Category Archives: Korea

Young Koreans Write about Ireland and Korea

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Korea is a collective effort by the Irish community, some 900 people, most of whom are here teaching English.  The energy devoted to marking the National Day is a mark of our pride, wherever we are.  The Embassy works closely with the Irish Association of Korea, as well as hosting the National Day Reception. The IAK does a great job, organizing an Irish Festival and, in collaboration with the Embassy, promoting Ireland by inaugurating an essay competition to encourage young Koreans to think about Ireland.   The essayists offered reflections on Korea inspired by Ireland and uncovered some interesting connections.


Ambassador’s Message – St Patrick’s Day and the Inaugural Essay Competition

19 March 2012 

I noticed with some trepidation the rain on Friday evening but come Saturday morning the sun was shining.  It augured well for the IAK’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival.  And what a day it was: by the reckoning of some organisers, the best one yet.  The amphitheatre at the D-Cube Plaza was full to capacity, its enfolding and steeply raked seats allowing not just an over-flowing crowd but a sense of intimacy amongst the large and cheerful Irish, ex-pat and Korean crowd.  The music and dancing was top class.  From spontaneous dancing by members from the crowd to organised dancing by practiced and first-timers alike under the expert direction and encouragement from Fr. Seán Connelly, the Festival was as we say, great ‘craic’.  The shopping mall provided plenty of food and beverages for the mingling crowd.  People and family wandered from the venue to the shops and back again, stopping for some face-painting or buying the IAK’s t-shirts, all funds going to the Association’s funding raising effort in support of a monument to those Irish who lost their lives in the Korean war.  Many congratulations to the IAK and its volunteers for a memorable day.

We celebrated another IAK initiative, in cooperation with the Embassy and the Emerald Cultural Institute in Ireland (one of our premier EFL colleges), at the Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day reception on Friday evening.  Along with IAK President Conor O’Reilly, it was my honour to award the prizes for our essay competition.  As you may recall, the competition involves third level Korean students writing an essay in English on some aspect of Irish Korean relations.  The following is an extract from my remarks at the prize-giving at the National Day Reception.  It should give you a sense of the quality of the winners and the value of the competition to Irish Korean relations.  I want to record my thanks to Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, for sending a personal message to one of the prize winners who was inspired by his writing.

Whether you were with us or not at the Festival, I hope you had a great St Patrick’s Day and that you got the chance to catch up on some of coverage on RTE and in the Irish newspapers of the events around the world that celebrate Ireland, the Irish and the seventy million of Irish ancestry around the world.

 Best wishes,




IAK Ireland Korea Essay Competition – Prize Giving Remarks

To conclude this part of the evening, we have an important task.  We often reflect on the parallels in the historical narrative of Ireland and Korea.  We think about contemporary influences less so.

Thanks to the IAK, working with the Embassy, I can tell you about a new initiative that inspires just that.

Towards the end of last year the Irish Association and the Embassy announced the inaugural Irish-Korean Essay Competition for university students in Korea.

One of the challenges we face as a small country positioned on the far side of Europe is simply increasing knowledge of Ireland amongst Korean students and highlighting Ireland as a leading location for study abroad. This competition was designed to do just that by asking third level students to write an essay on the broad topic of connections between Korea and Ireland.

We were delighted with the results. Over 100 entries were received and each one of them gave us a valuable insight into how Ireland is viewed from Korea and indeed what information is available about Ireland to Koreans.

From comparisons between the stone walls of Jeju Island and the Aran Islands to the author who conducted an online survey of knowledge about Ireland among his or her friends, the essays were imaginative, informative and of an exceptionally high standard. 

It was a tough task to narrow down the winners.  As one of the judges, I can attest to that! But after a short list was put together by the Irish Association, the final panel of judges came to agreement. Most of the winners, I’m pleased to say, are with us here this evening.

 5th prize winner: We have five prizes to award, starting with Ms Yun Chae Young, who wrote on Freedom, Creativity and Harmony-that Korea Should Learn: Irish Street Arts and Culture.

I loved this essay. Ms Yun’s descriptions of the buskers and street performers of Ireland are truly evocative and made me miss home! In one particularly poignant scene she describes seeing a picture of an old man teaching the harmonica to a young girl at the world Fleadh in a relaxed meeting between old and young.  I’d like to invite Ms Yun up to the stage to receive her certificate, some reading and a voucher to spend on a few more books to keep up her interest in culture.

Ms Yun, I do hope that you continue your interest in Irish culture – maybe at some stage Seoul will host an event like the Street Performance World Festival which has brought much excitement to Dublin and Cork over the past couple of years.

