Category Archives: Korea

Irish Korean North South Lesson Sharing

In Korea, a much discussed example of unification was and remains the “Berlin” model.  As one scenario and a contingency, it has generated a lot of discussion, comparison and analysis amongst Korean academics, officials and commentators. The Irish model, alternatively, is based on the premise of two jurisdictions continuing to exist until there is agreement otherwise, recognizing each other’s legitimacy and aspirations, and agreeing to formal intergovernmental North South structures working on a programme of cooperation.  The message below summarizes the visit of the delegation from the North South Ministerial Council.  Subsequently, the German Ambassador, HE Rolf Mafael, and I made a joint presentation of both models to the Asia Society of Korea.

Ambassador’s Message – North South Lesson Sharing

23 October 2012

As you may have seen in some media coverage, the Embassy hosted a North-South lesson-sharing visit by a delegation from Ireland last week.  This project began in discussions between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and the Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik this time last year.

How to characterise the visit?  I would say stimulating, informative, revealing and affirmative.  Perhaps the most important description is ‘affirmative’ in that the visit affirmed the value of sharing lessons and exchanging views with our Korean counterparts.

This was partly because of commonalities such as our shared colonial history, partition, the generation of conflict and aspirations for unity.  But importantly it was affirmative too for what was not held in common; for example the absence of internationally binding agreements embracing all issues and relationships or of inter-governmental mechanisms for managing escalating tensions and unexpected events or actions.  While the equations of identity are different, exploring our differences helped illuminate the nature of national identity and the nature of aspirations about the future.  The news of the Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 was a useful entry point into these discussions.

The focus of the visit was on the North South Ministerial Council, the work of its Secretariat and the purpose and activities of two of the six specialised North-South bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement.

The delegation comprised Mary Bunting, Northern Ireland Joint Secretary of the North-South Ministerial Council, my colleague Margaret Stanley, Southern Deputy Joint Secretary, Pat Colgan of the Special EU Peace Programmes Body and Thomas Hunter McGowan (CEO) and Aidan Gough (Director for Strategy) of Inter-Trade Ireland.

Our counterparts were senior officials from the Ministry of Unification and members of the Korean Institute for National Unification.  In addition to presentations on their areas of work by the delegation, I gave an introductory presentation on the peace process focusing on intergovernmental cooperation since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and the historic settlement of 1998.  At the end of their visit, the delegation briefed a group of interested Ambassadors on their views and impressions of the exercise.

In the question and answer sessions, several themes and topics emerged.  These included approaches to unity and cross-border cooperation; the nature of national identity, territory and consent; negotiations, trust and the role of the US; security; dealing with the past; sustainability of peace building; power-sharing; and mechanisms for intergovernmental cooperation.

Two particular issues of interest garnered much attention.  One was the sheer patience required and the time spans involved – the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985; the Hume-Adams dialogue 1988; the IRA ceasefire 1994; the Good Friday Agreement 1998; decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the establishment of a stable power-sharing 2007; the first meeting two weeks ago of the North-South inter-parliamentary forum.  The other was the delicate and complex nature of North-South relations that are the heart of the historic settlement of 1998.  For the officials involved in the NSMC Secretariat and the North-South bodies, this is a daily reality given that what are in themselves mundane matters become highly political in the nationalist-unionist force-field.

The delegation visited the DMZ, including observing the crossing into Kaesong, the 3rd tunnel, the Joint Security Area and the observation platform.  I think it is fair to say that they found it both impressive and sad that such mighty infrastructure divided one people.

While all conflicts are different in origin and character, peace-building solutions share many common features; a commitment not to use violence or the threat of violence to influence negotiations; a resilient inter-governmental process that can withstand and manage unexpected events; comprehensive talks under independent chairmanship; agreed outcomes established through binding treaties; supporting input from regional partners and the international community; effective and monitored implementation.

