Pharrell Williams – Seoul is also HAPPY!

9 Mar

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With the help of my amazing friends, and quite a few total strangers, I just finished filming, editing and uploading a Seoul remake of the Pharrell Williams HAPPY music video. Considering all filming was done on smart phones and the entire video was edited in a few hours, I think we did a pretty good job. Let me know what you think! :)

Paradise has its faults – The Perhentian Islands

30 Jul

Having spent the last 5 weeks traveling around Indonesia and Malaysia, posting numerous positive social media updates and uploading photos of tropical beaches that would make just about anyone and everyone jealous, I feel I have some confessions to make. The first and most important one I will outline in this blog post. Just because a photograph looks “postcard perfect”, does not mean the destination is absolute paradise. Up until this trip I always thought I could define paradise. I thought that any beach with beautiful white sand, crystal clear waters, rows of hammocks swinging from palm trees and with a sprinkling of friendly beach boys selling Pina Coladas out of fresh coconuts was my idea of ABSOLUTE PARADISE.

On a recent trip to The Perhentian Islands off the East coast of Malaysia, I had to pause and re-evaluate my idea of paradise. Before my travels, everyone I had met who had travelled South East Asia said I simply MUST go to the Perhentian Islands.  (Both The Perhentian Islands and The Gilis (in Indonesia) seemed to be high up on everyones lists so I decided I needed to visit both!) One friend, Jessica, told me it was the best place she had ever been snorkelling in her life – that the water was unbelievably clear and the place was paradise. My friend Jeni told me that if she could go on her Honeymoon again, she would go back to the Perhentian Islands. In my mind, this place was going to be absolute paradise.

Is this paradise?

Is this paradise?

View of Coral Bay - the nicest part of the small island

View of Coral Bay – the nicest part of the small island

Praise aside, I had also done some research and knew not to have my expectations TOO high. These were remote islands, after all, with only a few hours of electricity a day and no roads, no cars and not even a donkey and carts like the Gili Islands. So, I’m sure you are waiting to hear what could possibly make me think this place was not perfect, so let me explain.

On the boat to the island I was pretty mesmerized.  Everyone had been right about the colour of the water…it was like NOTHING I had ever seen before. Taking into account I have now visited 43 countries, that is a seriously big deal. The water around these islands was so amazing that it almost looked fake, as if you were whizzing through the worlds largest swimming pool.

The water was CRYSTAL CLEAR

The water was CRYSTAL CLEAR

View of the beach from the jungle interior

View of the beach from the jungle interior

It wasn’t until we arrived on the island that the real trouble started. First of all, the ferry/speed boat will not take you the whole way to the shore. They stop about 200 metres from the beach and insist you pay a local beach boy 2 dollars to take you the rest of the way. Not very much money, but it’s the principal! Plus, can you imagine trying to maneuver yourself, your backpack and your suitcase from a ferry onto a teeny tiny unstable speed boat as they pull up side my side?! NOT AN EASY FEAT!!

On arrival on the actual beach you feel relieved to have landed safely, and dry, with all your possessions  But you can’t chill for more than 2 minutes as the race is on. As everyone piles off the little speed boats there is panic as people start running up the beaches to the various accommodation choices, searching for a place to stay. Why? There simply is not enough supply to meet the demand. Every few hours tourists arrive and they are continuously told by lodging after lodging that they are fully booked, despite telling us over the phone that they “don’t take bookings”. We went to over 10 places, and were turned away from every single one. We finally found some chalets at the end of the beach – ‘D Rock Garden’ that had a spare cabin for 3 nights. Regardless of price, service or what it even looked like we said yes and were relieved that we would not have to spend the night sleeping on the beach!

We spent 20 minutes trying to find the cabin as nobody would help us. To say the staff were unhelpful would be the understatement of the century, They were appalling. We eventually found it, and discovered our “en-suite” bathroom was totally flooded with who knows what covering the ground! We complained and they didn’t seem to care. We complained again the next day and they said they would “maybe look at it”. Wow, so helpful. I wouldn’t mind so much but we were actually paying quite a lot for this cabin, not that we had much choice. As we had paid for a room for 3 people, but were given only ONE bed, we asked for an extra mattress. We, miraculously got this, but they didn’t even put it in our room. They just left it outside our door, with no sheets, no extra pillow…nothing!

