It’s no secret that the Irish have a thirst for travel. You could say it’s in our blood. Look in any city in any country and you’ll find at least one Irish pub kitted out in traditional bodhran drums, be-shamrocked dish towels and tea-stained maps of the Old Country.
Some 87,000 people left Ireland between 2011 and 2012; many of that number young adults in search of greater job opportunities abroad. Nestled with characteristic stubbornness amongst the usual list of destinations like Australia and Canada is South Korea. It’s gaining popularity too. In December 2012, there were just short of 900 Irish citizens in Korea, the bulk of them teachers. Ireland’s second worst kept secret is that where there’s one of us, more are sure to follow. So this St Patrick’s day, Seoul can boast a certain authenticity when it hosts it’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Photo: Tom Coyner
‘As long as you come from Ireland there’s a welcome on the mat,’ goes the song, but that isn’t quite the case in Korea. While there was no scarcity of Irish accents at last year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, they were not alone. The crowd was a kind of smiling, jostling bibimbap of different nationals. The trend continues throughout other aspects of Irish culture in Seoul. On a recent visit to a tin whistle lesson provided by the Irish Association of Korea, there were almost as many nationalities present as there were whistles. Irish culture isn’t precious; its doors are open and the welcome mat is truly out.
The IAK estimates that 8,000 people came along to hear the traditional bands, chat to other celebrants and partake in some neck-jarring Irish ceili dancing last year. The performers were as diverse as the crowd, and if ever there was an argument for multi-culturalism, St Patrick’s Day at Sindorim was it. It was light; a day as fun and bright as it was sunny. It recalled football games with the family and all those days at university spent sipping beer in a busy park. For local Koreans, as Irish Association Vice Chair, Shauna Browne says, there’s no better way to engage with another culture. St Patrick’s Day is Irishness in 3D; a cheering, chattering tangle of people from every corner of the Earth, all of them game for a bit of craic.
This year, celebrations are once again at the D-Cube Plaza, Sindorim on Saturday, March 16th. Expect things to kick off at 12.30pm and run until 5pm. You can stock up on supplies in the nearby Sindorim station complex. 2013 marks the thirtieth year of diplomatic relations between Ireland and South Korea so there’s plenty to be merry about. The IAK expects it to be the biggest St Patrick’s Day yet. Traditional bands are scheduled for the main stage and you should consider bringing along some courage (dutch or otherwise) for the audience participation dancing.
New this year will be an Irish village with storytelling and dancing lessons. The organisers invite any musicians to bring along their own instruments to take part in the traditional session taking place there. If you’re feeling particularly full of celtic spirit then you can dress up and compete in the costume competition which will be adjudicated throughout the day. For prizes in hard cash you can find something green, can’t you? Or, fancying a trip to Ireland, you can take part in the raffle with the chance of winning a flight to Dublin.
Spring is starting to show itself in the evenings and by the middle of March it should be pleasant enough to throw off the down coats and fear Seoul’s snow-happy winter no more. A day outside celebrating one of the oldest and most popular international festivals does not sound half bad, really.
Photo: Maggie Devlin
For those of us who like to celebrate St Paddy’s in its entirety, which is to say: well past sundown, the Irish Association of Korea’s after-party is in the Bull and Barrel, Itaewon. The event runs 7pm to 1am and tickets can be purchased at the door (10,000W). Live music, an open traditional session and a fierce knees-up are promised; perhaps the only time of the year when you can unabashedly recreate that scene from Titanic. In the foreign heart of Seoul, the Bull and Barrel is within walking distance of Irish bar heavyweight, The Wolfhound, local and , and Canadian haunt, Rocky Mountain Tavern. All venues are host to boozy St Patrick’s Day events while nearby Noksapyeong venue Powwow is throwing ‘.
Hongdae-bound revellers can get their Celtic on in Shamrock and Roll before heading opposite to Club FF for a St Patrick’s . Just down the street at Myoungwolgwan will be a from the WhiteLies Burlesque Revue. Head south to Gangnam for an all-you-can-eat (and drink!) at a ‘ ending up in brand new club Oz.
marks a good starting point, regardless of how intense you want to make your St Patrick’s Day. Picture yourself with that first cool beer in your hand. Feels nice, doesn’t it? When I asked an IAK member why people should come along to the St Patrick’s Day festival this year, their happily indignant response was answer enough: ‘Why wouldn’t you come? Why wouldn’t you?’
You’d have to be an eejit not to, says they.
For more information on March 16th’s celebrations, please email: or see the IAK website. To get to D-Cube Plaza, take lines #1 or #2 to Sindorim Station and take exit 1. Entry to the event is free and there are no ticket restrictions. Just turn up!
Words by .