Remembering Kevin O’Rourke
Sir, – Your obituary of Prof Kevin O’Rourke (“Poet, scholar and highly regarded translator”, November 20th), the remarkable Columban priest and academic who died last month, rightly paid tribute to his outstanding work in both the spiritual and cultural spheres in Korea over a period of 56 years.
He also contributed to the work of the Irish Embassy in Seoul. Shortly after I arrived in Korea as Irish Ambassador in 1999, I attended Kevin’s 60th birthday party, an important milestone in Korean culture and celebrated accordingly with elaborate ceremony.
We became firm friends and he provided invaluable advice on Korean culture and protocol, so much so that when the Korean authorities suggested that we might appoint informal liaison officers to assist with the preparations for the 2002 Fifa World Cup, Kevin agreed to act on our behalf.
The duties were not onerous but we had the benefit of Kevin’s incomparable knowledge of the Korean language and societal norms, to the envy of the embassies of other participating countries.
On another occasion, he gave a lecture on the affinity in feeling found in Irish and Korean poetry to a prestigious Korean cultural association which led some Koreans present to tell me that they felt ashamed at his superior grasp of their language.
When we instituted our Bloomsday celebration at the Irish residence, he was the star turn, delivering a tour de force reading of the scene where Leopold Bloom was confronted by “The Citizen” in a pub.
His greatest literary love was, however, WB Yeats, whose work he re-read constantly.
Kevin O’Rourke was part of a remarkable generation of Columban priests and nuns who came to Korea from the 1950s and 1960s onwards. They did outstanding work in a variety of areas apart from the purely spiritual, including economic development and tackling social issues (by the sisters in particular) such as HIV/Aids.
Like Kevin, they enriched their adopted country and did our State proud. – Yours, etc.
(Ambassador of Ireland
to the Republic of Korea 1999-2004 and to the
Republic of Korea 2004),