Here's your mattress, as requested!

Here’s your mattress, as requested!

Friendly signs everywhere!

Friendly signs everywhere!

We moved to a cheaper place next door on day 3, which was about 1/3 of the price and seemed a lot more simpler. We were greeted with a sign on arrival that said, “stay at least 2 nights. If you wish to extend, it depends on how generous you are. E.g if you book our snorkeling trip, but our breakfast etc. If not, forget about it. Thank you.” What a lovely way to welcome guests to your accommodation!!

Next, let’s talk about the food. Or lack there of. There is 3 choices on long beach – the blue plastic chairs, the red plastic chairs, and the yellow plastic chairs. The “western” food they serve, thats right they pretty much all serve the same menu, is some of the worst food I have ever tasted in my life. While the local food isn’t too bad, waiting between 1 and 2 hours for a bowl of noodles is pure ridiculous. The they tend to forget about you, or forget your order, which doubles your frustration.

Let’s talk about the beach, which Lonely Planet says is “the most popular backpacker destination in Malaysia”. Maybe this is true but heaven knows why! The beach is dirty, with cigarette butts and empty beer cans floating in the water and stuffed in the sand. There were even used sanitary pads floating in the water, which was seriously disgusting. There were so many beach boys speeding around in their boats all day that your “perfect view” was pretty much ruined.

While the snorkeling was one of the best experiences I had while on the island, swimming with turtles, Clown fish, trigger fish and hundreds more, it also made me quite sad. Nearly all the coral was dead, due to tourists stepping on it and the lack of experienced guides. The guides also didn’t seem to care about tourists touching the turtles and even dived in and tried to encourage then to come up above the water. These people are so busy trying to make a quick buck they really don’t care about their beautiful environment, something which surely won’t last forever the way they are treating it.

Amazing snorkeling wIth NEMO!

Amazing snorkeling wIth NEMO!

Snorkelling with Trigger fish

Snorkelling with Trigger fish

Let’s summarize – the accommodation is limited and you have to fight hard or run fast to actual find a place to sleep. The staff are unfriendly and rude. The food is bad and the waiting times awful. The beach and water can be quite dirty and the view isn’t even that great, and all the coral is dead due to lack of care. 

Now comes the question that is really bothering me. Are the Perhentians still viewed as “paradise” to some people?? Have I been too spoiled throughout my travels with beautiful beaches, friendly people, delicious food and stunning scenery that I can no longer see appreciate paradise when it is staring me in the face? Have I have gotten so old that I can no longer see the fun in staying in the dingey backpacker haunts I used once frequent?! Or am I right in thinking that tourism may have ruined the islands, as the rate of tourists visiting them has grown faster than the locals could handle?

What do you think, what is YOUR idea of paradise?

 

Skellig Michael – Puffin Paradise

10 Jun

Last Sunday, a day in which we experienced the most beautiful weather Ireland has seen in years, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Skellig Michael, an island located in the Atlantic Ocean, just 11 km off the West Coast of Ireland.

Skellig Michael, while not known to a lot of people (thankfully – that’s what makes it a hidden gem!), is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to one of the oldest Christian Monastic settlements in the world – founded sometime between the 6th and 8th century. It is also home to a vast range of wildlife, including Puffins, Seagulls and over 50,000 gannets! Not bad for a tiny island off the coast of Kerry!

Thanks to its status as a world heritage site, its obscure, remote and exposed location, only 13 boat licenses are granted each year and these tour operators are only allowed to run a single trip to Skellig Michael each day during the summer season. This means that only a lucky few get to see this magical place each year, and if you happen to land while the sun is shining, as we did, you can consider yourself truly blessed!

The boat trip to the island took about an hour, and we had nearly 3 hours to explore the island itself. This was the perfect length of time to climb the 618 slippery steps to the monastery that perches on top, to explore the expertly built beehive huts that the monks would have lived and slept in, which have remained intact and untouched for hundreds of years and to take in the spectacular views, scenery and abundant wildlife that is on offer.

