Studying Sino-North Korean Borderland Violence in Divided Ireland

Ireland and Korea are not only connected, they are mutually illluminating. When an Irish Ambassador ventures off to Seoul — or to rural areas of North Korea — he or she comes into contact with legacies of partition, cultural survival, and colonialism. In examining models for Korea’s eventual reconciliation and/or unification, Ireland, and the six counties of Ulster known to the world as Northern Ireland, provide much comparative worth.

On February 15, 2013, I spoke at a one-day conference in Cork, the second-largest city in the Republic of Ireland, and was immersed in extended discussion of parallels between and connections among the Koreas and divided Ireland. Having been based in Northern Ireland for the academic year, I was struck by the similarities and differences between the two countries, and their mutual utility.

Kim Chang-yeob, South Korea's Ambassador in Dublin (2010-2013), greets Irish veterans of the Korean War. Ambassador Kim gave remarks at the University College Cork Korean Studies Conference on 15 February 2013.
Kim Chang-yeob, South Korea’s Ambassador in Dublin (2010-2013), greets Irish veterans of the Korean War. Ambassador Kim gave remarks at the University College Cork Korean Studies Conference on 15 February 2013.

As befitting any conference worth its salt, great deal of information was exchanged at the conference. Some included the subject of Irish missionaries in Korea and Manchuria from about 1894-1945, a topic which connected nicely with an archival project my undergraduate students in Belfast undertook this past year.

Eamonn McKee, the Irish Ambassador to Seoul and Pyongyang, described at length how North Koreans have been intrigued by “the Irish model” for postwar/post partition interaction and reconciliation, and how that model is in fact far more suitable for the DPRK than the much-better finananced and certainly more-discussed “German model.” Ireland has multiple strategic advantages with Korea, but no direct flights to Seoul yet from Dublin, as the Irish community in the Korean capitol does not yet number 1000 and there are not so many Koreans in the Republic of Ireland and/or Ulster. Incidentally, the North Korean Ambassador in Dublin serves concurrently as the DPRK’s ambassador in London.

The title of this post stems from the topic of my paper presented, which looked at eastern Manchuria and northern Korea within the matrix of the Chinese Civil War (1945-1950) and delved into how the extreme violence on the Chinese side of the border in 1946-48 impacted the North Korean revolution and suggested strong links between the ultimate states and institutions that emerged, like the People’s Republic of China and the (North) Korean People’s Army.

Citation for paper presented (ppt available on request): Adam Cathcart, “Violence and Retributive Justice in the Sino-Korean Border Zone, 1945-47,” presented at Institute for Korean Studies, University College Cork (Ireland), 15 February 2013.

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