My Korean Weekend

Last weekend was my Korean weekend. On Saturday I attended the AGM of The Korean Society of Ireland and on Sunday the monthly liturgy of the Korean Catholic Community.

While the number of Chinese in Ireland is said to be anything from 50,000 to 150,000, the number of Koreans is relatively small. According to the Census, they number less than 600 and that includes North as well as South Koreans. 

The Korean Society has 129 members and the Catholic Community has about 60 so that would account for one third of the number. However, the real number is probably greater and hundreds of Korean students come here to study English in the summer.

The Korean Society organises festivals, like the Lunar New Year’s, and offer services to Korean residents in Ireland. They also invite the homeless in Dublin to their Christmas celebration.

The Catholic community has fewer activities because most of the members live outside Dublin city. A number are married to Irishmen and live as far away as Limerick.

In comparison to the Chinese, the Koreans are financially much better off. Many work for international firms.

There are now half-a-million non-Irish, from two hundred different countries, living in Ireland. Among them the Chinese are probably the largest group. Forget the number in the census, many of them are not registered and live ‘out of sight’. 

While it’s great to see the Koreans organising themselves in the open and getting involved in Irish society, spare a thought for the Chinese.  From their homeland they brought a culture of avoiding authorities and making a living with little thought of how hard they will have to work for it.  For most, their future is not in Ireland but maybe we could do more for them while they are here. 

A Visit from the Chinese Irish

Last Saturday was windy and cold but 120 members of the Southside Chinese Community,  young and old but mostly young, visited Dalgan.

Because of the large number they were supposed to be divided into two groups , with one going to Tara first and the other proceeding to Dalgan. However windy conditions on Tara meant both groups arrived in Dalgan at about the same time and had to be divided into four groups of 30 so they could, in turn, take the tour of the chapel, Chinese Room, Exhibition Hall and audio-visual room before going outside on a Nature Walk. Keeping the four groups moving, with time for lunch in between, kept everyone busy.

Most of the children, aged 4 to 15, were  born in Ireland and attend local schools. However their parents’ English was not quite as good and for most of them the visit to Dalgan was their introduction to a church and Irish involvement in China. Fortunately we had a few Chinese speakers available to expand the explanations.  

The parents and teachers were delighted to see the collection of Chinese artefacts and signs of effort to understand the Chinese culture and situation. The younger ones were impressed that some Irish people could speak Chinese and they liked the wide corridors and open spaces. Dalgan was built to send people to China, now it becoming a bridge for Chinese people to integrate into Ireland

End of the Smiling Panda?

The sunny panda-face which China liked to show the world is beginning to lose its smile as economic and political realities catch up on the once so-positive super-nation.

In the early 2000s it began to launch exchange programs with universities around the world in order to learn from the best in other countries and extend friendly economic and cultural ties.  At first it was thinking only of links between its own top universities and those in the US, UK and Japan but in the spirit of giving weaker provinces a chance to prosper it allowed them to begin projects with lesser known universities in smaller countries, such as Ireland.

Gradually it discovered that many of those universities did not have the resources to produce the hoped-for outcome and last year it ended 234 such partnerships.

Among them were four projects with UCD and UCC. It is not that all such programs have ended – some Irish universities have recently signed new agreements. However the old days of plentiful money and lose regulation are coming to an end.  They are replaced by a more business-like attitude, more calculating than the previous affability. 

This cooling down is reflected also in other aspects of the new China such as its attitude toward religion where toleration had been increasing since the mid-1980s. Now old laws and regulations are being resurrected to strengthen control and ensure that, in a communist state, religion is tolerated only in as far as it serves the government.

In future we are likely to see less of the panda’s smile and feel more of its substantial size and considerable weight.

A Tragic Accident

The tragic accident of Mons Ante Jozic in his native Croatia shocked his many friends in Hong Kong. I had met him on numerous occasions after his arrival there over six years ago as the Vatican Representative and share their sadness.  The Vatican is not allowed an official delegate or nuncio on the mainland so since the 1950 a low-level representative (like Mons Ante) was their ‘China Watcher’ in Hong Kong.

The accident occurred shortly after Mons Ante had left Hong Kong on completing his six years stint. He had just been appointed Nuncio to the Ivory Coast and, as part of the process, was to be ordained Archbishop on 1 May.   

However on 7 April, when driving his car in a tunnel, another car drove into his. The cars burst into       flames and while both drivers were pulled out, the other driver died shortly afterwards and Mons Ante has just recently regained consciousness.

His youthful energy and warm personality sparked a bond with many people in Hong Kong. However he was not so popular among ‘Old Catholics’ on the mainland where he was blamed for the recent ‘Provisional Agreement’ between the Vatican and Beijing.

The Vatican saw it as a way of protecting the present Catholics and establishing the Church more firmly in China but many Catholics who had suffered persecution there saw it as handing over too much control to a Communist Government.

Indeed, after the Agreement was announced, pressure has increase on priests associated with the old or independent Church to join the government organised ‘Catholic Patriotic Association.’

Unfortunately, Mons Ante, who would have had little say in negotiating the agreement, received a lot of the criticism. Hopefully he himself will recover fully and will be able to resume his work in the Vatican diplomatic service but the wounds inflicted on the Chinese Church towards the end of his time as representative in Hong Kong will take longer to heal.

A New Approach to Empowering People

Seventy people, representing 30 groups, gathered in Dalgan last Saturday for an ‘Open Space’ discussion on possible services that could be offered by the Columbans in Dalgan.

It was my first time to see how the process works.

People from various backgrounds are invited to come together and discuss a wide topic –such as how Dalgan could help local and wider communities.

