Irish-Korean Essay Competition Winning Entry: How Korean Women May Learn From Irish Women

The Irish Association of Korea are very proud to finally make available to the public the winning essay of the inaugural Irish-Korean Essay Competition.

Our winner, Ms.Paek Jung Won is currently making her plans to travel to Dublin to study for one month in the Emerald Cultural Institute, who have supported this competition from the very start.

We would like to wholeheartedly thank ECI for their generous prize, one month study in their institute (valued at over 1,200 Euro), and also the Embassy of Ireland in South Korea without whom this competition would remain a figment of our humble association’s imagination.

The Irish Association of Korea, on behalf of the Embassy of Ireland and Emerald Cultural Institute, would like to thank all of our competition entrants, without whom we would not be able to award this prize today. The level of enthusiasm which the Korean student body approached this competition was overwhelming and we hope that we can host future competitions in the years to come.

And now, without further delay, our winning essay.

How Korean Women May Learn From Irish Women

by Paek Jung Won

How Korean Women May Learn From Irish Women

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.1

<Mrs. Warren’s Profession, 1893, George Bernard Shaw>

If God invented soju to prevent the Koreans from ruling the world, then who invented Korea? It wouldn’t be a complicated task for Declan Kiberd to write an alternative edition of Inventing Ireland (1996)2, if he spent some time with Father Patrick James McGlinchey3 who has been combatting poverty in Korea since 1953; Inventing the Ireland of Asia. Although, most of Kilberd’s publications deal with literary colossuses, it isn’t an exaggeration to state that Irish literature is an emblem of Ireland herself. Simultaneously, that is one of the better reasons why common Korean people recognise the Emerald island; Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, Joyce and Heaney being familiar names for many Koreans.4

It may seem absurd trying to draw parallels between two countries that don’t even have a single direct flight between them. Even more absurd when there are just over 800 Irish people in a total Korean population of almost 50 million5, and probably just over 1,000 Koreans living in Ireland.6 However, this makes our journey more fascinating. Prior to researching this essay, other than the aforementioned writers, I just knew about Guinness, U2 and my professor. However, I now know that links and similarities between Ireland and Korea are more qualitative rather than quantitative.

In spite of the long distance between the two nations, they share remarkable analogous geographical conditions, agonizing histories, and vivacious dispositions. Both have had terrible colonial pasts; both countries are divided; both have their own native language7; both have their own traditional music; and each seems to have a liking for alcohol, whiskey for the Irish and soju for Koreans. South Korea8 is roughly the same size the island of Ireland.9 The Miracle of the Han River, can I’m told10, be compared with the Celtic Tiger.

However, there are also other links which are less positive; the many Irish who died in the Korean War, both soldiers11 and civilians12; corrupt politicians in both countries13; the child sex abuse scandals in Ireland, especially those involving Catholic priests compared to the abuse of handicapped children in Korea as seen in the recent movie Dogani14; and the misfortune of having the IMF enter our countries to fix our economies (I hope the Irish economy recovers as quickly as Korea’s did), with indeed, the same man Ajai Chopra involved each time.15

Thus, as we can see there are positives as well as negatives between Ireland and Korea, and it is clear that both countries can learn from each other. “Ireland without her people means nothing to me”16 isn’t only applicable to President Michael D. Higgins’ inauguration speech.17 People are considered the most valuable resources in each country, and it’s on this that I’m going to focus my essay.

As a young Korean woman, an area that interests me greatly is that of gender equality, and it is one where Korea may learn and benefit from the courage and conviction of Irish women.

In the very words of the aforementioned Fr. McGlinchey, “These women sacrificed everything for their children. I had never seen anything like it before.”18 He was referring to women on Jeju Island. Well if this is true, then why are Korean women still treated like second class citizens? Korea has always had great and heroic women who have played a huge part in our development as a “modern nation”.19

Ireland has also had her great women in history.20 Indeed the country itself is nearly always referred to in the female voice. As Edna O’Brien21 puts it,

Ireland has always been a woman, a womb, a cave, a cow, a Rosaleen, a sow, a bride, a harlot, and, of course, the gaunt Hag of Beara.”22

However for too many years Ireland’s and Korea’s treatment of their women folk has run along almost parallel lines of gender inequality and discrimination. Many reasons exist for this but it’s no great exaggeration to state that the biggest one in Ireland was the power and control of the Catholic Church, and in Korea it has been inveterate Confucianism. Indeed in Ireland under the constitution “the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.23

However, in recent times in the case of Ireland there seems to have been a significant move away from the bias that was once held against women towards greater equality and recognition. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my own country.

