To begin, as a little disclaimer, nobody is claiming Ireland is truly comparable to a hereditary socialist totalitarian state. That isn’t the point of this article. However, in a world where hostilities often lead us to emphasize differences between people and things, we can find surprisingly that we often have more in common than we think. Despite the two countries being vastly removed in terms of geography, politics and culture, the Republic of Ireland and North Korea have a number of overlapping themes in common which few people notice. Because we at Visit North Korea believe in building bridges between people, breaking down hostilities and facilitating mutual understanding, we’re now going to show you five things that the land of St. Patrick has in common with the land of St. Kim!
1. Colonized by their bigger, Imperialistic neighbour
The first theme which brings these two apparently different countries together is the traumatic history of colonialism from their next door neighbour. Ireland was annexed under the British crown, Korea was annexed under the Japanese Imperial crown. Both countries were assumed to be an integral part of those respective “Empires”. The British deceptively claimed the Irish were backwards in order to justify their rule, the Japanese did the same. Both Empires sought to destroy their subjects respective languages and replace them with their own. Sadly in Ireland, this has had more traumatic effects due to the longer lasting tenure of British rule. Finally, in both Britain and Japan today, the majority of the population at large are disinterested or unapologetic for the atrocities committed in the countries they ruled.
2. A proud history of armed struggle against this colonialism
This colonial history leads to our second point. Both North Korea and Ireland hold national pride towards the individuals perceived to have resisted the foreign colonialism motivated by a love of their people. In Ireland this includes those such as Michael Collins, who fought in the Easter Rising of 1916 and lead the establishment of the Irish Free State. In North Korea, the same narratives are attached to the country’s first leader Kim Il-Sung, who is claimed to have participated in a war of guerrilla resistance against the Japanese with the goal of liberating his country. The Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang exists to commemorate this struggle, as well as the monument to the Japanese residence on Mansudae Hill.
3. A country divided against its will
This leads us to our next point. After independence from colonial rule, both Ireland and Korea would be divided into two units much to the grievance of the local population. For Korea, this concerned the division of the peninsula at the 38th parallel and the creation of two states. For Ireland, although it was not locked in the geopolitical stand off of the cold war, the country became divided as the British opted for the six counties of the North to remain a part of the UK. In both scenarios, this division was not accepted by popular will. North & South Korea today still claim each others territories and proclaim themselves to be the legitimate government of all Korea. Up until 1998, the Republic of Ireland claimed Northern Ireland as its own and “officially” did not recognize UK rule over the territory.
4. A hope for reunification
Both Irish and Koreans today long for the peaceful reunification of their country and a potential end to the decades long division which has plagued it. In both Koreas, reunification plays a huge part in official rhetoric. In the North, a monument envisioning reunification (as pictured above) was even created. In Ireland, many individuals likewise aspire for the reunification of the country, with the staunch Republican Party Sinn Fein placing such as its firm political objective- with politicians such as Gerry Adams and the Late Martin McGuinness being its primary advocates. However for those in the North who consider themselves British, this has caused deep controversy.
5. A big drinking culture!
Last but not least, on a light hearted note! Both Ireland and the DPRK have a big cultural emphasis on drinking. Despite the differences between the two societies, Koreans and Irish love their social drinking! They both consume more alcohol per capita than their neighbours! Ireland’s Guinness Beer is of course world famous, a brand and representation of their country. North Korea has their very own Taedonggang beer which continues to grow in popularity! There is also the much stronger Soju as well.. only to be drank in smaller amounts…
Conclusion: Think Objectively
Sometimes things are not always as they appear. Few people in the west understand North Korea or why it is the way it is. The Republic of Ireland is certainly very different in many respects, but as this article shows, there are many historical themes and undercurrents that are in fact the same. Ireland is a modern, free republic and immediately that may put some of its citizens with odds with how they perceive North Korea… yet in many respects the struggles and pathways of the two countries have been strikingly similar. We will soon be announcing a new tour in this regard, aiming to help build more constructive ties between the two countries. Stay tuned!