Tag Archives: Columban Order

Farewell Korea

Ambassador’s Farewell Message

 7 August 2013

My posting to Korea has come to an end and my family and I depart tomorrow for Tel Aviv.  I have greatly enjoyed being in touch with you and thanks to those who have given me feedback.  Without it being part of the design, these messages have formed a diary of sorts of my time here and of the activities of the Embassy.

For me and my wife Mary, one of our highlights was the collective effort of the Embassy, the Irish Chamber of Commerce, the Seoul Gaels and the Irish Association of Korea hosting the Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum (APIBF) and the GAA’s Asian Gaelic Games in October 2011.  Another was the visit last year of the delegation from the North South Ministerial Council and the discussions we had with Korean officials about partition, reconciliation and cross-border cooperation.  The re-engagement of the IDA in Korea is very welcome development in building the marketing team at Ireland House. 

Public diplomacy – through the Asia Society, Universities, various different organisations and media interviews, was a personally rewarding experience which forced me to compress Ireland’s story for audiences possibly aware of us in general but certainly not in any detail.  Koreans, I found, were fascinated and surprised by the resonances between our colonial histories.  I was reinforced in my conviction that Irish literature – of Yeats and Joyce in particular – is a universal and compelling calling card. 

Overall, adjusting to operating in a country with so little exposure to Ireland and with such a different culture, in sharp contrast to my previous postings in the US, was a tremendous learning experience.  Making an impact here requires far more strategic, concerted and coordinated efforts by Ireland than is required in our familiar traditional markets.

Ireland of course does have a long relationship with Korea, what one might describe as narrow but deep.  Our search for historical connections between Ireland and Korea turned up some gems and underlined that relations between our two countries have been forged by people not governments, partly a fact of our mutual colonial histories, partly the sheer geographic difference between us.

Irishmen serving as senior officials in the British Empire came here at the end of the 19th century and observed the absorption of Korea by a Japan that was intent on having its own empire.  Irishmen and women of great faith and compassion, notably the Columban Order, came here since the turn of the 20th century.  Many of today’s Irish missionaries have been here four or five decades.  I deeply admire their quiet but relentless work with the poor, the disabled and those suffering from HIV/Aids. 

The maelstrom of the Korean War sucked in many from around the world to fight under the UN flag.  Here again, people of Irish birth and heritage made their own contribution, sometimes indeed the ultimate sacrifice.  We conservatively estimate up to two hundred Irish born lost their lives here but it could be more.  The number of fatalities of those of Irish heritage is countless, bearing in mind the scale of US losses.  If you have a chance, visit our new Irish memorial at the War Memorial of Korea.  It was unveiled last April in the company of veterans from Ireland back here for the first time since the War.  They marvelled at the progress that Korea has made.  Their revisit and the reception we hosted at the Residence for them and our partners in this project – the Irish Association of Korea, the Somme Association, the Royal Irish Regiment Association and our sponsors, among others – was a very special occasion for all of us and a particularly fond memory.  Having spent so many years on the peace process back home, offering that welcome had a very personal significance for me.

My visits to the DPRK were a fascinating study in contrasts and comparisons: from the manifest differences in wealth to the shared aspects of the common Korean culture on the peninsula.  Ireland’s support for the work of Concern and the WFP in particular has been enduring and significant, delivered in a way consistent with the principles of good humanitarian donorship, irrespective of the political situation here.  We are rightly proud of Irish Aid and the Irish public’s support from its programmes despite our current fiscal difficulties.

Finally, I want to thank my wife Mary and my family.  Life abroad as a diplomat is a team effort and Mary brought an invaluable contribution, from ferreting out supplies and furnishings in Seoul’s many markets to acting as a hostess for dinners and receptions: all this and running our family too.  My kids have to follow in our wake, first Korea, now Israel.  They have to adjust to new schools, make new friends, adapt to new environments.  I loftily (and conveniently) think that ultimately they gain more than they lose but it is they who have to work through each day until that imagined reward. 