In the recent Global Gender Gap report revealed by the World Economic Forum (WEF)24, Ireland ranked in 5th place out of 135 countries whereas Korea ranked 107th. The report revealed that “South Korea’s gender inequality is even worse than that of some Islamic countries.25 After reading an article by the journalist Fintan O’Toole, “10 things an Irish woman could not do in 1970”26, it is clear that there has been an improvement in the lot of the Irish woman. There are many reasons for this but the one I’d like to examine in this essay is the role that ordinary Irish women have played in this great change because I believe that Korean women can greatly learn from them.

It’s easy enough to mention well-educated and powerful women; the Mary Robinson’s27, the Mary McAleese’s28, the power of the suffragettes, bra burning and all that. However, if you’re not that well-educated, are poor, and don’t have some powerful organisation to support you, and you’re the victim of inequality, discrimination and injustice, what do you do? What can you do? You act like Mary McGee, Josie Airey, and Lavinia Kerwick;29 women who took matters into their own hands and changed the system from the bottom up. I could mention many other Irish women in this regard but these are the three that I’ll focus on as their stories may inspire Korean women to strive for change against gender inequality.

Mary McGee was an Irish housewife with four kids. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to call her a caravan-wife as she lived in a caravan with her husband. She didn’t want to have any more kids but didn’t wish to stop having sex. She couldn’t even refuse to have sex with her husband even if she wished, as this was one of the 10 things an Irish woman could not do in 1970. Marital rape didn’t become a crime until 1990.30 However, in the church controlled 1970’s contraceptives were prohibited, as in the eyes of Catholicism, procreation is only reason to have sex. Mrs. McGee attempted to import contraceptives but they were confiscated by the Irish customs service. She took a law case against the Irish state which went to the Supreme Court, and she won. Her action opened the gateways for contraceptives to be legalized for all Irish adults in 1985.31

Josie Airey was an Irish housewife who wanted a judicial separation from her husband. However, she couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer to represent her. She sought legal assistance from the Irish state but it basically told her to represent herself in court. She did and she failed to get the separation. “With the assistance of the Free Legal Advice Centres, she pursued her case all the way through the Irish court system, being successfully opposed at every stage by the State.32 Her challenge failed and she went to the European Court of Human Rights which found Ireland to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights because it had failed to provide legal assistance to her. This whole legal battle may have taken 10 years of Mrs. Airey’s life but it forced the Irish government to eventually introduce a civil legal aid scheme in Ireland.

Lavinia Kerwick wasn’t afraid to “lose face”33. She was only 18 when she was raped. At trial William Conry pleaded guilty to this rape. However, the judge adjourned sentence for a year to “give him a chance”. 34 Kerwick was distraught but did something that showed immeasurable courage. She revealed her identity as the victim, regardless of the stigma and shame that might follow. No Irish woman had ever done this before. This brave action brought the whole issue of rape, rape trials and soft sentencing out in the open. The Irish people were incensed by the judge’s action. A Criminal Justice Bill was drafted shortly after the trial that allowed unduly lenient sentences to be appealed. Even though at re-sentencing Conry only received a nine year suspended sentence, Miss Kerwick’s brave action probably resulted in many dangerous criminals spending longer time in prison.

The actions of these three brave Irish women not only affected their private lives but brought change for all Irish women. None of them were rich and I don’t think any of them had a university education. However, their courage and example has encouraged and caused other women to challenge issue of gender inequality and discrimination in Ireland.35Korean women can learn from them.

I’m not saying that gender equality is perfect in Ireland but it is far better than it was forty years ago. My mother and her friends tell me that very little has changed in Korea.

At present, Korea ranks 41st in the gender equality ratio among 45 countries that the World Banks classifies as high-income countries using GNI per capita. 36

Admittedly something is being done in the Korean public sector to improve this terrible situation. 300 laws have been revised to eliminate gender bias since 2005. Our Constitutional Court has struck down provisions in the Civil Code that said that only men could head of the household. Children are no longer obliged to take their father’s surname.37 We had our first Prime Minister, Han Myung-sook in 200738. Yes, certain progress is being made…slowly. However, it all only seems to be in the public sector and from the top down. The following statement seems to confirm this.