 The winner of fourth prize wrote a piece that reflects on the complementary traditions of waking the dead in Korea and Ireland. Ms Nam Ji Hyun who wrote on The Wake’: A Window for Viewing Ireland and Korea, spoke of the festive funeral: when the relatives and friends of the person who has died can share a meal and a drink to celebrate their life and ease their passing. Ms Nam is unfortunately unable to be here this evening but we will make sure her prize and certificate gets to her.

Third prize goes to Ms Choi Min Jeong for her essay: Exclusion and Revival of the Indigenous Language of Ireland and Korea.  Many of the essays we received referred to the shared histories of Korea and Ireland as colonies of a neighbouring power. No other essayist drew on the social, historical and cultural circumstances and similarities in such a critical and thematic manner.

Ms Choi’s decision to focus on the manipulation of language, both by coloniser and colonised, marked her out as dedicated student of post-colonial literature as well as very well informed on the histories and cultures of our respective countries.

It gives me great pleasure to ask Ms Choi to join me and receive her prize of a book voucher of 250,000 Won and some additional reading. I have no doubt that you have many books you have your eye on and the voucher will be well spent.

Now we come to the final two prizes.

Both these essays are particularly strong but ultimately we had to choose a winner, and so second prize goes to Ms Paek Jung Won for How Korean Women may learn from Irish Women.

The issue of gender equality is a work in process across the globe. I do not think that any country, including our own, can claim to have got it right yet. Discussing the issue openly is absolutely critical to making progress.  It takes courage and conviction to do this. Ms Paek has used the space provided by this competition to speak about the situation in Korea.

Ms Paek recognises that whilst the government sector should facilitate and encourage change, Korean women must challenge the status quo. If I could invite Ms Paek up to the stage to receive her certificate, her reading and cash prize of 1million Won.

Before you step down I must tell everyone that Ms Paek was influenced in her writing by Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times. I am delighted to say that Mr O’Toole has sent her a message of congratulations – He says:

“ Warmest congratulations on your splendid essay.

Real friendship between countries is not just a matter of polite expressions of mutual regard. It is about the capacity to learn from each other’s experiences. Perhaps even more importantly, it is about the way comparisons help us to understand, not just the other culture, but our own.

Your essay is a fine example of these ideas at work. Korea and Ireland do indeed share important experiences as small countries overcoming underdevelopment, coping with the legacy of conflict and seeking to balance change with identity. Korea’s successes can give hope to Irish people in our current difficulties. It is lovely to know from your essay that a young Korean woman can find some inspiration in the courage and strength of the Irish women who have fought for equality and respect. If all Korean women have the insight and passion you show in your essay, you will be a formidable force for change.

Warmest regards,

Fintan O’Toole”

Finally, we come to our winner. Ms Ro Seong Ja, who wrote a beautiful and imaginative essay named Barley – A Story of Resilience. 

Ms Ro weaves a tale of the personal and the national experiences of both Ireland and Korea and brings a new perspective to the relationship between the countries. She begins with the smell of malted barley in the air around the Guinness Brewery in Dublin and then moves to her grandmother’s kitchen in Korea where the same smell comes from the Me-jew: bricks of boiled barley and soy beans which form the basis of Korean sauces.

I had not realised how integral barely was to both of our nations.  Our national drinks – Soju and Whiskey, share this as a main ingredient. As Ms Ro tells us, we both have used barley in times of need – in Korea to get through the lean season and in Ireland as a hardy supplement during famines.  It was also a handy food for the rebels of 1798.  Our Noble Laureate, Séamus Heaney, wrote inspiringly of the dead rebels lying in the fields, the barley in their pockets eventually springing to life.  Our songs too often sing of wind-swept barley.  It now seems to me that simple barley is a redolent symbolic and cultural connection between Ireland and Korea.

Unfortunately, Ms Ro cannot be here this evening as she is currently studying in France but her sister has come to collect her prize on her behalf.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Emerald Cultural Institute, one of Ireland’s top class language institutes she will spend a month studying English in Ireland, at I may say an extremely advanced level. She will also receive 2 million Won to facilitate her stay in Ireland. I am delighted to be able to give this prize to you as Ms Ro’s representative.

My thanks to the Irish Association of Korea and to the Emerald Cultural Institute for making this competition possible. We hope that it will run successfully for many years into the future.

The fact that all five finalists were female shows the essay competition to be at least one area where women are actually ahead.  My only hope, in the interests of gender equality, is that next year a man might make it into the final five. I hope Korean men are up to the challenger.  Maybe we could have a man write in support of gender issues!

 Thank you and Happy St Patrick’s Day.

