Thursday, 25 April 2013
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.