The Irish Association of Korea, working in cooperation with the Irish Embassy and the Somme Association, Ireland is raising funds and developing plans for a memorial to the service and sacrifice of the Irish who died in the Korean War.
The contribution by Irish people to the welfare of the people of Korea has a rich tradition dating back to the late nineteenth century. Irish missionaries including the Irish born Methodist Charles David Morris, Anglican sister Mary Clare Witty and particularly the Columban order have played a strong role in maintaining an Irish presence in Korea. At the outbreak of war on 25th June 1950 28 Columban Fathers were working in Korea. Tragically, Sister Mary Clare and 7 of the Columban order, including Monsignor Patrick Brennan, were to perish in the conflict.
With the outbreak of war came the arrival of unknown numbers of men of Irish birth and heritage in the service of the United Nations Command (UNC). 130 Irish men are known to have died in the service of the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) – a regiment of the British Army. At a pivotal part of the conflict the RUR – as part of the 29th Brigade – was part of one of the notable stands in the conflict. In January 1951, near Goyang (12 miles North East of Seoul), those brave men fought in a battle ironically called “Happy Valley”.
With the addition of Chinese volunteers to the conflict, the dynamics of the war were changing rapidly in the winter of 1950/1951. Through sheer numbers the North Korean and Chinese forces pushed the UNC south to the proximity of Seoul in early January. The 29th Brigade was tasked with holding 2 valleys east of Goyang. As the Chinese and North Korean forces swamped the valley floors, the rifle companies held their positions on the higher ground.
2 companies of the RUR defended a key communications route along one ridge, maintaining their position amid multiple offensives. Veterans have recounted the challenging conditions of harsh weather and terrain against a steadfast enemy. The stand of the brigade had been exemplary and the sacrifice of those men was in the service of the Korean people.
In 2003 the United States Congress recognised the sacrifice of Irish men in the US forces by awarding posthumous citizenship to 29 Irish men who fell in the early part of war. In 2006 an Irish Korean War Memorial was erected in New York through the support of the Irish government.
We know of at least 159 men born in Ireland who died during the Korean War. To this we must add the countless numbers of men of Irish heritage, who died in service during the war across all the armies of the UN command.
Further information on the history of Irish people in Korea can be found on the website of Embassy of Ireland in Korea