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An Intensive Itinerary as the Tánaiste comes to Seoul

For any Embassy, the visit of a member of the Government is an exciting prospect, a logistical challenge, a collaboration with the local Irish community, an opportunity to strengthen bi-lateral relations, a blitz of events that go by in a flash and when its over satisfaction on a job well done.  Most Irish Embassies are small, as is the Mission in Seoul, so a high-level visit requires team-work, long hours and dedication. Above all, there is great pride in representing Ireland in such a high-profile way.  There is simply no substitute for such visits in opening doors and deepening the bilateral relationship.  High-level visits are a highlight in the history of an Embassy and one’s own posting.  As you can see, this visit included the first time we broached the idea of sharing lessons on Ireland’s North-South cooperation.

Ambassador’s Message – The Tánaiste’s Visit to Seoul

17 October 2011

I thought you might be interested in an overview of the visit of the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D., to Korea last Friday.  The visit helped to advance bilateral relations, promote trade and showcase Ireland and the Irish community abroad.  I have set out the highlights below of his Korea visit (which followed his visit to Japan the previous day). 

The community here did an immense job in hosting both the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum and the Asian Gaelic Games in Suwon.  The days events mark a new plateau for the Irish community here, one on which we can develop and build.  I also want to commend my colleagues from around the region who presented at the Forum, discussed Irish promotion with the Tánaiste and attended the Games in support of the teams from their countries.

In case you have not seen it, the visit was covered by the Irish Times ( ) I quote:

Mr Gilmore encouraged Asian firms to look at Ireland as their gateway to Europe. “We will have a greater ministerial presence in Asia and we will increase the number of visits. We intend to have a much greater political presence in Asia,” he said, adding that he came away from the forum “invigorated and inspired”.

The Tánaiste’s itinerary began at the Grand Hyatt Hotel with a briefing over breakfast with the Department’s Trade Promotion Director and me, followed by press interviews.  After a meeting with the attending Irish Ambassadors from around the region to review trade promotion in Asia, the Tánaiste addressed the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum (text on the Embassy’s website at ) and afterwards held an interactive discussion with the delegates at the Hyatt’s Regency room.  Tánaiste Gilmore then attended a networking event of Irish Korean business and reception hosted by Enterprise Ireland at the Plaza Hotel. 

A walk across the road to the Westin Chosen brought him to his next event, a luncheon meeting with leading members of the Seoul Finance Forum where the discussion focused on promoting Irish Financial Services and Asian views of the Eurozone crisis.  After a short trip up the road, the Tánaiste held a meeting at the Embassy with the heads of the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the UN High Commission for Refugees to discuss their work and programmes in the DPRK.  When that concluded, the Tánaiste met with the Minister for Unification, Minister Yu woo-ik at Government buildings.  The issues discussed at the meeting included North South relations on the Korean peninsula and cooperation on lesson sharing on cross-border cooperation based on our experience in the Northern Ireland peace process. 

Tánaiste Gilmore then visited Columban House to meet with the Columban Order Fathers and Sisters and Capuchin Order where he paid tribute to their contribution to Ireland’s reputation through their pastoral and caring work in Korea.  With tea, biscuits and chat over who came from where and who know who, it was a lovely Irish interlude.  The Tánaiste then travelled to MOFAT for a meeting with Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Min Dong-seok.  The issues discussed included the very successful visit of President Lee to the US and the ratification of the US Korea FTA, the implementation the EU-Korea FTA and market access for Irish beef, and strengthening bi-lateral relations.

On the way to Suwon, the Tánaiste stopped at the W Hotel to meet with Cuisine Director Ciarán Hickey, who has been a great help to the Embassy, most recently advising on the promotion of Irish food and beverage in the context of the EU-Korea FTA. Inevitably Ciarán treated the delegation to exquisite samples of his culinary skills, skills he has inculcated into his excellent team there. 

At Suwon, the Tánaiste joined Christy Cooney, President of the GAA and other leading GAA officials, to welcome the 500-odd players, relatives and guests of the Asian Gaelic Games.  After his address, Tánaiste Gilmore officially declared the Games open and was delighted to conclude his Suwon visit by meeting the guests and being photographed with some of the teams attending.  The day concluded with a debriefing on return to the Grand Hyatt.  The following morning and just prior to his departure, the Tánaiste was given a guided tour of Gyeongbuk Palace for a sense of Korean culture, traditional architecture and history.

The travel arrangements were greatly helped by the assistance of the Korean Ministry for Foreign Affairs, helping to ensure that we kept to our busy schedule.  Many thanks indeed.

If the Tánaiste was inspired and invigorated by his trip to Korea, I think it is fair to say that Korean Irish relations and the Irish community were too.  It affirmed the Government’s commitment to doing business in Asia and to working closely with the Irish abroad.  The visit was certainly a privilege for all of us at the Embassy in hosting the Tánaiste and it will certainly rank as one of my personal highlights en poste here.  Thanks to all the staff who worked exceptionally hard, including my Deputy Ruth Parkin who though only arrived weeks ago, threw herself into the myriad details and demands with gusto and aplomb. 

