Category Archives: Korea

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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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

Irish Memorial and Veterans Revisit

Ambassador’s Message – Irish Memorial and Veterans’ Revisit

18 April 2013

We commemorate this year the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Korean War.  Ireland was not a member at its outbreak and so we could not be one of the contingents fighting under UN Command.  However, many men of Irish birth and heritage fought and died in the War, mainly with Commonwealth and US forces.

Next week we will unveil a memorial to them.  Veterans from Ireland will form part of the Commonwealth Revisit.  I would like to apprise you of the Irish dimension to the Revisit which is a new departure made possible by the Northern Ireland peace process and the historic reconciliation between Ireland and Britain.

Our Korean War veterans in Ireland are currently making their final preparations for their long journey here next week.

Old soldiers and elderly gentlemen, they are still game, joking that after seeing all the media coverage of [heightened tensions on] the peninsula recently they should pack their boots just in case they are needed again to defend South Korea.  We are really looking forward to meeting them.

The Commonwealth Revisit programme will keep them busy with ceremonies and visits to battle sites and the UN Cemetery in Busan.

Veterans will travel on Tuesday to Jeokseong for the memorial to the Glosters who were annihilated at the Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951. The Royal Ulster Rifles’ dogged resistance, along with other elements of the 29th British Brigade, blunted the Chinese onslaught, allowed UN forces to withdraw in order, helped stymie the most concerted attempt of the War to defeat UN forces (these events are memorialised by Koreans as “1.4”).   I am co-hosting a welcoming reception at the British Ambassador’s Residence that evening.

On Wednesday we will all attend the Commonwealth Memorial Ceremony in the morning and then travel in the afternoon to the site of the Battle of Happy Valley (January 1951).

After the ANZAC Dawn Service on Thursday morning, we will dedicate the Irish Memorial at the War Memorial of Korea.  Guests will include relatives of the veterans, representatives of the Columban Order, Commonwealth Ambassadors and Defence Attachés and the Korean Minister for Patriot and Veterans Affairs, Mr Park Sung-choon.  The Canadian Minister for Veterans Affairs, Mr Steven Blaney, will also attend: he feels a deep affinity with his Irish heritage and we are very happy to have him attend our dedication.  That evening, the Minister Park will host a thank-you banquet at the Lotte Hotel for all the Commonwealth Veterans.

On Friday, our veterans will be part of the Commonwealth Veteran’s trip to Busan.  On Saturday, they will visit the DMZ and conclude the day with a Reception at our Residence.

Meanwhile, our Korean sculptor is busy completing the memorial itself which we designed as a simply hexagon plinth topped with an image of the island of Ireland and with inscriptions on its facets embracing all those of Irish birth or heritage who lost their lives in the war, including soldiers and missionaries.

The Irish dedication ceremony will be an intensely personal one for the attending veterans.  They came through some of the most intense combat of the twentieth century and saw many of their comrades fall.  Sixty years may seem like a long time but life passes quickly and memories stay fresh.  The memorial is just stone and words but it will help recover and preserve the contribution that these veterans and all those who died in the war made to Korea and to the success of the only war fought under the UN flag.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

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August 6, 2013 · 11:47 am

Irish Dimension to the Korean War

2013 marks a number of anniversaries; 80 years since the Columban Order arrived in Korea, 60 years since the Armistice that brought the Korean War to an end and 30 years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Korea.  We marked this with a Photo Exhibition at the Korea Foundation called History and Vitality, Stories of Ireland and Korea which tried to capture visually past and present relations.  The history of our relations is primarily that of people, whether in the service of Empire, faith, nation, business or war.  One project that became immensely rewarding and one of the highlights of my posting to Korea was the recovery and commemoration of the Irish contribution to the Korean War. The following short account sets out the role, largely unknown, played centrally by the Royal Ulster Rifles, a key unit of UN Command, with special thanks to writer and historian Andrew Salmon for his major contribution to this project.