I would like to thank the members of the delegation for their presentations and the candour of their engagement.  Indeed, the joint nature of our delegation itself illustrated how far we have travelled in our own journey to peace and reconciliation.  I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful hospitality of our hosts at the Ministry of Unification and the serious engagement of our interlocutors throughout the visit.  I am very hopeful that this lesson-sharing exchange is just the first of many.

Best wishes,


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A Visit to the DPRK

Ireland established diplomatic relations with North Korea in January 2004 during the rapprochement between the RoK and DPRK under the Sunshine Policy.  Ireland’s main engagement with the DPRK is the provision of funding by Irish Aid: reviewing the programmes run by the World Food Programme and Irish NGO Concern there forms a key part of visits by the Embassy.  After meetings with DPRK officials, we have a chance to travel outside of Pyongyang.  Getting to Pyongyang is not easy: diplomats cannot cross the border at the DMZ so we have to fly to Beijing and then catch a plane to Pyongyang.  Support by Irish Aid continues this year (2013) with a direct contribution to the WFP of €250,000, in addition to funding to Concern and to Emergency Funds like the UN’s CERF which the WFP accesses.

Ambassador’s Message – DPRK Visit

25 May 2012

I thought you might be interested in my visit last week to the DPRK to which I am accredited as Ambassador.  My wife Mary accompanied me.   Pyongyang, the capital and showcase city, looked well in the May sunshine, manicured and spruced up with particular attention because of the 15th April centennial celebration of the birth of Kim Il-sung.  There were plenty of cars in evidence, a bustle about the streets adjacent to our hotel, mobile phones in use and fashionable accessories to be seen.

 We were particularly interested to get outside the city to see the countryside immediately to the north and to the south of the capital and we able to do so thanks to the World Food Programme (WFP) and our own NGO, Concern, which is operating EU programmes there.


To reach the WFP project, we drove north from Pyongyang to Phyongsong city.  The fields were busy with people actively planting rice or tilling fields.  Despite intensive cultivation and the hard work of the people, however, the food gap remains around one million metric tons of cereals each year.

The WFP programme in Phyongsong city, the capital of South Pyongan Province (pop. 4 million) centers on creating a food mixture rich in essential micronutrients and proteins.  It targets the most vulnerable and is distributed to orphanages (baby homes, child centers, boarding schools), hospitals, nurseries, kindergartens.  The WFP operates in 12 of the 21 counties in South Pyongan Province (and some 114 countries overall in the DPRK).  Between April 2011 and May of this year, the WFP provided 1,531 metric tons of food aid to 43,904 beneficiaries in Phyongsong city, mainly to nurseries, pregnant/lactating mothers, kindergartens and primary schools.  Its milk, cereal, corn, soy and rice blends help prevent permanent physical and intellectual damage due to chronic malnutrition (the stunting rate is about 32% nationally).

Because of the relatively better harvest in 2011, the current Emergency Programme will probably be replaced by a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation in July 2012, with somewhat reduced coverage from 3.5 million vulnerable recipients to in the region of 2.5 million people.

The WFP expressed its appreciation for Ireland’s contribution last year to its programme in the DPRK of $3.6m.  This included a direct contribution of $356,125 by Irish Aid that was used to procure 770 metric tons of wheat.  The WFP DPRK programme also received multilateral funding of $3,252,800 from Ireland that was used to purchase vegetable oil, sugar and dried skimmed milk, key ingredients in the blended foods.

 Our first stop was Phyongsong Paediatric Hospital.  Young patients there were being treated for water-borne gastric problems which are prevalent (the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, de-worms all the children twice a year in the 118 counties they cover).  International agencies, notably the WHO and UNICEF, provide medicines for about 10m of the total population of 24m. 

 Our next stop was at an orphanage for toddlers, ranked along two long balconies in the courtyard wearing identical pink pyjamas and waving excitedly as we arrived (shouting the Korean equivalent of Daddy! Daddy!)  Joyful and curious, they were particularly excited to be shown their photos on our camera’s LCD screen.  They receive daily the enriched WFP food that ensures essential nutrients for the crucial first years of life.