With best wishes,



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James Joyce Conference, November 2010, Seoul

One of the duties of being an Ambassador is public speaking at events that can vary widely from receptions to commemorative events, from universities talks to conference speeches with as much variation in topics as locations.  I realise now that the majority of such engagements, certainly those at universities, involved power-point presentations and no script.  On occasion, however, a script was required.  Once such occasion was a Conference convened by the James Joyce Society of Korea which I was asked to open with some remarks.

‘Joyce and the Sense of Place’

Dr Eamonn McKee

I am delighted to be here to offer congratulatory remarks.  I would like to pay a special tribute to the James Joyce Society of Korea and to its president Professor Yi Jong-il, and to thank Sejong University for sponsoring this Conference.

The theme of this Conference, ‘a sense of place’ in Joyce, is a wonderful concept to discuss in Seoul.  I say wonderful because Seoul is profoundly removed in place, time and culture from Joyce’s Dublin.  Seoul is some five thousand miles from the locus of Joyce’s creative oeuvre.  There is little if any recorded Confucian influence in his Dublin.  There should be little resonance between the theme and the location of your discussions.  And yet we know that this will not be case.

In considering this paradox, we should bring Joyce’s Dublin into some focus.  He wrote of a particular place.  He wrote of its many dimensions.  Its physical form as the mouth of a river, the bay as the city’s palette, its peninsular and titular Howth head; its salty-aired beaches crunching underfoot.  “The ineluctable modality of the visible”:  What greater compression of the limits of metaphysical speculation have ever been uttered, a phrase that convinced Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Co that Ulysses must be published.  Can any of us say that we walk along a beach without thinking from time to time of Dedalaus on Sandymount Beach and his spontaneous existential axiom?  Joyce is doing here what he does repeatedly which is to intersect the interior monologue, that constant rapping of the conscious and semi-conscious brain, with the exterior environment, the spice and catalyst to thought itself.

Dublin as a city is a visible entity in Joyce, beginning with the stair head in the Martello tower and the emergence of Buck Mulligan, theatrically in his entrance as much as his self-conscious gesture rendered pompous in the telling.  Joyce proceeds to explore this city, to allow it to plot his narrative as the city streets channel his characters into rendezvous’ and unexpected encounters that shape their day and their thoughts.  Those streets are a palimpsest of Dublin’s history.

Dublin began as a settlement by Vikings who brought roads, coins and urban life to Gaelic Ireland.    Dublin was part beach-head for their violent but partial invasion that would ultimately be quashed by the native Gaels.  The power of the Vikings was broken in the eleventh century but their city remained, expanded from its origin on the banks of the river Liffey.  If the Gaels were an oral culture steeped in pastoralism and cattle raiding now they had a concentrated habitat in which to adapt it.

From this locus at the black pool in its centre, medieval Dublin expands its warren of streets, within the city walls and then outside to the Liberties, the heart of later working class Dublin and its native street culture.

North and south from this centre, some centuries later, the Anglo-Irish gentry found space to express the architectural theories of the Georgian era with their concern for proportions, patterns and symmetries.  Gorgeous streets of elegant redbrick homes were created, urban homes for the landed gentry to enjoy city life and the politics of the Irish parliament situated across the road from Trinity College.  The parliament was the focus of political intrigue but its wealthy habitués provided the motive for the craftsmen to serve their needs for silverware, lace, fine leather and tailoring.

In the tumult of Irish history, the parliament would be abolished and dismantled by the Act of Union in 1801.  With it many of the aristocracy left too to take their places in Westminster, reputedly well paid by British officials for abrogating their own local democracy.  According to legend they left their books behind, intellectual fodder for the poor who flocked to live packed tight into Georgian homes destined to become slums for the urban poor and settings for some of our greatest drama.  Thus was born the depth of the Irish demotic vocabulary and the inability to properly use it at times, immortalised by Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop and a host of Irish dramatic and pantomime characters.

Dublin Castle may not resonate with the symbolic power of its French sister, the Bastille, but it served the same function: an intimidating centre for the alien power to dominate the local populace, part official hub, part barracks and part station for the secret police and their agents.  For Dublin was a garrison city and had never lost its role as the beach-head for imperial control, from the Vikings and Normans through to the Tudors and New English.  British control might ebb and flow across the island but it never lost it grip on the city and its immediate environs, known as the pale.

Those responsible for imperial control had to look inward to those conspiring in sedition and outside to forces that saw Ireland as a potential weak spot in Britain’s defences.  In the 16th century this would have been Spain.  For the late 18th and early 19th centuries it was the French.  To warn if the blue, white and red tricolour was spotted near the coasts, a serious of stubby towers were built around to serve as observation and signal towers (though not along the northeast coast for obvious reasons).  They were dubbed Martello towers because their structure and function were copied from a tower at Mortella Point in Corsica.  By Joyce’s time their military function had ceased and the Martello tower at Sandymount, in private hands by then, became the setting for Ulysses’ opening chapter.