Ambassador’s Message – The Fighting Irish of the Korean War

22 March 2013

Yesterday evening I attended Andrew Salmon’s lecture on the “The Fighting Irish of the Korean War” at the Korea Foundation.  The term “lecture” does not do it justice.  His delivery, engagement with the audience, his knowledge of the people and engagements, his use of audio-visual materials and personal engagement with the characters involved made it an immersive and compelling experience.  The scheduled hour turned into two as Q and A turned into a collective discussion.  It was really history as theatre and I, like the rest of the audience, left with a vivid account of experience of the 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) and 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars in the Korean War. 

The RUR were the spearhead battalion of the British 29th Brigade, Britain’s strategic reserve which was committed to the Korean campaign.  Composed 50/50 of Catholics and Protestant, its soldiers were tough and experienced fighters, proud and quick with their fists.  Many, both enlisted and officers, were veterans of WWII.  The RUR lost most men in the ironically named Battle of Happy Valley in January 1951 when they were pulling back along a frozen river after resisting a Chinese “human wave” attack on their position north of Seoul.  Inadvertently illuminated by flares from a passing UN aircraft, they were raked with gun fire from the hills and charged by the bayonet wielding Chinese.  Hand-to-hand fighting ensued, extremely rare in modern battle as Andrew noted.  The ten tanks of the Irish Hussars were immobilised by stick bombs, their engines petering out as the morning broke when their fuel ran out.   Seoul would fall for a second time.

The following April, the RUR found themselves in a central salient along the UN line which was dug in at the Imjin River, again just north of Seoul, with the main body of US forces to their right.  The Chinese Army seemed to have melted away and routine patrols could not find them.  In fact, Chinese genius with camouflage concealed the fact that some 300,000 troops were massed for an assault.  The attack, launched on 22nd April, was designed to overwhelm the UN forces, surround and destroy the main US force, and take Seoul for a third and final time.  Stretched supply lines and limited motorised transport meant the Chinese 63rd and 64th Armies had about six days to do this. 

The Chinese attack when it came was a complete surprise to UN forces and the RUR found themselves in a vicious fight, along with the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers, the Gloucestershire Regiment (the Glosters) and a Belgium battalion, all bearing the weight of the main Chinese thrust South.  As the 29th pulled back in a fighting retreat on 25th April to a blocking position which they then held, the Glosters were isolated on a hill top and annihilated by wave after wave of Chinese troops (some 622 of 650 were lost, either dead, wounded or missing; 34 would die in captivity). 

The stout resistance of the 29th Brigade, along with the Belgium troops, allowed the main US force to extricate itself and move south, avoiding the pincher movement that would have sealed victory for the Chinese and disaster for the UN forces.  US General Ridgeway, as UN Commander, responded with all the enormous firepower at this disposal, including naval artillery, inflicting serious losses on the 63rd Chinese Army (perhaps 10,000 or one third of its fighting force) which, its supplies exhausted, was stopped five miles short of Seoul. 

The UN had withstood the largest massed attacked by a communist army since the Soviet capture of Berlin in 1945.  It was the last decisive action of the Korean War.  Though the War would drag on in often heavy skirmishing along the 38th parallel until 1953, Seoul and the Republic of Korea were saved at the battle of Imjin River.  If the Chinese had failed in their objective of seizing Seoul and dealing a crippling blow to US prestige, Andrew noted, they had nonetheless taken the field against the US, driven the UN forces from North Korea, preserved the DPRK and announced their arrival as a major world power.

British military causalities in the Korean War exceeded those later suffered in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  That said, as Andrew pointed out, for every non-US soldier fallen, the US lost 30 soldiers in the Korean War (many Irish American, as the names in the UN Cemetery in Busan attest). 

Andrew is an expert on the British Army’s role in the Korean War about which he has written two books; To the Last Round, The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951 and Scorched Earth, Black Snow, Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950.  Though he has interviewed many Irish veterans and clearly loves the men, ethos and memory of the RUR and Irish Hussars, he eschews the notion that he is an expert on Irish involvement.  Still, I am deeply grateful for all that he has done to shed some light on this little known dimension of Irish Korean relations.  You can check out his website here http://tothelastround.wordpress.com/

Today, the RUR lives on as the Royal Irish Regiment.

