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.
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.