The towers may have been defunct but the British Army remained and with it the oldest profession that every army is content to support.  In his wanderings around the city, Joyce would encounter theses professional ladies, encounters that would open a new layer of intimacy with Dublin’s nightlife.  And perhaps these encounters laid the thought that life is shaped by the mysteries of chance and the hazards of the street.

Dublin was of course a garrison town because Ireland was simultaneously a part of the British Empire in which the Protestant gentry and professional classes took pride and simultaneously in the eyes of the Catholic nationalist majority, an occupied country.  If the Great Famine of 1845-51 had dealt a fatal blow to the Gaelic peasant class, rebellion continued to foment in the ranks of the emerging Catholic middle class, for most a political rebellion was imagined, for some a violent one.  Indeed the “ Irish question” dominated much of public discourse and probably much of its private conversations too.  The national question made demands for definitions of identity, allegiance and purpose, adding a new problematic layer to the demands of being middle-class in a pyramidal society where honoured places were reserved for the Protestant gentry and those enforcing British.  Gabriel Conroy’s awkwardness and his strained encounter with Ms Ivors in The Dead intersect and dissect these conflicts and their deadening effect on personal freedom and autonomy.  Like his archangel’s namesake, he is there to announce the tumult and climax of the coming political and military conflicts.

By 1904 Dublin too was part of a wider western society perched between the old and the modern.  It was a city of horses and gas-lamps, of carriages and carts, hawkers and stevedores, lords and ladies.  Soon it would become a city of cars and electricity, phones and radios; a city for the triumphant Catholic middle class.  My own grandfather would be born in a time of horse and candlelight, live in Joyce’s Dublin but die some ninety nine years later in a world of space travel, computers and pervasive bourgeoisie culture.  Modernity and the painful sweeping away of history’s legacy during the 1914-18 war were but a decade away from Bloomsday.  Joyce was recording a life and a Dublin that was nearing its end.

Joyce saw clearly that Dublin mixed many classes, backgrounds, perspectives, cultures, fears, hopes and ambitions in a comfortable knowing proximity within its confines and spaces.  But shot through this daily commerce, sampled by all the characters in Ulysses on one unremarkable day, historical forces were at work driving towards an unknown but very different future.  Positions would have to be taken on the national question, allegiances declared, dark deeds done – all the very antithesis of artistic and intellectual freedom.  Joyce would leave his Dublin because the freedom and variety it comprised could not survive the coming storm.  It has been often noted that Joyce never went back to Dublin.  Of course he could not have gone back to his Dublin.  Ireland after independence in 1922 loses most of its social and intellectual strands, save those that were nationalist and catholic.

On the canvas of Dublin’s streetscape, Joyce then created the most sentient living characters know to literature.  It was Joyce’s genius to see, describe and navigate the layers of history that Dublin represented in its streets, its environs, and its people as they circulated it and each other.  He invoked the sounds, smells and rhythms of the city’s life.  Joyce’s use of Dublin’s topography to minutely trace his plots and narratives is in fact inseparable from his art.  Above all in Ulysses he constructs character and place as inseparable.  (It is interesting to note that his acolyte Samuel Beckett distinguishes his art by defacing landscape and setting of any identifying marks; even the tree in Waiting for Godot was but a means of marking the season’s passing.)

The very dynamic for each character of that lived day on 16 June 1904 is designed by the happenstance of the road taken, the encounter chanced-upon, the glimpse of façade or activity that promotes the thoughts and sentiments of its unlikely everyday heroes.

And by this alchemy of people and place, he seemed to decode in the written word the very DNA of thought itself. Between people and place, the brain’s synapses shoot between random thoughts, memories, evocations and subliminal instincts.

So as we follow those roads, and glimpse those sights, we may read mere words but we are drawn into experiencing the interior thoughts of what become for us real people, at one defined and ineffable, a compendium of memories, tastes and the happenstance of experience.

Hence the paradox of the global appeal of so located a writer as James Joyce.

Joyce was a writer who knew that for all of us, the universal was found in the local, mankind most closely encountered in those people closest to us and the world known in its purest form in the places we know best.

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

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Ireland in Korea in Three Easy Pieces

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 ( 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,




Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

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Sister Ger Ryan, Mokpo, South Korea

Ambassador’s Message – Sister Gerardine Ryan in Mokpo

3 May 2011

Recently I travelled to Mokpo, in the southwest, Jeollam-do. The province has historically been one of the poorest and consequently restive.  Yong Am gun on the outskirts of Mokpo city has a major ship-building company working there but absent that there are precious few industries. Fishing and agriculture are important: No surprise then that many of the young leave for the bright lights of Busan and Seoul.