Our strategy has been to change the laws and institutions first so the rest of the society can catch up in changing attitudes and culture in favor of gender equality,” said Chung Bong-hyup, director general at the Ministry of Gender Equality, which was established in 2001.39

A friend of mine had an interview recently for a big company in Korea and she was asked the old riddle about the boy being injured in a car accident. His father was killed and when he was taken to the hospital, the doctor that met him said, “That’s my son”. Why? Obviously, because it was his mother. The possibility of a woman being a doctor seems to be oblivious to some Korean employers. Korea’s four largest conglomerates — Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK — have less than 2 percent of seats on their boards, while there are almost no female executives at South Korean banks. In 2007, only 60.9 percent of women with college or graduate degree were employed. Women bring in only 52 percent of what men get in wages, according to the U.N. Development Program’s gender empowerment measure.40

These are not very encouraging statistics from a woman’s perspective for the world’s 13th largest economy. And it’s not until Korean women start displaying the same kind of courage and determination as Mary McGee, Josey Airey, or Lavinia Kerwick and many other Irish woman that can I see them ever changing. Only then can Korea said to be a truly “modern nation”.

To conclude, with Shaw from my opening quotation, Korean women need to “look for the circumstances” we want, and if we “can’t find them, make them”!



Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: The Living Dictionary.2003. Essex. Pearson Education Limited.

Voices and Poetry of Ireland.2004. London. Harper Collins Publishers.


2 Kilbred, Declan. 1996. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of a Modern Nation: Literature of the Modern Nation: Harvard University Press.

4 My major is English language & literature, and I have studied most of these writers. One of my favorite poems is “What Then” by William Butler Yeats as read by Seamus Heaney in Voices and Poetry of Ireland. 2004. London. Harper Collins Publishers.

5 The Irish Embassy Website states that there is “a community of 836 Irish citizens, registered by the Korea Immigration Service as of 30 June, 2011.”:

6 Posted by Andrew on October 18th, 2010, in the article, “Dublin opens a Korean school”, on the blog

I realize that this figure refers to Dublin only and that more Koreans are living outside of Dublin. For example, these Korean soccer players in Sligo, as told in the Irish Independent of October, 28th by Daniel McDonnell:

My professor also told me that he knows about 10 Koreans living in Limerick.

7 My professor told me that less than 20% of the people speak Gaelic these days.

9 32,595.1 square miles:

10 An Economics professor at my university told me this.

11 Many Irish soldiers fought in the U.S. army in the Korean War from. The Irish in Korea: Irish Men and Women Who Gave Their Lives in the Korean War, edited by Brian McGinn, 18th December, 2008 on the website:

Incidentally, my professor told me that one of these soldiers, Billy Scully, is buried very near his father, in Galbally cemetery, County Limerick. It’s a small world, indeed.

12 The Irish Independent, Donal Lynch, March 9th, 2008. Korean war stories never to be forgotten:


RTE website, 26th May, 2009. Dunlop sentenced to two years for corruption:

Jeon Duhwan 전두환, Noh Taewoo 노태우

14 Directed by Hwang Donghyuk, 2011

15 29 November 2010. Who is Ajai Chopra, Ireland’s new household name?:

16 President Higgins was quoting the great Irish Socialist leader, James Connolly who was executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Uprising, when Higgins was inaugurated as Ireland’s new president on November 12th last. My professor told me this information.

17 RTE, Inaugural speech of President Michael D Higgins, publisher unknown, November 11, 2011:

18 Ibid. at footnote 3

19 For example over 200 women participated in the Easter Rising such as Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell as described in Women in the 1916 Rising on youtube. Uploader,cobrolchain2, June 21, 2008:

20 Woo Gwan-Sun유관순, Non Gae 논개, Heo Nan-Seol-Hun 허난설헌

21 She wrote a very novel “The Country Girls” in 1960. It was very controversial at the time and was banned. My professor provided me with this information.