However there is no fixed agenda. The participants are asked to volunteer to lead a workshop on a topic of their choice.  When a number have done this, the remainder are asked to look at the list and join the workshop in which they are most interested.

There are four principles:  

Whoever comes are the right people;

Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen;

When it starts is the right time;

When it’s over, it‘s over.

There is one bye-law, the ‘law of two feet’ – you are free to move from one group to another at any time and be a ‘honey bee’ pollinating other groups.   

At the end there is a plenary session in which everyone has the chance of a final word and all the proposals are collected.

The proposals will be gathered in a report and sent to all the convenors of workshops for correction.

The conclusions will be the basis for an action plan that should emerge. 

Following the excitement of last Saturday’s gathering, we look forward to the new direction they will give to Dalgan.

Getting to know you!

Last Saturday I was a meeting of Cultur (with a fada on the final ‘u’), the  community organisation in Navan that works with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Among those attending were women from Brazil, Sudan, Ghana and Nigeria.

A local Garda turned up to give them some idea of family disciplinary methods that are illegal in Ireland. Some of the punishment common in their home counties are banned here.  It was a practical example of the cultural problems migrant families face – not just with the culture of the locals but with their own children who get new ideas in local schools that conflict with traditions back home.  

There was also a young man from Monaghan there to encourage them to learn Irish!

‘Inclusion’ was a word often mentioned, they want to feel part of the local community.

There were no Chinese in sight though they do have a presence in Navan. The reason for their absence was that ‘they like to keep to themselves and are hard to get to know.’ That phenomenon is something I know only too well from my effort to contact Chinese in Dublin.

The Cultur Group were getting ready to join in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Navan.  

They are a great bunch of people and the wider Navan community seem to be doing their best to ‘include’ them.  

Only 17 million births in 2017 China!

A lot has been read into the Chinese stamp to celebrate the Lunar New Year. It shows five pigs (this is the ‘Year of the Pig’) a mammy, daddy and three little ones. The general opinion was that it is a signal from the Chinese Government, which established a ‘One Child’ policy in 1979 and extended it to two in 2016, that it is now encouraging three children per family.

It seems there were only 17.58 million births in China in 2017, 12% below official forecasts. It led to a fear that in the not-too-distant future there will be too many old people and not enough young to provide for them.  

In many families both parents have to hold on to jobs and prefer to put all their resources into the education and raising of one child rather than facing the financial burden of two or more.

Pig are still a symbol of prosperity in Asia so connecting pigs (prosperity) with the number of children is not farfetched.  In the West we have a story of Three Little Pigs. Two were easy-going and lazily built houses of straw and sticks while the third put extra effort into building a sturdy house of brick which the hungry wolf could not knock down. So, going that bit further and having a third child is like building up a durable family that is more likely to survive future challenges.

In the meantime, a lot of huffing and puffing is going on between the government and cautious parents, both trying to keep the wolf from the door.

Another Celebration!

The Chinese Spring Festival New Year celebrations have not yet ended in Ireland!

Last night the ‘Gala’ (as New Year concerts are called in China) was in the Maynooth University Students Union.  There were singing (no dancing), food and, of course, a raffle.

The number of students participating was boosted by a group from the Confucian Institute in Dublin.

Dishes of food were presented to each table and included favourites such as spring rolls, chicken wings, dumplings, friend rice, fried noodles and Chinese style chips. Everything else was prepared by the students themselves and if it was not up to TV-performance level, the enthusiasm and cheer made up for it.

Not all the students were Chinese, among the performers were young people from Europe,  Africa and India,  studying Chinese here.  Each table had a ‘menu’ encouraging everyone to learn a few words.

It is another reminder of how Chinese influence is extending throughout the world.  The students’ celebration illustrated the positive side.   

A Chance to Experience China

Today two more volunteer teachers set out for Hong Kong on their way to China. They will teach in state universities. One, Eimer, has already taught on the mainland and will be returning to Chongqing, a major city with a population of over 30 million people.

Margret is on her first visit and will be teaching in Wuhan which has its connections with Ireland as the Columban Fathers, who started as the Maynooth Mission to China, have their roots there.

They are sponsored by AITECE (see who have arranged a break and orientation for them in Hong Kong before setting out for the mainland.

There are now direct flights from Dublin to Hong Kong, only 12 hours on Cathay Pacific, but China and Ireland are two different worlds.

China is not just a paradise for food, exotic sights (to Western eyes) and an amazing culture but also for teachers. Or at least that is the experience of the Irish teachers who have gone there with AITECE.  They report that they have never met students who are so open, friendly and responsive – a teacher’s dream, they say.

If you have a third level degree, or know someone who has, this is a great opportunity not only to meet the students but to experience another world.

Just add on, if necessary, a short course in teaching English as a foreign language and you are ready to go! (Also, you need to between 22 and 60.)

Get in touch!

Chinese New ‘Ear’


The best way of celebrating the Lunar New Year is to gather with a  group of friends and spend a few hours  talking, singing and making dumplings (jiaozi) together.

During the chatting, gossip about other people comes up making their ears burns –  that is why the dumplings are made in the shape of ears and the name jiaozi comes from that!

Well, actually that is not quite true. The reputed inventor of jiaozi was the doctor Zhang Zhongjing who, 1800 years ago, noted how his neighbours usually had frostbitten ears around the New Year. He made dumplings from mutton, chilli and herbs, wrapped them in a dough skin, boiled them and distributed them.  They were shaped like ears to indicate they would de-ice the ears, warm the body and increase blood flow.

Today making dumplings represents companionship, celebration, feasting and wishing each other good luck.

Last week we had such a celebration in our house. There were plenty of dumplings with music and song from China, Korea, Japan and Ireland. No frostbite was reported but everyone enjoyed the warmth, good company and even the news that was exchanged.