Some thirty- six years ago, Sister Gerardine of the Columban Order arrived to help with a mission to provide health care for the poor of the area and its many islands. The Columban sisteres started medical work in Mokpo when they first arived in 1955. Gradually answering the medical needs of the time they eventually built a large hospital of four hundred beds on a hill in the city, offering medical care to many and providing a sub-economy in the vicinity. In the 1990 the hospital was handed over to the diocese, but a series of management missteps tragically led to its closure and demolition.

 By this stage, Sr. Gerardine had devoted her attention to adults with special needs. Those mentally and physically handicapped encounter problems in all societies. Confucianism, with its emphasis on an ideally ordered and harmonious family, influenced by Buddhism’s notion of reincarnation and inter-generational reward and punishment, means that those with special needs face particular difficulties here, especially in rural areas where traditional beliefs persist more strongly.

My first stop was at Myongdo Child Care Centre.  ‘Myongdo’ translates as ‘the bright way’, capturing the sense that special needs people can and should realise their potential and live as independently as possible. Some 89 special needs children with ages ranging from 8 months to 11 years of age are looked after there with trained educational specialists and therapists. The facilities are first class and the environment stimulating and caring.

Next stop was the Myongdo Work shop where 40 adult men and women engage in making bread, manufacturing washing soap and soap powder, and undertaking various contract work from factories. They earn a salary from the monies generated through these workshop activities. I asked how on earth Sister Geraldine came up with the idea of making soap. She casually said she had seen it somewhere and gave it a go with some buckets and ladles, eventually getting the technique right and investing in two machines.

Both the Child Care Centre and Workshop were made possible with the help and continuing support of the British Association of Seoul and indeed the British Embassy. BASS are also supporting a residential house in Mokpo which Sr Gerardine is building to allow special needs adults live in the community, a project inspired by a similar venture in Germany. The house is largely complete but needs finishing work internally which will be undertaken when funding is found.

Our final stop was the Sister’s headquarters essentially, Myongdo Welfare Centre. On a daily basis, some 150 people of varying ages with various disabilities avail of the many programs offered at the centre from early intervention education to work shop and pre-employment training, to day- care facilities for the more profoundly challenged persons. The Centre also has a respite facility which offers temporary accommodation to special needs people allowing parents a break and enabling them to attend functions together or get away on holidays. Alteratively it offers shelter to the special needs person in crisis family situations.

With outreach from this centre, there are 250 persons in open employment in various factories, restaurants, launderettes, car washes, ceramic making factories and so on in the city and outer city areas in the vicinity. Sr Geraldine also has a home care team of 5 staff who have 350 families of persons with disabilities in their care.

Sporting events, hiking and excursions are organised for weekends to provide leisure activities and social integration for these people. She explained that many of these people do not know how to enjoy recreational times and that parents worry about allowing them out on their own.

Sr Gerardine has some 90 full time staff and 120 part-time. The many lives bettered immeasurably and potential realised by special needs children and adults through this work runs into the many hundreds. You don’t have to have faith or religion to admire the caring facilities that one woman, with the help of so many people, has built, working now as a lone religious, far in time and space from her native Limerick and the farm she left almost four decades ago. What she can continue to do and indeed improve on depends very much on voluntary funds.

 Donations can be made via the following bank account:

 St. Columban’s social Welfare Corporation. 성골롬반사희복지법인

Bank. Nyong Hup 농협 689ㅡ01ㅡ171908

 Best wishes,




Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

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Daring and Visionary: Fr. P.J. McGlinchey, Jeju Island Korea

Ambassador’s Message – Fr P.J. McGlinchey in Jeju

9 September 2011

 Approaching Jeju City, the main port and town of Jeju island, one could see the town on the low slopes, virtually every building a one story thatched building.  The only slate roof belonged to the school.  There was no running water and electricity was only being introduced.  The poverty was intense and pervasive.  This too was a society traumatised by extreme violence.  Perhaps as many as 30,000 of the 250,000 inhabitants had been massacred in the 1948-49 anti-communist campaign. As part of the security operation, some 70% of the villages in the mountainous interior were destroyed and their inhabitants driven to live on the coast. 

It was into this dire circumstance that Fr P.J. McGlinchey, of the Irish missionary Columban Order, stepped from the ferry in 1954. The Korean War had just come to a close.  He was a striking figure, six foot tall with tousled brown hair and a handsome Irish face. While driven by his sense of spiritual mission, Fr P.J. was also an intensely practical man – the two characteristics that the Columban Order looked for in priests and nuns since its origins in 1916.  Aside from pastoral care, he took stock of the appalling privations and began a life devoted to employment projects: manufacturing and agricultural undertakings that offered work, skill development and hope to the inhabitants.