22 These Irish Times articles are very important to my essay. I have not been able to find the exact date of publication for them. Sarah McPartlin from the Irish Times says by e-mail that they may just have been a “special online only feature”. I know that they were posted in 2010 as they commemorate 40 years of change in the lives of Irish women from 1970.

The Irish Times Special Online Edition. Compiled by Fintan O’Toole. 2010. Agents of change 25 women who made a difference:

24 mk Business News. Written by Mi-yeon Kim – Ha’eun Bang / edited by Soyoung Chung. November 2, 2011:

25 footnote 24

26 The Irish Times Special Online Edition. Compiled by Fintan O’Toole. 2010. Ten things an Irish woman could not do in 1970:

27 Ireland’s first woman president from 1990-1997: My professor told me about her famous Mná na hÉireann inauguration speech.

28 Ireland’s second woman president from 1997-2011:

33 Losing face is a very big taboo in Korean culture. 양반은 물에 빠져도 개헤엄은 안친다.

37 The New York Times. Choe Sang-Hun. March 1st, 2010. The Female Factor: Korean Women Flock to Government:

38 GENDER INEQUALITY IN KOREA. Professor Kim Eun-Gi (publication date unknown):

Prof. Kim Eun-Gi is a professor at the department of International Sociology at Korea University.

40 Ibid. footnote 37. All these statistics are from the article Korean Women Flock to Government:

Ambassador’s Message, 23 March 2012

“I thought you might be interested to learn that the Irish community registered in Korea has now exceeded 900, to be exact 904.  This is a very considerable and speedy increase  when you consider that there was less than half that number here in 2008 (428).

You will not be surprised to learn that most are involved in education, some 714 or almost 80%.  It is possibly higher than this because these numbers are based on the number of E2 visas and do not include Irish spouses of Korean nationals (59) or Irish permanent residents (19) some of whom may also be involved in the education sector.

Thinking about the increase in our community and indeed its geographic spread across Korea, is a good opportunity to think too about contingency planning.  You will recall I have been in touch with you some time ago.  For those who have arrived since then, I attached my previous message below.

I would appeal to anyone who has not done so to ensure that you are registered with the Embassy, in particular giving us mobile phone and landline numbers, skype addresses, location and next of kin. If you are registered with the Embassy, but your details have changed, please contact us with your new address and landline.  Your skype address is useful because the internet can often work when phone lines and mobile communications are down.   Please pass this message on to anyone who may have recently arrived and/or who has not registered.

I would like to reiterate that this information is for our purposes only and will not be shared with any other national authority.

The Embassy is currently reviewing and up dating its contingency plan, as a part of a worldwide exercise by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure that we are ready to respond to major emergencies.  If you wish to input, we would be delighted to hear from you.

The Nuclear Security Summit next week and the anniversary of the disaster at Fukushima certainly put us in mind of a possible event here at one of Korea’s nuclear power plants. Indeed the difficulties at the Gori-1 plant at Busan last January underline the need for contingency planning.  I list below the location of the five nuclear power plants in Korea and request that anyone living nearby (perhaps within a 50Km radius) let us know.

None of this should be read as an alarm but merely, as the phrase suggests, ‘contingency’ planning.  The more complete and updated the Embassy’s register, the more likely we are to be in a position to help you or reassure your relatives of your safety.  If you have registered with us but have now left Korea, please let us know.

Best wishes,


Eamonn McKee


Nuclear Power Stations, Korea

Name                           Location
Gori                             Gijang-kun, Busan                         
New Gori                    Gijang-kun, Busan                         
Wolsung                      Gyungju-si, Guyngbuk                      
Youngkwang              Hampyung-kun, Jeonnam
Wooljin                       Wooljin-kun, Gyungbuk

Responding to Emergencies [as issued 28 May 2010]

In light of the current escalation of tensions between North and South Korea and the uncertainty of what may happen next, it might be useful to provide information on how to respond to an emergency.  You may find the following helpful.  If you have any ideas or suggestions, we would be delighted to receive them.

(i)                 The first step for Irish citizens is to ensure that your passport is up-to-date.  The second step is register with the Embassy.  Registration is simple. Click on

and then click ‘Registering with the Embassy.’ Having information on how to send messages to you and/or to contact you is absolutely vital in the event of a sudden-onset emergency.

