Tag Archives: Seoul Gaels

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.



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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 (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/finance/2011/1017/1224305921730.html ) 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 www.irishembassyseoul.or.kr ) 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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