Out of Ireland
One evening in his early teens as his family sat around the dining table, Mark O’Neill’s father suddenly dropped his English accent and spoke for the first time in his original and long hidden Irish voice. It was the start of an Irish journey for Mark that has lasted a lifetime, taking him through Scotland, to Belfast as a reporter during the Troubles in the 1970s, and from 1978, to the Far East where he continued his search for the meaning of Irishness.
In Hong Kong, China and Japan, Mark discovered deep Irish footprints – missionaries, doctors, judges, lawyers, authors and jockeys. Two Irish nuns cured Hong Kong of tuberculosis, an Irish bandmaster wrote the music for Japan’s national anthem and a nun taught English and Gaelic to the future Empress Michiko of Japan. Mark followed the footsteps of his grandfather, a Presbyterian missionary who lived in a small town in northeast China for 45 years. He was delighted to find still standing the church his grandfather had built, with a minister and her congregation happy to welcome him.
Since 1800, no country in Europe has lost as many of its citizens to emigration as Ireland. From the 19th century, the Irish started to come to Asia, and now the Chinese are going to Ireland – including Hazel Chu, elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 2020, as well as one of Ireland’s most famous celebrity chefs and any number of IT wizards. This is a remarkable account of the Irish diaspora, touchingly personal, full of humour, anecdotes and insights.