Ambassador’s Farewell Message
7 August 2013
My posting to Korea has come to an end and my family and I depart tomorrow for Tel Aviv. I have greatly enjoyed being in touch with you and thanks to those who have given me feedback. Without it being part of the design, these messages have formed a diary of sorts of my time here and of the activities of the Embassy.
For me and my wife Mary, one of our highlights was the collective effort of the Embassy, the Irish Chamber of Commerce, the Seoul Gaels and the Irish Association of Korea hosting the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum (APIBF) and the GAA’s Asian Gaelic Games in October 2011. Another was the visit last year of the delegation from the North South Ministerial Council and the discussions we had with Korean officials about partition, reconciliation and cross-border cooperation. The re-engagement of the IDA in Korea is very welcome development in building the marketing team at Ireland House.
Public diplomacy – through the Asia Society, Universities, various different organisations and media interviews, was a personally rewarding experience which forced me to compress Ireland’s story for audiences possibly aware of us in general but certainly not in any detail. Koreans, I found, were fascinated and surprised by the resonances between our colonial histories. I was reinforced in my conviction that Irish literature – of Yeats and Joyce in particular – is a universal and compelling calling card.
Overall, adjusting to operating in a country with so little exposure to Ireland and with such a different culture, in sharp contrast to my previous postings in the US, was a tremendous learning experience. Making an impact here requires far more strategic, concerted and coordinated efforts by Ireland than is required in our familiar traditional markets.
Ireland of course does have a long relationship with Korea, what one might describe as narrow but deep. Our search for historical connections between Ireland and Korea turned up some gems and underlined that relations between our two countries have been forged by people not governments, partly a fact of our mutual colonial histories, partly the sheer geographic difference between us.
Irishmen serving as senior officials in the British Empire came here at the end of the 19th century and observed the absorption of Korea by a Japan that was intent on having its own empire. Irishmen and women of great faith and compassion, notably the Columban Order, came here since the turn of the 20th century. Many of today’s Irish missionaries have been here four or five decades. I deeply admire their quiet but relentless work with the poor, the disabled and those suffering from HIV/Aids.
The maelstrom of the Korean War sucked in many from around the world to fight under the UN flag. Here again, people of Irish birth and heritage made their own contribution, sometimes indeed the ultimate sacrifice. We conservatively estimate up to two hundred Irish born lost their lives here but it could be more. The number of fatalities of those of Irish heritage is countless, bearing in mind the scale of US losses. If you have a chance, visit our new Irish memorial at the War Memorial of Korea. It was unveiled last April in the company of veterans from Ireland back here for the first time since the War. They marvelled at the progress that Korea has made. Their revisit and the reception we hosted at the Residence for them and our partners in this project – the Irish Association of Korea, the Somme Association, the Royal Irish Regiment Association and our sponsors, among others – was a very special occasion for all of us and a particularly fond memory. Having spent so many years on the peace process back home, offering that welcome had a very personal significance for me.
My visits to the DPRK were a fascinating study in contrasts and comparisons: from the manifest differences in wealth to the shared aspects of the common Korean culture on the peninsula. Ireland’s support for the work of Concern and the WFP in particular has been enduring and significant, delivered in a way consistent with the principles of good humanitarian donorship, irrespective of the political situation here. We are rightly proud of Irish Aid and the Irish public’s support from its programmes despite our current fiscal difficulties.
Finally, I want to thank my wife Mary and my family. Life abroad as a diplomat is a team effort and Mary brought an invaluable contribution, from ferreting out supplies and furnishings in Seoul’s many markets to acting as a hostess for dinners and receptions: all this and running our family too. My kids have to follow in our wake, first Korea, now Israel. They have to adjust to new schools, make new friends, adapt to new environments. I loftily (and conveniently) think that ultimately they gain more than they lose but it is they who have to work through each day until that imagined reward.
My successor, Aingeal O’Donoghue, is an old friend and a great Diplomat. She will put her own stamp on Irish Korea relations and in doing so, like me, she will rely on the Embassy’s team, our contacts, the Irish community and our Korean friends. I wish you all the very best.