Today, when you arrive at Jeju International Airport, it is very difficult to connect what you see with the island that greeted Fr McGlinchey on his arrival.  Its busy airport, well-developed roads, fine hotels and a host of golf clubs, combined with the island’s natural beauty, encourages some 6 million visitors to come each year, boosting employment, public income and of course land values.

By the time of my visit to Jeju, Fr McGlinchey had retired some months earlier.  My wife and I were accompanied by the new chairman of the Isidore Development Association, Fr Michael Riordan.  I would meet Fr McGlinchey at the close of the day.  Michael is a burly bearded Dublin man, a veterinary doctor by training.   Richard Troughton, from Northern Ireland, runs the stud farm there and is not only passionate about horses but about encouraging links through the horse industry with Ireland. 

St Isidore’s has an impressively large dairy and stud farm, which evolved from Fr McGlinchey’s early importation of cattle, pigs and sheep to help the stock and livelihood of the Jeju farmers.  Of course, the farm and related business is only a means to an end.  Nearby is the old folks home, St Isidore Nursing Home, catering for about 85 people some of whom are bedridden.  Down the road is the St Isidore Hospice which can cater for up to 23 patients.  The nursing home is supported by the government and the hospice is supported wholly by donations and from income from the profit making Isidore activities – the feed mill and the farm.  Both these welfare facilities are run by the Holy Family Sisters – a group formed in Korea by a Paris Foreign Missionary priest.  The St. Isidore kindergarten caters for nearly 100 kids – more than the local primary school. The St. Isidore Youth Centre is run by six Salesian Sisters and a lay staff. They cater for over 18,000 young people every year. They run mainly human development programmes which last for two or three days at a time.

Aside from doing business to fund care facilities, St Isdore Farm also hosts a Retreat Centre, run by lay staff and three Benedictine sisters.  There is also the Trinity Church which can host 4,000 people at its liturgies; the church is in the shape of a Celtic cross and in impressive edifice at that. There are also nineteen contemplative Sisters of St Claire in the parish.  Each year nearly 4,000 people come from the mainland and about 2,500 Jejuites use the retreat facilities.   There is also a place of pilgrimage referred to as the Hill of Grace which has life sized figures depicting various events in the life of Christ.  From there you wend your way over gentle slopes and woods through the Stations of the Cross, peopled by life-sized and quite striking bronze statues in settings of either natural wood or more elaborate sets of marble and stone.  All of the statues were created and caste by a Korean artist, Park Chang Hoon (John). 

By the time we got to the natural contemplative lake, twilight was falling.  Michael accompanied my wife and me to meet Fr McGlinchey.  We were worn out just walking around the Isidore enterprises and undertakings but here he was, after a life of struggle and hard work, benign and welcoming.  You could still see in his frame and charisma the younger man who had come to Jeju, a very different place, almost sixty years ago.  In his modest office, surrounded by a life-time of mementos, he showed us a surviving example of the blanket his textile factory had produced, modelled on Donegal tweed.  The business eventually closed due to competition but over four decades had given employment to some 1,700 Jeju women when jobs on the island were few and far between. 

More recently, I visited Happy Valley, some forty minutes north of Seoul, in the company of Andrew Salmon, an expert on the Korean War, and Tom Coyner of the Irish Association of Korea.  In January 1951, it was far from a happy place for the Royal Ulster Rifles and Royal Irish Hussars.  While pulling back from a Chinese counter offensive moving toward Seoul, they found themselves overrun, struggling to evacuate along a frozen river under fire, tragically and mistakenly illuminated against the ice and snow by flairs dropped from an American plane.  As Andrew Salmon told me, more Irish blood was shed here than in any other place during the war.  He is best placed to know as the author of To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951 (Aurum Press, London, 2009) and Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950 (Aurum Press, London, 2011).  [Check out his website and blog at ]  Many of the 130 Irish who died with the Royal Ulster Rifles during the War met their end here.  No monument marks the spot but some exploratory discussions to that end are underway.  Another 29 Irish died fighting with US forces during the war, not to mention countless first generation Irish Americans.

The Irish contribution to the Korea War, like the work of Irish missionaries to Korean society is, for the most part, unsung and unknown.  However, I am delighted to say that the Royal Irish Academy has agreed in principle to publish a history of the Irish in Korea.  We are only at the outset of the project, with many challenges ahead, including fundraising for the research.  However, in addition to retrieving and recording the contribution of the Irish, it will be an important work that will strengthen and deepen Irish Korean relations.

