s County (now County Laois). The current spelling is Ballyhuppahaun, Roseanallis, County Laois close to Portlaoise.  I went to school in Ballyfin nearby (1968-1971) and some of the locals said to me at that time that ‘Roseanallis’ was so called by a local Quaker landowner who had three daughters Rose Ann and Alice!

What is unclear is if Charles David Morris was born into the Church of Ireland given his Huguenot background but most of that community were closer to Portarlington where services were conducted in French within Church of Ireland until, curiously, the year of his birth. There is (was) a Methodist Church in Portlaoise (then called Maryborough) but in the days of the horse and cart the Morris birthplace would have been quite a distance to travel each Sunday. It is possible the Morris family worshipped closer to home perhaps in Mountmellick or Mountrath where there would have been long established Anglican/ Church of Ireland and Society of Friends(Quaker) communities/congregations.”

Extract from Janet Downing to Ruth, granddaughter of Charles Morris, 3 May 2012

“I was absolutely thrilled to find my grandfather, Charles David Morris, listed on your Embassy of Ireland website.  One little correction, I would like to make is that his parents did not emigrate to the US.  ‘Since both of his parents were deceased, he emigrated in 1888 at age 19 to the United States…’

 He was an amazing man and I wish that I had known him, but it is wonderful to see him remembered on your website.”

Reply from Ruth, 4 May 2012

“We are in the process of developing a project on Irish links with Korea and would be interested in any further information you may be willing to share. Frank was unable to find a record of his birth but thought that perhaps he had been raised Anglican before converting to Methodism on or before travelling to the US. We really have little other than in that short paragraph so anything you know will be extra. Obviously it seems he married and had children – in Korea?”

Email Response from Ms Downing, 4 May 2012

“I am just thrilled to hear from you! I have quite a bit about Charles Morris because my mother and her sister were both born in Yeng Byen.  My mother went back to Ireland with her parents in 1925 and so learned quite a bit and although very young, remembered it because he died in 1927.”  

“I will go through my documents, but off the top of my head – the Maurices were Huguenots who built Water Castle near Abbeyleix.   I only have them back to a James Maurice and Muriel Tarlton from the 1700’s, who are buried at the Old Church on the De Vesci Estate.  Their son John Maurice is said to have been converted by John Wesley in the old church at Maryborough in 1789.  His son, John Maurice married Hannah Knight and got a farm at Ballyhupahaun.  His son James stayed on the farm and anglicized the name to Morris and was Charles’ father.  Charles always said that if he had sons, if would have changed the name back to Maurice “to remind us of our noble ancestors who left the land of their birth rather than give up their faith.”  Charles was born in Ballyhupahaun. There is also a small Methodist Church in Ballyhupahaun which was built in 1848, but has an old stone inside which says AD 1795 – it appears that there had been a Methodist Church in that area since very soon after John Wesley was in Ireland.”

“I am very much into genealogy and have been trying to find out as much about my Irish ancestors since I did not know this special man.”

“My grandmother Louise Ogilvy grew up in Topeka, Kansas in the US and when she was 18, missionaries came through looking for a teacher for the school age children of the missionaries in Pyongyang.  Although so young, they could not find anyone and so she went to Korea in 1901 and there met Charles David Morris.  She married him in 1903 in Kobe, Japan.  They were in Yeng Byen 1905 – 1912, then Pyongyang until 1916, when they went to Wonju until he died.  He itinerated all over and started many churches and schools.” 

“I went to Ireland with my mother in 1988 – one hundred years after Charles had left.  We found the farm in Ballyhupahaun and met the man who bought it after Charles’ brother, Robert, died in 1950.  I said I was the granddaughter of Charles Morris and he said “Robert had a brother who went across the seas to preach.”  Just amazing after 100 years!  Then I went to a house near to the Methodist Church and met Olive Graham.  When I said I was the granddaughter of Charles Morris, she turned pale and said to a granddaughter, “bring that card we were looking at last night.”  It was a postcard from Charles to her mother in 1900 when he was on his way to Korea.  She knew her mother was a cousin, but I have still not quite made that connection, although Olive did not think it was important.  She had cared for Charles’ brother, Robert, until he died.  She was just so kind to me and had me all over the county and Dublin meeting “cousins.”  What a magical time it was.”

“My grandparents gave their lives to their work in Korea and loved the Korean people, but with so much of their time in “North Korea” one wonders about their contribution.  But it appears that they were truly loved when they were there.  My grandmother stayed on in Seoul until 1940, when she was forced to leave [with all the other missionaries], and she died a year later.  (I knew neither of my grandparents – they were both gone before I was born.)  Actually, my mother went back to Korea in 1934 after she graduated from college, having difficulty finding a job.  The superintendent of the Oriental Consolidated Mining Company had loved her father and offered her a job teaching.  My father had been going to Colorado School of Mines and got pneumonia.  He saw an ad in the papers for supervisors needed in the gold mines of Korea and thought that sounded much more exciting than going back to school.  So both my parents and grandparents fell in love and married in Korea.  So although I have never been there – it is certainly a big part of my heritage!”

 

 

ENDS

 

 

 

 

 

 

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