Based on the latest annual statistics available from the Korea Immigration Service we know that there are more than four hundred Irish who live in the Republic of Korea but only slightly more than half that figure appears on the Embassy’s Citizens’ Register.  I would urge you to encourage anyone who has not registered with the Embassy to please do so.  There may be concerns about confidentiality but I assure you that this information is not shared and is used solely by the Embassy.

(ii)               What advice is given in an Emergency very much depends on the kind of emergency and what the authorities are doing or planning in response i.e. whether it is natural or man-made, where it is imminent or underway, whether it requires a large movement of population and so on.

There is an ‘Emergency’ side bar on the Embassy’s website for general guidance.  For example in areas prone to emergencies or where there may be a need to move quickly in uncertain circumstances, it is often recommended to have a ‘grab bag’ readied containing vital documents and essential supplies (suggested items for inclusion are listed).

(iii)             Aside obviously from monitoring ongoing situations, the Embassy stays in close touch with the EU delegation here, other missions and with the Korean authorities.  The Embassy should be your first port of call if you are seeking advice.  In an emergency if contact with the Embassy is not possible, the Department of Foreign Affairs operates a Consular Assistance Unit in Dublin which provides advice, support and assistance to Irish citizens in emergency situations and to family members in Ireland who are concerned about the welfare of an Irish citizen abroad.

The Unit operates during normal Irish office hours (Monday-Friday). You can make contact with the Unit by telephoning +353 1 408 2000. Outside normal office hours, an Emergency Duty Officer is available at all other times (including weekends), 365 days a year (the contact number is the same).  The Embassy also provides a 24 hours service (016247 6455).  Please be advised that the Emergency Duty Officer should only be contacted in the event of a genuine emergency. If your query is not urgent, please wait until the next working day to contact the Embassy or making contact with the Consular Assistance Unit.

(iv)             In the event of an emergency, the Department of Foreign Affairs can mobilize its Crisis Centre.  It has done this on a number of occasions for example in response to 9/11and the 2006 crisis in the Lebanon. During an emergency, the Crisis Centre liaises with relevant missions abroad and national authorities, is manned 24 hours and issues free-phone numbers to members of the public in Ireland to trace relatives.  The Department can also send members of staff to the site of the emergency to assist.  The Travel Advice Section of the Department’s website contains further useful information (

I hope this information is useful and reassuring.  Please feel free to forward any comments and please also encourage anyone you know who has not registered with the Embassy to do so. “

How happy are you with your quality of life here in Korea?

The other day The Irish Times ran the results of poll taken among Irish emigrants about their quality of life since leaving Ireland (you read the news report here).

Here at IAK towers we thought we ask the same question to you. Basically, how happy are you with your quality of life here in Korea, compared with that of Ireland? You may tick the appropriate box below.

(I had this poll up on Facebook earlier but thought it appropriate to put here also to make it more inclusive for those who don’t use Facebook – yes I know it’s mad, but those people actually exist!)

Never let it be said that we are the negative types trying to find reasons to complain about Ireland or Korea. I’m hoping we can garner some positive discussion here on the benefits of living in Ireland and the benefits of living in Korea, and vice-verse. I’ve been here for over five years and have had all sorts of experiences, from the wonderful to the mad to the … well we’ll stop there. I know plenty of Korean people, both within our organisation and who I’ve met working with the IAK who feel the same way about living in Ireland.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you’d like to share your own experiences.

Irish Korean Essay Competition- Award Ceremony

The Irish Association of Korea, in cooperation with the Irish Embassy and the Emerald Cultural Institute in Ireland, held the award ceremony for the winners of the inaugural Irish Korean essay competition at the Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day reception on Friday evening March 16th 2012.

Towards the end of last year the Irish Association of Korea and the Embassy announced the inaugural Irish-Korean Essay Competition for university students in Korea. The competition involved  third  level Korean students writing an essay in English on some aspect of Irish Korean relations. The competition aimed to increase knowledge of Ireland amongst Korean students and highlighting Ireland as a leading destination to study abroad.  Over 100 entries were received and each one of them gave a valuable insight into how Ireland is viewed from Korea and what information is available about Ireland to Koreans.

The panel of judges including Irish Ambassador to Korea, Dr. Eamonn McKee and Irish Association of Korea chairperson Mr. Conor O’ Reilly awarded four prizes.