It’s hard to believe such a piece of paradise, a tiny bit of history frozen in time, exists right on our doorstep. If you live in Ireland, I think you should do everything you can to visit this very special place. My only regret is that it took me 27 years to discover it.

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Blind Albino Crabs and jumping from Volcanos

4 Mar

I recently returned from a week-long break in The Canary Islands, with a good friend and fellow wine lover! Our week of winter sunshine was just what the doctor ordered for both of us; a chance to top up the tan and explore a new place (my holiday goals) and a chance to relax and rejuvenate while sipping on copious amounts of wine and cocktails (my friends holiday goals!).

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Two of the highlights from our week-long boozey package deal (the shame, the shame) for me included a trip to Jameos Del Agua and climbing a Volcano that happened to have a pirate museum perched on top!!

Checking out the hundreds, if not thousands, of rare blind albino crabs in a blue lagoon which was created following a volcanic eruption over 3,000 years ago was certainly a first for me! The water was so shockingly blue, so unbelievably clear, that is t was like stepping into a parallel universe or the set of Avatar! Photos and words cannot do this natural wonder justice, it simply must be seen and experienced.

The Blue Lagoon in jameos del agua was not the only thing that treated our senses. Towards the end of the lava tunnel is an astonishing concert cave with amazing natural acoustics, a feast for the ears! The cave seems to draw you in and could very easily lull you to sleep, as you listen to classical chimes and admire the vastness of the cave.

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jameos del agua

En route to this enchanting place, our magical bus tour allowed us one more stop. We hopped off the bus in Teguise with the intention of checking out some churches and architecture and maybe even grabbing a bite to eat. However upon hopping off the bus, we both looked UP. And the sight bestowed upon was one of pure temptation. One of Lanzarotes 300 Volcanos, but with the added effect of a newly renovated caste-turned-pirate-museum perched on the edge, lay in front of us, begging us to climb it.

We had 1 hour until the bus returned to pick us up, so without thinking twice we shot off up the spirally road, wrapping its way around this ancient mountain. And boy were the views from the top worth it. (The pirate museum had much to be desired, but the views made up for whatever was lacking!) Those that read my blog regularly know that I’m a BIG fun of ‘jumping pics’, so the chance to leap into the air at the edge of a volcano was not something I was going to turn down.

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teguise lanzarote

Besides climbing volcanos and spying on blind crabs, much of our time in Lanzarote revolved around 2 things. 2 very important things if you were to ask my friend. But those delicacies, dear readers, are for another post….

International Day for Street Kids – They need YOU!

9 Apr

This Saturday, April 12th, is International Day for Street Kids. It is, to be honest, a day not a lot of people know about, but one in which the Consortium for Street Children has been promoting and celebrating for a few years now will continue to do so until it is fully recognized by the United Nations. You can help this process by signing their petition HERE.

Living in South Korea, where there is almost no poverty and the idea of kids living on the streets of Seoul is almost, I said *almost*, laughable thanks to the extremely high standard of living experienced by the majority of the population and some of the most advanced technology in the world to help progress the nations needs, it is hard to identify with the plight of street kids around the world.

Kids in Korea have more money than they know what to do with, go to school for more hours than any other children on the planet (and probably more that they actually should), and have phones that are so smart and so expensive that children in other pockets of Asia can only dream of.

This time last year, I was a far cry from this life of excessive spending, smart phones and private tutoring. I was working for The Hope Foundation, a not-for-profit International Development Organization that works with street and slum children in Calcutta, India. After almost a year working as their PR and Media Coordinator, I had the chance to visit their amazing projects in Calcutta and to witness first hand the incredible work they have being doing in the areas of health, education and protection mainly for young kids who have been living on the streets or in the slums.

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Smiles all around: 2 Kids that HOPE had been working with

Upon returning to Ireland after one short week in Calcutta, my goals for the future, my outlook on life and even my career choices had all been altered. I realize it is difficult to believe, but 1 week really can change your life. So much so that I wrote all about it HERE.

