Kam Tin, a 1600s’ walled village near Hong Kong, has a public notice stating that its gates went to Ireland and came back.
When England expanded Hong Kong in 1898 by taking over land beyond its northern border, later to be known as the ‘New Territories,’ they first had to subdue the local farmers. After losing a pitched battle, the Chinese resistance retreated to Kam Tin. However, when heavy artillery threatened their stone walls they surrendered.
Their submission was accepted by Sir Henry Blake, the newly arrived governor of Hong Kong, and to ensure the town gates were never closed again he had them removed and sent to his home, in Cork, Ireland, to be installed in his walled garden.
When Sir Henry died (back home in Ireland) the local Tang clan, who had being keeping an eye on their gates, asked his widow Edith to please return them. She obligingly did so. Not to be outdone the Tang clan has copies made and sent them back to Lady Edith.
Sir Henry’s home was an old Tudor house, named Myrtle Grove, once said to be occupied by Sir Walter Raleigh. It still stands, in Youghal, next to the old church.
When I visited Kam Tin in 1997 I noted that the gates were not too formidable – they were narrow ‘chained-ringed irons gates’, an outer protection for the inner wooden doors. However I decided if I ever got a chance I would look up the replicas when I was in Ireland. Last summer I finally got to Youghal and visited Myrtle Grove but could not get inside to check how the Kam Tin gates were doing.
Sir Henry was one of nine Irish governors to rule Hong Kong. He was not the first but he was someone I could feel a connection with.
I remember that 1997 was the year I visited Kam Tim because the ‘Handover’ was about to take place. After 100 years China was getting back Hong Kong and the New Territories from the British.
I don’t know how many of the Tang clan were still living in Kam Tin but, unlike their more westernised compatriots on Hong Kong Island, the residents already had their Chinese flags out in celebration. Like many Irish, they do not forget easily. They had got their gates back from Ireland and now they were about to their nationality back from England – after a hundred years.
(One of the photos is of Sir Henry with the famous Chinese diplomat and statesman Li Hongzhang, during negotiations. The other is Kam Tim and its equally famous –and narrow- gate. )