4th prize winner; Ms Yun Chae Young

Freedom, Creativity and Harmony-that Korea Should Learn: Irish Street Arts and Culture.

Ms Yun’s descriptions of the buskers and street performers of Ireland were truly evocative. 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.  Ms Yun received a certificate, reading materials and cultural prizes.

The winner of third prize wrote a piece that reflected on the complementary traditions of waking the dead in Korea and Ireland .

Ms Nam Ji Hyun -The Wake’: A Window for Viewing Ireland and Korea.

The essay 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 was unable to be at the award ceremony.

Second prize was awarded to Ms Choi Min Jeong for her essay: Exclusion and Revival of the Indigenous Language of Ireland and Korea

Ms Choi’s essay focused on the manipulation of language, both by coloniser and colonised, and her essay impressed the judging panel. Ms. Choi was awarded a certificate and a book voucher for 250,00won.

Ms Paek Jung Wonwon first prize for her essay, How Korean Women may learn from Irish Women.

Speaking at the award ceremony Ambassador Dr.  Eamonn McKee said ‘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 was influenced in her writing by Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times who sent her a message of congratulations.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Emerald Cultural Institute, one of Ireland’s top class language institutes Ms Paek will spend a month studying English in Ireland. She also  received 2 million Won to facilitate her stay in Ireland.

The Irish Association of Korea would like to thank Embassy of Ireland in Korea and Emerald Cultural Institute for the support and sponsorship during the competition.

Ambassador’s Message, 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 fund 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 which will 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,

Eamonn McKee



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 1 million 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.”

Daesung D-Cube City wins in the MIPIM Awards 2012!

Remember we asked you vote for D-Cube City in the MIPIN awards?

Well thanks to those of you that did vote, because D-Cube City has won the People’s Choice Award. Congratulations to Daesung and everyone at D-Cube!

And hopefully we will see some of you at the D-Cube City Plaza at the 2012 St Patrick’s Festival this Sat March 17th from 12:30 to 18:00. It looks like being a great day!

Schedule for St Patrick’s festival

We have the schedule for next Saturday’s free St Patrick’s Festival. There should be lots for everyone to enjoy:

12:30-13:00 US 8th Army Band
13:00-13:20 Introductory speeches by Irish Ambassador, Dr. Eamonn McKee and IAK chair Conor O’Reilly
13:20-13:50 Banu (traditional Irish group)
13:50-14:20 Step dancers + audience dancing (spot prize for best dancer)
14:20-15:00 Have No Name (Korean U2 tribute band)
15:00-15:30 Bard (Korean traditional Irish band)
15:30-15:45 Step dancers + audience dancing
15:45-16:00 Bard (Korean traditional Irish band)
16:00-16:30 Audience dancing (spot prize for best dancer)
16:30-16:45 Banu (traditional Irish group)
16:45-17:20 Dara Sheehan (Irish contemporary)
17:20-18:00 Sweet Murphy’s Fancy (contemporary rock band)

Here’s a clip from Have No Name (when they were known as Deafening Street)

All performance times and performers may change at the organisers discretion.

The evening hooley at the Rocky Mountain Tavern will have 2 floors of music, on the smoke free first floor level we will have performances by Dara Sheehan and Irish traditional group Irish Tea. Things are going to be a bit noisier on the second floor with Have No Name, The Drunk Democracy and Sweet Murphy’s Fancy all playing. Don’t forget the 6 nations rugby match (Ireland v England) will be shown at 02:00 am (internet feed). Tickets for the evening event will be available at the door (price 10,000 krw, drinks promotions on the evening).

Look here for full details

St Patrick’s Day next Saturday

Of course you know that St Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year (hurrah! Sunday morning lie-in) and of course you know that the IAK are organizing not one but two St Patrick’s Day events (a day time festival at D-Cube and an evening hooley at the Rocky Mountain Tavern – see here for details) but do you know when the next St Patrick’s Day on a Saturday is? It’s a slow afternoon here at IAK towers so we worked it out for you (i.e. we used the internet). Anyway it won’t be until 2018 that you’ll get that Sunday morning lie-in again. So you better make the most of next weekend and join us!

The last time St Patrick’s fell on a Saturday was 2007. Do you remember what you were doing on St Patrick’s that year? Here’s some photos from the IAK organized event in Seoul that year – see if you can recognise any faces!