A memorial for the 159 Irish people who died during the Korean War was unveiled at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul on April 25. The unveiling was part of the larger Revisit Korea program, which brought 11 Irish veterans, family members of those who served, and active soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment to Seoul for the 60th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement, which ended the war.
The Irish Association of Korea, with the Embassy of Ireland, the Somme Association and the Royal Ulster Rifles Association, organized the service to honor the Irish soldiers who fought between 1950 and 1953. There were 159 Irish casualties throughout the course of the war, as a number of Irishmen fought with British and UN forces. Seven Irish Columban priests and an Anglican nun, Sister Mary Clare Witty, also died during the conflict.
The greatest number of Irish fatalities took place during the January 1951 Battle of Happy Valley, in which the Royal Ulster Rifles, which included many Irish, played a key role as Seoul’s last defense against the North Korean and Chinese forces.
The unveiling marked the first official commemoration of the Irish role in the Korean war, a fact Eamonn McKee, Irish Ambassador to Korea, attributed to improved Anglo-Irish relations. “A key dimension has been the Irish peace process, as after the Good Friday agreement of 1998 most identities and traditions were accepted as part of the shared island of Ireland,” he told the Irish Times. “There has been a recovery of many facets of what it means to be Irish, and this includes Irish service in the British military.”
The new memorial replaces an earlier Memorial Pillar, which was carved by a Korean Mason in 1951, and given to Belfast in 1962 as a gesture of thanks. To this day it stands in the grounds of Belfast’s City Hall.