Two events that will stick with me forever, and had a profound effect in me, happened a few days after arriving in Kolkata. The first was walking through the slums. I had never been in a slum before and everything about it was just awful. The lack of space, the rubbish, pigs running around and sniffing their way through dirty, black water, the overcrowding, the smell, the lack of access to adequate sanitation ( you could see small children squatting to go to the toilet on the side of the road, or grown men just leaning against a wall or railing in broad daylight) and the general feeling of helplessness.

The second experience that shocked me to the bone was going on Night Watch. The HOPE Night Watch team is a team of 3 people (a driver and 2 ‘watchers’) that patrol the streets of Kolkata in a make shift ambulance each night looking for abandoned or sick children or adults that may need urgent medical help.

Driving through the streets of Kolkata at night was nothing short of eye-opening. Suddenly, as if they had come out of nowhere, I could see that there were people sitting and lying on thin sheets of plastic everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. I don’t think I could ever imagined there would be so many people living and sleeping on the streets. Or maybe I thought it was just individuals rather than WHOLE FAMILIES. It was devastating to see young children and even babies curled up next to their mother with nothing to protect them. We even saw a new-born baby, probably only a few weeks old, lying on the cold ground next to his mother, who was fast asleep outside a train station. Anyone could have taken this baby. It was frightening to see, to witness, to know that people must live like this just to survive.

street kid calcutta

Life on the streets in Calcutta is now place for a child.

Even though I am now in Korea, and living a very different life to the one I was living last year (and to tell you the truth, still not the life for me…the search continues….) I still follow the great work that The Hope Foundation does and the stories of the children they help and the lives they save. In fact, that is why I am writing this post!

This Saturday, in order to raise awareness for International Day for Street Kids, HOPE has launched a twitter campaign called #selfies4streetkids. It is a fun and engaging way to get people around the world to snap a fun photo wherever they are and to show their support for street children worldwide. So what are you waiting for?! Grab your phone, and get whoever is around you to jump in for a fun selfie and upload it to twitter with the hashtag #selfies4streetkids.

Also, make sure to follow @HOPE_UK or @hopefoundation on twitter to stay updated with their work.

Spring has Sprung

8 Apr

A small taste of the photographs I took last weekend at the Gyeong-Ju Cherry Blossom Festival. No words can fully describe how beautiful spring is in South Korea…even if it only lasts a few weeks!

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Making An Impossible Challenge Possible

2 Apr

I have been so lazy with my blog so far this year and for that I truly apologize. Usually I write about the big goals I have set for myself then post regular updates on whether those goals have been successful or not.

For Lent this year, I vowed to give up my two biggest vices; Facebook and Alcohol. I decided not to post about this because I was sure, like every other year, that it would most likely be an epic fail and would be a bit embarrassing to admit defeat!

For anyone who knows me in person, you know how much of a party animal I can be. For the sake of my liver, my general health and maybe even my sanity, this needed to stop! As for Facebook, I realised I was totally addicted. I think most people I know are pretty addicted to Facebook, but I discovered that I really do post an obscene amount of times each day and it was wasting so much of my time. I de-activated my profile, un-installed the Facebook App from my phone and vowed to everyone who would listen that I would be staying off Facebook for the grand total of 47 days (None of that cheating on Sunday’s nonsense….I know my Dad would not let me get away with that!!)

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As you may or may not have guessed, this particular challenge was nigh on impossible for me. I could list a million excuses as to why I could not stay away, many of them genuine and a few made up, but I will not go into details and instead will admit total defeat. In fact within 6 short days I had logged back on and posted the “Pharrell Williams – HAPPY – I am from Seoul” video which I filmed and edited. It seemed nothing could keep me from sharing the good stuff in life with friends and family. I was told off by some close friends and soon deactivated for another few days but FOMO (fear of missing out) settled in pretty bad and soon I found myself logging in again and decided this was one battle that, for the moment, I was not up for fighting. Facebook, for the time being, was staying out.