In the meantime, at this thanksgiving weekend, we can spare a thought for the many Irish who have made a noble and distinctive contribution to Korea.  For more information on the story of the Irish here, check out our brief survey at the Embassy website under the heading ‘Relations between Ireland and South Korea’ ( ). 



Eamonn McKee


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Columban Sisters in Korea

Ambassador’s Message – The Columban Sisters in Korea 

11 March 2010

 As we celebrate our National Day, it is appropriate we recall the contribution of the Irish to Korea.  Our Embassy website has information on much of this and if anyone can add to it please contact us.

 I asked Sister Teresa of the Columban Sister’s here for a brief account of their work in Korea and she kindly provided the summary below.  For those of us new to this country, it is hard to make the imaginative leap back to what it must have been like in the 1955, just two years after the war’s end and the awful destruction which had been visited on the peninsula as the war front chewed its way back and forth. 

 As with the Columban Fathers who had come before them, they brought compassion and assistance to a people in real need.  And when the time came, they conveyed ownership of their achievements to the people of Korea.  Today, they continue their work with those in need of help and support.

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 The Columban Sisters in Korea

 Mokpo Project

 The story of the Columban Sisters in Korea began on 23 June 1954 when Columban Father Harold Henry, Pro-Prefect of the Prefecture of Gwangju, Cholla Province, wrote to the then Superior General of the Columban Sisters, Mother Mary Vianney Shackleton, requesting Sisters to open a hospital in Mokpo, 400km south west of Seoul. At that time there was great need for medical facilities in Mokpo, a port city, with a population, at that time, of 150,000 people, many of whom were still suffering from the after-effects of Korean War 1950-1953. It catered to 288 inhabited islands off the coast.

 On 17 January 1955 four pioneer Sisters arrived in Mokpo. Their first task was to study the Korean language. Every afternoon they sorted medicine and clothing for the sick poor and prepared for the opening of the outpatient clinic. From their walks around the neighbourhood they became aware of the urgent needs of the sick poor and they were anxious to do something to alleviate their suffering. They used a small Korean house as a temporary clinic until the new clinic was opened on 5 July 1955.

 Meantime, the number of patients attending the clinic began to grow and it became obvious that a hospital was urgently needed to cater for inpatient care. On 20 January 1957, St. Columban’s Hospital was opened. As the number of patients continued to grow the need for nursing staff also grew. It became apparent that the only way to provide nursing staff was to train their own staff. The Sisters decided to build a new hospital and refurbish the existing buildings and land to the Columban Sisters’ nursing school corporation. The nursing school was started on 3 March 1967 and a new 150-bed hospital began to receive patients on 25 March 1968.

 The Sisters also inaugurated training programmes for X-Ray and laboratory technicians which remained in operation until the need was met locally. In the late 70’s state approved maternity training was introduced and in 1979 an intern programme was launched for medical students. By 1980 the nursing school was upgraded to a Junior Nursing College and had an annual intake of 80 students.

Other services which complemented the work in the hospital included: the implementation of a full-time home care service, the teaching of Natural Family Planning methods, the employment of a full time Catechist and a social worker.

From 1955 the Columban Sisters were touched not only by the needs of the sick poor but also by the sweeping changes that became part of living in Korea with the onset of a developing democracy in the late 1980’s. As a result of economic prosperity medical facilities expanded and medical personnel increased. As missionaries and in line with our charism we were drawn to look at how the ministry in the hospital had developed over a period of 30 years.

We felt truly blessed and privileged to have witnessed to the changes that had taken place, the people who had touched our lives and the people we had touched. The whole new reality led us to look at our mission in the hospital and nursing college. After much discernment and dialogue the time seemed opportune to pass on the responsibility to the local Church. The negotiations and preparations to hand-over the entire mission as a free gift to the Archdiocese of Gwangju were completed on the 10 February 1990.

As Columban Sisters we had already found ways to care for life in new and creative, inclusive and relational ways. This meant walking in solidarity with the poor by being sensitive to justice and peace issues, recognizing the equality and dignity of women and care of the earth. Our ways of being in mission were/are also shaped by various dialogues – with culture, religions, with the poor those suffering from exploitation including people with: Hansen’s disease, literacy needs, Learning Difficulties and HIV Aids, as well as Migrant Workers, Women who are Trafficked for the Sex Industry, people who are terminally ill, the elderly as well as the sick poor.

Another aspect of our mission today is that while we are small in number we witness to the call of mission in the Church. This is evident in the fact that Columban missionaries are numbered among Korean missionaries throughout the world, in the fledgling mission sending Church.    

St. Columban’s Clinic, Chuncheon was established in November 1955

Myongdo Services for People with Learning Difficulties and St. Mary’s Home for single mothers and abused women were established in Mokpo in the late 1980’s.

St. Columban’s Home Geodu-ri, Cuncheon City was established on the 25 March 

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