My successor, Aingeal O’Donoghue, is an old friend and a great Diplomat.  She will put her own stamp on Irish Korea relations and in doing so, like me, she will rely on the Embassy’s team, our contacts, the Irish community and our Korean friends. I wish you all the very best.

Eamonn

2 Comments

Filed under Korea

Irish Memorial Dedication, War Memorial of Korea, April 2013

Ambassador’s Message – Irish Memorial Dedication Ceremony, 25th April

26 April 2013

Of course it rained.  What Irish event would be complete without rain?  So we sat under marquees avoiding the drips instead of being protected from the hoped for sun at our dedication ceremony yesterday morning.  Our Embassy staff were busy with place names and all the myriad details that make an event unfold smoothly. The site had been checked and rechecked by Carol Walker of the Somme Association and Trevor Ross of the Royal Ulster Rifles Association and Colour Sergeant of the Royal Irish Regiment.  The podium was put in place and sound system checked.

We assembled under gray skies: the Ministers for Veterans Affairs of the RoK and Canada, Mr Park Sung-choon and Mr Steven Blaney; the Ambassadors and Defence Attachés of Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia; Director of the War Memorial of Korea, Mr Sun Young-jae; Deputy Director of Foreign Intelligence, Korean Defense Intelligence Agency, Brigadier Moon Yong-seok; Chairman of United Nations Korean War Allies Association, Mr Chi Kap-jong; Director of 60th Anniversary of Korean War Commemoration Group, Ministry of National Defense, Brigadier General Park Young-bae; Chief Warrant Officer, Oliver Cunningham, of the US Forces and native son of Ireland; Father Donal O’Keefe representing the Columban Order; Lt Col Owen Lyttle of the Royal Irish Regiment and his NCOs and soldiers, resplendent in their caubeens and dark green dress uniforms with scarlet sashes. 

As we took our seats, the RIR piper led the procession of veterans and their escorts down the ramp that sweeps into the recessed memorial cove under the looming Seoul War Memorial.  Carol Walker of the Somme Association acted as MC and I gave the opening address, below, translated into Korean by our own Kevin O’Rourke, retired Columban Father, writer and professor of Korean literature.  Minister Park of Patriots and Veterans Affairs as well as the Director of the War Memorial spoke, recognising the Irish contribution, particularly at Happy Valley. 

The memorial itself was unveiled by Ranger Geoffrey Edgar, veteran Albert Morrow, Sister Catherine Oh of the Anglican sisters and Stephanie McNamara, niece of Columban priest Thomas Cusack. Canon Jennings placed the brass cross, made from spent shell casings from the battlefields of Korea, beside our Memorial and offered his prayers. 

There was a hush as veteran Mark McConnell was brought forward to recite his beautiful and rending Korean Lament.  His strong and clear recitation was deeply felt by all.  Fourteen wreaths were laid, the ritual officiated smartly and solemnly by the RIR.  Father Mick McCarthy of the Columban Order, still serving in Korea after fifty years, laid one on behalf of the seven Columban Fathers who died during the War.  Henry O’Kane, veteran, ex-POW and author of O’Kane’s War, laid the wreath on behalf of the veterans.

The dedication of the Irish Memorial is very appropriate this year.  It is eighty years since the Columbans arrived in Korea, sixty since the end of the Korean War and thirty since we established diplomatic relations. 

With this Memorial in place at the Memorial of the Korean War, Seoul, the memory of those of Irish birth and heritage who lost their lives here and those who fought for Korea’s freedom will not be forgotten.  The names of the seven Irish Columban Fathers and one Irish Anglican missionary Sister who died during the War are inscribed.  The Memorial will serve as a focal point for annual commemorations, for visitors who will come to search for it and for the casual visitor who will come upon it.

The project to erect the Memorial was a collective effort; by the Irish Government, the Embassy here in Seoul, the Somme Association, the Royal Ulster Rifles Association, the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Association of Korea.

