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Are Koreans really the Irish of Asia?

A St Patrick’s Day special from Tom Coyner. This was written for the Korea Times, but never got published. It is published here with his permission. Read it, then go buy his book, Doing Business in Korea, which is an expanded version of his Mastering Business in Korea mentioned in the below article.

Tom Coyner
Tom Coyner

The stereotype that the Koreans are the Irish of the Orient has been around for at least half a century and some may argue much longer than that. When I was researching my recently released book, Mastering Business in Korea: A Practical Guide, I had a chance to investigate this old saw.

The first time I heard this statement was in the mid-1970s as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Frankly speaking, I thought it was a bit ridiculous. But, then, when I was a university student in Colorado, I heard from an ex-GI that Koreans eat kimchi with every meal. Yeah, right, I thought — typical GI stereotyping! But we all know the truth about that one.

Anyway, I did not start to reconsider this “Irish of the Orient” analogy until I became active in the Irish social community of Tokyo in the 1990’s, and later while heading up the Irish Association of Korea during the first six years of the new millennium.

This assumption was further buttressed by heard comments when interviewing a long-time Seoul executive from Ireland for my book.

While any stereotype may be fraught with peril from misunderstanding, please consider the following about what the Irish and Koreans as they indeed have much in common:

  1. Among the most religious populations in their part of the world with a comparatively high rate of regular church goers.
  2. Very family oriented and take sides along clans quite readily.
  3. Frequently extended families gather regardless of members’ ages to share being together, often taking turns entertaining each other by singing songs.
  4. Compared to their neighbors, they wear their hearts on their sleeves.
  5. Quick to fight and quick to forgive.
  6. Famous (or infamous) for their drinking habits.
  7. Less regarded for planning and better known for forming successful if chaotic teams at the last minute.
  8. Have a healthy disregard for authority, but will at least superficially show and demand honor and respect as tradition dictates.
  9. Often ask strangers about their hometowns due to regional stereotyping.
  10. Quick to laugh and quick to cry — as well as to break out into song and verse.
  11. Known and respected beyond their borders for their music and ability to entertain beyond the language barriers.
  12. The nation is divided as a result of foreign powers intervention.
  13. Well regarded for their sense of humor and playing of pranks while have little use for the person who cannot laugh at him or herself.
  14. Nation was colonized by its island neighbor and forced to speak the language of its oppressor.
  15. People were traumatized by the colonial experience and it has taken decades to psychologically recover — with a collective behavior of being a bit edgy, nervous and inhibited at times compared to that of their neighbors.
  16. In recent times their Diaspora has somewhat reversed for the first time due to the nation’s rapidly developing economy.

Now, the reader may or may not be convinced by the above sixteen points. So my best recommendation is to learn first hand. And what better opportunity could there be than St. Patrick’s Day in Seoul?

In the tradition of Ireland, regardless of weather, the craic (fun) will begin at noon, in Marrionier Park along side Daehagno boulevard in the Hyewha district of northern Seoul on Saturday, March 17th. The seventh annual St. Patrick’s Day parade steps off at 2:00 PM — and everyone, particularly the Koreans, are enthusiastically encouraged to join the march. Prior and following the parade there will be live Irish entertainment in an elaborate Ireland theme park in Marrionier Park. After the parade, there will samplings of Irish food, tea and, of course, Guinness beer — as well as a chance to learn and join in Irish folk dancing.

On the same Saturday evening, a monster Irish party will take place again at O’Kims, in the Westin Chosun Hotel. For the past five years, the Irish community has proven true another stereotype — no one can party like the Irish. From the line up of both traditional Irish and rock bands, it looks like the sixth such mega Hooley (dance party) will be a night with which to reckon. Tickets will be on sale at the door for W60,000 for all you can eat and drink (including the Irish black magic stuff), with the doors opening at 7:00 PM, March 17th.

And there is even more happening during this upcoming Irish Festival. To learn the details, go to For photos of previous Festivals’ events, go to Seoul Shamrock.


  • The Marmot’s Irish of Asia post

2 thoughts on “Are Koreans really the Irish of Asia?

  1. I was in the US Army (a medic in the 43rd Mash – same place that originated the TV series, MASH) and one warm day I was taking a short cut through the rice paddies to reach Uijongbu, accompanied by two fellow American GI’s …we were in short sleeves and, being from Ireland, my skin was pure white compared to theirs. We stopped to say hello to a very old Papasan in the middle of the paddies, a man with no English. He smiled at us and then pointed to my white arms. My two companions laughed and said, “He’s Irish”. The old man just looked. I said, “Hey, guys, he won’t understand”. They looked at him again and said, “Ireland ! Ireland!”. Suddenly he smiled and laughed and sang “Danny Boy….the pipes, the pipes are calling….Danny Boy” I am still amazed by that experience.

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