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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