(Please note that any inaccuracies in the above account are solely mine and not Andrew’s!)

Best wishes,

 

Eamonn

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Special Winter Olympics, Korea

Sometimes the word ‘inspiring’ is over-used or misapplied but there is no more apt description of the participants and their supporters at this very special event.

Ambassador’s Message – Irish Team at the Special Olympics World Winter Games Pyongchang, South Korea

1 February 2013

 It was my pleasure and honour to attend the Host Town dinner at Seoul Women’s University for the Irish Special Olympics Team on Monday evening.  If you follow us on twitter (@IrishEmbKorea) you would have seen a photo or two.  Seoul Women’s University hosted Ireland, Jamaica and the Isle of Man, an alphabetical grouping that coincidentally grouped three teams about the same size in number and all from islands.  The University had a buddy system so that every member of the three teams was accompanied by one student who was fluent in English.  Activities included excursions, games and explorations of Korean food and culture. 

You could tell from the atmosphere at the dinner and the video diary of the orientation that all the participants had had a great time.  As our guests at the dinner the Embassy invited Father O’Neill from Gwanju who has spent 54 years in Korea doing wonderful work for those with special needs and Sister Ger Ryan who has been engaged in the same kind of amazing work in Mokpo for almost as long.  We also invited Conor O’Reilly, President of the Irish Association of Korea, and Thomas Gaughan, head of the Seoul Gaels, both of whom are leading their organisations with great energy and commitment.  The evening was a wonderful start for our athletes.  I want to thank President Rhee Kwang-ja for the generous hospitality of her University and all the ‘buddies’ who introduced our team to the Korea and generally settled them in with such kindness.

Tuesday morning the teams were bussed to Pyongchang for the opening ceremony and the start of the games.  I headed to the airport to pick up the Special Olympics delegation of CEO Matt English, Frances Kavanagh, Pat Kickham and famed sports photographer Ray McManus.  We arrived, thanks to the amazing infrastructure linking Seoul to Gangwon near the east coast, in good time to register and attend the opening ceremony.  Some 111 teams proudly carried their flags in the parade. 

President Lee officially opened the games, following welcoming speeches by the Special Olympic global messengers, Burmese democracy advocate An San Suu Kyi, world champion skater Kim Yu-na, and Special Olympics Chairman and CEO, Timothy Shriver.  As usual, our Korean hosts outdid themselves with not only with the preparations but also with the programme of videos and live entertainment that made up the Ceremony’s programme.

Wednesday morning the games proper started with the Irish floor ball team winning their games to be placed in division two and later that day beating their hosts South Korea 11-1 (also see @IrishEmbKorea).  Participating for the first time in this demonstration sport, the team went on to take Bronze: they are certainly capable of much more at future games, having been pipped at the post by one point against Austria for a place in the final. 

You can’t help yourself taking pride in such performances but its important to recall that the goal is participation.  The motto of the Games is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”  Overcoming all the challenges they face, the participants take joy in the hours of participation and the moments of victory, whether that victory is a medal or the achievement of completion.  It is a lesson to us all to appreciate what we have and the simple pleasures of each day.

The team, coaches, Special Olympic officials and family members are delighted that local Irish supporters are making the effort to come and support them; Deputy Head of Mission Ruth Parkin and family with lead a bus load there for the Alpine skiing this Saturday.  For regular news and updates on the Irish Team’s activities at the Special Winter Olympics go to  www.specialolympics.ie/WHATWEDO/EVENTSANDGAMES/2013WORLDWINTERGAMES.aspx .

Matt English, his team and all their army of volunteer supporters in Ireland do amazing work for those with special needs (for more information go www.specialolympics.ie/GETINVOLVED.aspx ).    Eircom has been a stalwart sponsor and, like all sponsors, it is determined to continue its support.  I know this is really appreciated by Matt and his team, particularly in these tough economic times.

So best of luck to the participants in the competitions ahead: I am sure they, their family members, supporters and Special Olympics Ireland will leave with wonderful memories.

Have a great weekend,

Best wishes,

Eamonn

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