As for the other half of my lenten fast, I am delighted to say that I have, miraculously, stayed off alcohol for over 1 month now and have even decided to EXTEND this no-drinking extravaganza for another month. The hardest day of all was St Patrick’s Day, but once that hurdle was complete, the rest of the month was a breeze.

So what makes an impossible challenge (for me!) suddenly possible? How is this, Lent 2014, the first time in a decade that I have successfully managed to give up drinking? The answer to this question is one small little word. One word which changes everything. And that one word is….Running.

For the first time in about a decade I have seriously committed to getting in shape and am doing this by running. Every morning and every evening. Sometimes in the gym, sometimes around town. Up hills, along tracks, over bridges. Up stairs, down stairs, in stadiums, down motorways. For the past month I have committed 100% to running and it has been an incredible experience and one which I hope I will keep up for the foreseeable future. As part of this new found love, some friends and I signed up to a variety of 10km races all over Korea which have been great fun and these shorter races even led me to signing up to and completing my very first Half Marathon, an experience which I will write all about in my next post.

Here’s to another month of alcohol-free weekends full of fitness and fun!

 

 

St Patrick’s Day Festival Seoul in Photos

18 Mar

Sadly I was too busy on the day to take lots of photos like I usually do, but I thought I would share the few I did take anyway. For a full review of the day, check out THIS POST.

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A fusion of cultures – St Patrick’s Day in South Korea

18 Mar

Listening to an American Military Brass band open an Irish Festival in South Korea by singing Ireland’s call on a day that many will remember for Ireland’s Six Nations victory, was not something I will easily forget.

Speaking on stage at the 14th Annual Seoul St. Patrick’s Day Festival, The United States Army 2nd Infantry Division band said they were delighted to be there and saw the festival as an excellent opportunity to strengthen the partnership between America, Korea and Ireland.

The US Army 2nd Infantry Division Brass Band. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

The US Army 2nd Infantry Division Brass Band. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

A sea of green and smiles and laughter. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

A sea of green and smiles and laughter. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

The event, which took place at D Cube City in Sindorim last Saturday, was an incredible fusion of Irish and Korean music and culture and while there are over 1,000 Irish living in Korea, many of whom were no doubt present on the day, it was the presence and participation of so many non-Irish residents that made the festival so unique.

To watch an Irishman on stage speak fluent English, Irish and Korean to an equally stunned and impressed audience, was a true example of what the festival is all about. It is not simply about showcasing and promoting Irish culture abroad, but it’s about being excellent representatives of how welcoming, friendly and adaptable the Irish people are and how open we are to other cultures.

It was great to see so many Korean kids enjoying the festival. Photo by Michelle Marie Jenkins

It was great to see so many Korean kids enjoying the festival. Photo by Michelle Marie Jenkins

Some of the finalists in the Costume Competition. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

Some of the finalists in the Costume Competition. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

While Ireland and Irish musicians were well represented on the day, there were also musicians and dancers from Korea, the United States and even China. Listening to Bard, a group of Koreans who play traditional Irish music, play some classic Irish tunes while young kids danced in circles in front of the stage and 1,000’s more soaked up the atmosphere and basked in the first of the spring sunshine really encapsulated the theme of the day.

Other highlights included; watching the crowd look on in awe as Tap Pung, a Korean Irish Dancing troupe, took to the stage and gave Riverdance a run for their money; watching hundreds of waygooks (foreigners) form a human train in front of the main stage while Sweet Murphys Fancy belted out some drinking songs; watching professional photographers click furiously with the knowledge they were getting incredible shots as the finalists of the costume competition lined up near the stage and danced around in a last-minute bid to impress judges and lastly seeing big groups of Korean school children sitting in the audience, delighted with the green balloons and the hilarious Jameson branded “leprechaun” hats which had been given to them for free, smiling and laughing despite not having a clue what was going on!

A beautiful Korean-Irish Fusion dance directed by Nannah McGlennon. Photo by Stephanie Anglmyer

A beautiful Korean-Irish Fusion dance directed by Nannah McGlennon. Photo by Stephanie Anglmyer

Tap Pung, Korean Irish Dancers on the main stage. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

Tap Pung, Korean Irish Dancers on the main stage. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

St Patrick’s Day has always been my favourite holiday of the year, even surpassing Christmas and Halloween in my personal popularity chart, and this year was no different. I have always been a very proud Irish citizen, and this pride seems to multiply whenever I’m actually outside of Ireland.

