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.
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.
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.