Over the last week it was wonderful to meet the veterans and encounter in those conversations the living tradition of Irish recruitment to the armed services of Britain and the Commonwealth, not to mention other Diaspora destinations like the US, by Dublin men and men from our towns and villages, by our emigrants and our emigrant generations.  It is a part of our history that is rich and exciting to explore as we approach the anniversaries of our State’s founding in the years ahead.

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Deputy Head of Mission, Ruth Parkin, my wife Mary and all the staff at the Embassy, I would like to say what a pleasure it was to work with our partners on this.  And as someone who formerly was involved in the Irish peace process, it was great to experience such a collective effort by people from all the different traditions and identities on the island of Ireland.  We worked united in good will and dedication to the preservation of the memory of those who made in the greatest sacrifice in the name of enduring ideals.

Finally, I wish to thank our sponsors, the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, the fundraisers at the Somme Association and Irish Association of Korea, Hanwha Chemical, Hyundai Motors, Standard Chartered Bank and Korean Air whose generous support made this project and its associated revisit for Irish veterans possible.

You can see photos of the event at our Twitter Account at @IrishEmbKorea.

 Dedication Ceremony

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Presiding Remarks

H.E. Dr. Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland to the Republic of Korea

We have gathered here in this quiet dell, on the hallowed ground of the War Memorial of Korea, to honour and remember those of Irish birth and heritage who died in the Korean War.

It is a stone monument because stone is an enduring material and we inscribe on it memories that must not be lost to time. 

It is a simple plinth topped by an image of the island of Ireland.  For the Irish of birth and heritage, irrespective of their affiliation with an identity or another citizenship, the island of Ireland is home, the repository of our culture, our community, our family roots and our sense of what we are. It is a hexagon because each facet serves to commemorate a particular aspect of the Irish contribution to the Korean War.

We recall the Irish missionaries who came to Korea, built communities through faith and compassion and who, in the dark hours of war, refused to leave those communities. 

We recall those of Irish birth who joined Irish regiments in the British Army and who shipped under the UN flag to Korea as part of the Commonwealth forces; and those who had emigrated to America and came here with US forces.  Ireland’s tide of emigration carried many into the armed services of the many countries that would fight here under the UN flag.

We recall those of Irish heritage who fought in so many and in such large numbers of the UN Command, predominantly British and US forces but also in Canadian, Australian and New Zealand units.  Their sense of being Irish, of Irish stock and character, was a strong feature of their identity. 

In Ireland, we value and guard that sense of Irishness, the sense of belonging for all of our Diaspora.  And we do so here today.

This monument will bear symbols.  They are symbols of a complex Irish historical narrative where Irish identity can mean different affiliations, different identities and different perspectives.

Because of the Irish peace process and the historic reconciliation between the people of Ireland and Britain, we can embrace all of those traditions and identities are part of the story of Ireland, part of what we are. 

This is a work in progress.  The unveiling of this monument is part of that process, a recovery and an acknowledgement of the service rendered in the armies of other nations, in the service of the United Nations.

Unveiling this stone monument is a simple act but it is symbolic of so much more. It is a reverential acknowledgement of the role of the Irish in the Korean War. It is a testament to the Ireland’s complex history and our embrace of that complexity.   Above all it is a remembrance that Irish lives were given in compassion and service to the people of Korea, in the defence of freedom and in the cause of the United Nations.

Thank you. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Anglo-Irish, Korea

Irish Memorial and Veterans Revisit

Ambassador’s Message – Irish Memorial and Veterans’ Revisit

18 April 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Leave a comment

August 6, 2013 · 11:47 am

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 (www.embassyofireland.or.kr) 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

 

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

Leave a comment

Filed under Korea

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 www.tothelastround.wordpress.com ]  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’ (www.embassyofireland.or.kr ). 

Eamonn

 

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

Leave a comment

Filed under Korea