Our final stop was at the Cereal Milk factory where WFP supplies are mixed and bagged for distribution in an operation that was clean, busy and currently well stocked.

The WFP is confident that monitoring arrangements are effective. The official with us said that they had come not encountered examples of diversion and believe that the system operates with admirable integrity. UN officials and NGO regularly made the point to us that the DPRK operates extremely efficiently administratively, with high levels of commitment to tasks at hand, done with honesty and lack of theft.


Where the WFP (and WHO and UNICEF) provide emergency and relief programmes, the EU focus since 2006 is on addressing the structural issues causing the food gap under its Food Security Thematic Programme, specifically its “Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development”.  The DPRK budget for 2011-2013 is €20m.  The Irish NGO Concern manages integrated food and sustainable agricultural programmes, irrigation infrastructure projects, crop rotations, soil erosion mitigation techniques on sloping agriculture, and green house horticulture for winter production. 

Accompanied by Concern staff including an Irish national, we travelled through the traditional breadbasket south of Pyongyang to Singye.  Richly coloured red clays, verdant hills and clear blue skies combined to produce a beautiful landscape, dotted with small hamlets untouched, it seemed, by time.  Timeless too was the sight of plentiful colourfully dressed workers in the fields, carts drawn by cattle and curious, watchful locals. 

Concern operates the EU programme in Singye and associated projects in farms in and around the District.  It is an integrated operation designed to provide locally manufactured nutritious food for children and effective water and sanitation systems to end the scourge of water-borne diseases.  Pasteurized soymilk, tofu and protein rich maze noodles are produced using Chinese machinery in an operation run by locals under the leadership of the redoubtable Deputy Chairman of the District Committee, and her elderly though indomitable assistant, the kind of strong Korean women we are all familiar with down in the South.

We visited a cooperative farm, located off-road and across a broad river, that has a goat herd of some 700 whose milk is pasteurised for distribution or made into yoghurt.  Cellars are in construction to store cheese.  The farm manager is pioneering and open to new ideas, we were told.  There is a major push on by the international agencies to promote conservation agriculture, an approach that avoids ploughing altogether and thereby preserving nutrients, limiting erosion and improving yields.  A field at this farm is the first experiment with this new technique.  (Brazil is the leader in conservation agriculture and the exporter of the best planting devices.)  If successful, it will relieve rural populations of the time and energy consumed ploughing.

Our Irish national guide is coming to the end of his five-year stint in the DPRK.  He is resolutely optimistic in character and paid tribute to the ordinary Koreans he worked with as extremely kind, hospitable, hardworking and honest.  Aside from those fond memories, he recalled the magnificent scenery amidst the spectacular mountains as one travelled north.

 It is a challenging working environment but the effectiveness of comprehensive national and local administration means that goals can be achieved in the DPRK that would simply be inconceivable in many other countries receiving international aid.  A WHO official told me, in astonishment, that the inoculation (using internationally donated supplies) of the whole population between the ages of 1 and 4 years of age was achieved in two weeks.  There is no doubt that the UN agencies, NGOs and EU Special Programmes are achieving their intended goals, and meeting real needs in terms of nutrition and health for vulnerable groups. 

Concern kindly hosted a small reception for us and we had the opportunity to meet a range of people working with UN agencies and NGOs in North Korea, as well as a number of diplomats.  I paid tribute to their work and the often trying conditions of life that they subject themselves to when working to alleviate suffering in the world.  I was proud to note that even though Ireland faced considerable economic and fiscal challenges, our Irish Aid programme continued to enjoy widespread and strong public support at home.  

Best wishes, 



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Early Irish Connections with Korea

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

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

22 May 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 I hope you enjoy the story.

Best wishes, 


Extract from Frank’s email, December 2011

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


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

“Dear Mr. O’Donoghue,

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


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

“Ambassador, Ruth,

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

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

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

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

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

Reply from Ruth, 4 May 2012

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

Email Response from Ms Downing, 4 May 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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










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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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