HomeNewsIrish Catholic priest, Korea’s first foreign literary scholar, dies at 81

Irish Catholic priest, Korea’s first foreign literary scholar, dies at 81

During his lifetime, Father O'Rourke translated more than 2,000 Korean literary works into English

Irish Catholic priest Kevin Laurence O’Rourke, Korea’s first foreign literary scholar who translated more than 2,000 Korean literary works into English, was laid to rest on Oct. 26.

His funeral was held at the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Seoul.

Father O’Rourke died on Oct. 23 in Seoul at the age of 81, reported The Korea Times.

Born in Cavan, Ireland, in 1939, he was ordained priest in 1963; he then arrived in South Korea the following year where he served as assistant pastor at Soyangro Catholic Church in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province.

Father O’Rourke would go on to teach at Kyung Hee University from 1977 to 2005. He was the first foreigner to receive a doctorate in Korean literature from Yonsei University, in 1982.

During his lifetime, the priest translated famous Korean poems, novels, and other literary works, including Choi In-hun’s novel “The Square,” Lee Mun-yol’s “Our Twisted Hero,” So Chong-ju’s poem collection, and Yi Sang’s “Wings: Volume 091.”

Father O’Rourke also translated Korean traditional literary works such as song lyrics and poems from the Goryeo and Joseon eras.

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In 1989 he won the Korean National Literature Prize for his translations of Korean poetry and was granted an honorary South Korean citizenship in 2007.

He also won the presidential citation for services to the Korean language and literature from the then President Lee Myung-bak in 2009.

He was declared winner of the Daesan Literary Award in translation in 2017 and an achievement award from Lotte’s first publication culture award.

The Irish Embassy named a library at the embassy after him in 2010.

In an interview with The Korea Times in 2014, Father O’Rourke recalled that South Korea in the 1960s was full of “human heart.”

He said that back then, “we used to tell a policeman on a one-way street that ‘This is the only way I know to get home. Can you help me?’ And he would stop the traffic and send you up.”

Watch this ARIRANG TV interview with Father O’Rourke conducted late last year:

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