▲ Father Patrick Janmes McGlinchey has called Jeju Island home for the past 56 years. One of his greatest accomplishments has been the creation of an organic farm which aids in alleviating poverty on the island. Photo courtesy St.Isidore Farm
Unlike Sting’s Englishman in New York, Father Patrick James McGlinchey (Korean name Yim Pee Jae) is no alien in a foreign country. Don’t be fooled by his piercing blue eyes, snowy white hair and the beautiful Irish lilt when he speaks. He is a proud and legal honorary citizen of Jeju Island and has a superior mastery of the Korean language.
This comes as no surprise as he has spent 56 years living exclusively on the island and calls Jeju home. While he speaks both Korean and English fluently he feels most comfortable speaking his native tongue, Irish.
“I can speak only a little Korean,” jokes the hale and hearty octogenarian, 82. “I feel Irish all the time. To be Korean is unique. It’s almost impossible to be accepted as a foreigner in Korea.”
Father McGlinchey arrived in Jeju in the aftermath of the 4.3 Incident in 1953, in which a large number of Jeju residents were killed by Korean government troops. He recalls his first days in Jeju seeing the people living in extreme poverty. Despite the harsh circumstances, his best impression was of the Jeju women. He said he gained a tremendous respect for them.
“These women sacrificed everything for their children. I had never seen anything like it before,” he said. For the next five years his missionary work had to take a backseat as he devoted all his efforts in improving the quality of life for the people.
“The most effective way to help people, I believe, is to create jobs for the people and their families. That way, they can preserve their dignity,” he said.
He hit upon the idea of livestock farming as he saw that the climate was similar to his homeland and he knew that it would work. However, he says that he found out that farmers were the most difficult people in the world to help. “The first Korean word I learned was ‘ahn dwep ni da’ (Not possible).”
Eventually, he overcame the Herculean obstacles and the Isidore Farm (named after a saint) he started has become one of the best models for successful organic farming and flourishes to this day. Through the several stages of his projects, he has managed to pull thousands of Jeju people out of financial dire straits.
“I think the most important work I have ever done is setting up the credit union. It changed Jeju’s economy.” When asked about how he deals with all the media coverage that he has had so far he replies, “It’s good to let people know what we are doing here. I hope that other people will follow my example and help other people in turn. I have been somewhat disappointed because it hasn’t come true as much as I expected.”
He’s also not entirely happy with the direction Jeju is taking in promoting tourism. He feels that the tourism authorities are making mistakes and going off the wrong direction entirely.
“These people do not seem to realize the real value of what Jeju has to boast about. Jeju’s most valuable resources are the people. Their music, tradition and culture. That’s what makes Jeju different from others,” he said. “Instead of protecting the local villages, they are destroying them. It’s very sad.”
While Father McGlinchey can look back on his long history in Jeju and feel proud, perhaps it is the Irish in him that is still a wee bit discontented.
“I love Jeju. I hope to die in Jeju. But I would definitely change the way I went about things in Jeju knowing the things I do now.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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