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Korea this year, however, felt extra special and yet I can’t exactly pinpoint why that is. It could be  that it was my first time being involved in the behind-the-scenes organization of the festival, which took 6 months of hard work and dedication by a team of volunteers who were delighted to see their hard work pay off on the day. It could have been the fact that I was volunteering on the day so had a different perspective from the rest of the crowd.

Finally, and this could be the real answer, it could be because it was my first time in celebrating St Patrick’s Day sober in over a decade. Whatever the reason, pride and joy was simply flowing through me like a fast-flowing river on Saturday and no amount of negativity or difficult situations was going to dampen my spirits on my favourite day of the year!

A snapsot of the colorful crowd. Photo by Stephanie Anglemyer

A snapsot of the colorful crowd.

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Myself and Michelle taking a short break from our volunteering duties!

Myself and Michelle taking a short break from our volunteering duties!

Big shout out to the Irish Association of Korea for organizing such a  memorable festival and to all the incredible volunteers who helped out on the day. It was the perfect way to welcome the spring to South Korea and another excellent showcase of why everyone loves the Irish!

To see more photos from the day, check out Stephanie Anglemyer’s photography website at: http://www.anklebiterphotos.com/

Generation Emigration – St Patrick’s Day in South Korea

11 Mar

st patricks day seoul korea

Each day this week on the Irish Times website, members of Irish communities around the world will be sharing plans for St Patrick’s Day where they live. Today, I had the opportunity to share my experiences in South Korea and to write about Seoul’s 14th St Patrick’s Day festival, taking place this weekend.

To read the article on the Irish Times website, click here.

Back home in Ireland, preparation for St Patrick’s Day does not involve too much planning, aside from stocking up the fridge, planning crazy green outfits with friends and deciding how early is too early to start the festivities. This year, all that changed for me.

On arrival in South Korea last July, I was asked to join the Irish Association of Korea (IAK), a not-for-profit organisation which promotes Irish culture in Korea. As well as hosting events for the Irish community, it also provides the opportunity for Koreans and other expats to experience and learn more about Irish life. The main event of the year is the St Patrick’s Day Festival in Seoul, now in its 14th year, with up to 10,000 spectators showing up on the day.

Being a part of this active and engaging organisation has given me incredible behind-the-scenes experience of what it takes to plan a St Patricks’s Day Festival abroad. It takes months of hard work by an extremely dedicated team of people. Over the last few months, much of the committee members’ free time has been tied up at meetings, fundraising events and sponsorship talks. I could never have imagined how much time and effort goes into organising one day of craic agus ceoil until I was involved myself.

Now that all the ground work has been done – sponsorship secured, a perfect venue located, great musicians, experienced Irish dancers, story-tellers and local volunteers recruited – we are all very excited for the event to begin.

The festival here Seoul is known for the keen participation from members of both the Irish and Korean community, and this year will not disappoint with traditional folk dancers and musicians playing Irish music, both traditional and popular rock, coming from all over Korea to perform.

Musicians from Ireland will also feature heavily on the bill and the festival will offer an opportunity for the public to get involved, with traditional ceili-dancing, which has grown in popularity every year, taking place at the main stage. There will be face painting and story telling for children.

No festival promoting Ireland and Irish culture would be complete without the GAA present and thus a display of Gaelic football will be hosted by the one of the most successful teams in Asia, the Seoul Gaels Gaelic football team. The Seoul Gaels will also be using this opportunity to seek new recruits for their upcoming season, which starts in April.

The Seoul St Patrick’s Day Festival is the perfect opportunity for people living in Korea to experience Irish culture and get a feel for the wonderful array of Irish talent living here. March 17th is a day when we all think of Ireland and its rich history. To be able to celebrate that here in South Korea shows the extraordinary power of the Irish abroad and I am very proud to be a part of such a great expat community.

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