WebEd: Fascinating! Your preparation for the new venture in Hallim brought you all over Ireland and finally back to your hometown. And to renewed contact with the Irish Sisters of Charity! That must have been a precious time for you, Rosarii.
Rosarii: Yes! It was wonderful that Foxford should provide the culmination of our training. The Sisters of Charity, some of whose companions had prepared our first Sisters for mission in China, took us to their hearts. Day after day they guided us along the many steps of handweaving until they were sure that, between us, we had knowledge of design, colour, administration and sales promotion sufficient for establishing our woollen mill in faraway Hallim.
WebEd: And then you were on your way again?
Rosarii: Yes, in less than two years after leaving Korea I was back on its familiar soil, this time with two new companions, Sisters Elizabeth and Brid Kenny. Following a journey from Ireland via the United States which took six weeks I was glad to find myself in Mokpo once more, despite knowing that my stay there would be short.
We knew that we would be strangers in Hallim when we arrived there so, before leaving Mokpo, we procured some essentials for the new house which was awaiting us – basic furniture, household equipment and food. When all was ready, and two men from Mokpo had been assigned to travel with our goods, we left Mokpo and made the overnight journey by boat to Cheju City, arriving on the morning of August 14, 1962. Columban Father Sean Savage met us and brought us to his house from where, later in the day, we set forth for journey’s end, our new two-storey house in Hallim.
WebEd: And so the three of you were on your own in a totally new place…
Rosarii: Not totally alone. You see, it wasn’t long before the men who had brought our purchases from Mokpo had arranged everything shipshape for us and had left for the journey back to Mokpo.
Since we were strangers in the parish, it took some days for us to find our immediate bearings. During these days we enjoyed the hospitality of the parish priest of Hallim, Fr. Dan O’Gorman, who provided our main meals and gave us an overview of our surroundings. We soon settled sufficiently to allow us to cater for ourselves. Finding our bearings in the wider environment took a little longer.
We learned that the population of Hallim town and its surrounding villages was in the region of twenty five thousand people. It was part of Jeju, a semi-tropical volcanic island and one of the nine Provinces in South Korea. Mt Halla was visible throughout the island and stood at one thousand nine hundred and fifty meters above sea level – the highest mountain in all Korea. Typhoons and cyclones reached the island mid-year and wrought their characteristic havoc. In time we would feel the full brunt of these storms.
Mt Halla, Jeju Island. The Sangumburi Crater is the crater of an extinct volcano. Over 400 species of plants and animals live inside of it.
WebEd: Did you find a great difference between Mokpo and Cheju?
Rosarii: I, having been familiar with the scene in Mokpo, noted that the Jeju women’s dress differed greatly from that of women on the mainland. With my companions, I soon understood the reason for the difference namely that in Jeju the women were, for the most part, the breadwinners in their families. The vast majority of men stayed at home and tended small patches of poor land, enriched only by seaweed which they scattered on the ground for nutrition. The women on the contrary went out each day and earned money as water-carriers to the many homes where water had not been installed. Strangers at first, we soon became accustomed to seeing the water-carriers – women and young girls – carrying the water in special jars known as ‘hubbucks’. We also watched fearfully as they dived perilously deep into the ocean to search for shellfish – the precious abalone and oysters – or clambered over dangerous rocks to pick crabs or periwinkles. The harvest of their diving and climbing when sold provided income for their families’ needs.
For our daily provisions we went to one or other of the little shops – tables laden with household needs – along the pavement of the main street in Hallim. Down at the pier we found fish and chickens for sale; saw hauls of lobsters and shrimps and discovered the delicious Jeju tangerines and oranges at the fruit stalls.
WebEd: How did you get around Jeju? Did you have your own transportation?
Rosarii: Public transport in Jeju was minimal at the time of our arrival. More reliable was the parish jeep, especially for taking long journeys across the island. Transport by boat, the seldom time we needed it for going to Mokpo was, for the most part, satisfactory. We fell in love with the small ponies peculiar to the island, and marvelled at their flowing tails, winsome faces and dainty steps as they grazed in the wild or took their burdened journeys along difficult tracks.
Before very long and with even our feeble grasp of the unique way of life which characterised the people of Jeju we understood very well the motive for Fr. McGlinchey’s request for Sisters for a new industry amongst the Hallim people. This project, once initiated would provide safe employment, especially for women. It would be in a position to train them and set them up with new skills and secure earnings.
Photo: Under the watchful eye of Fr McGlinchey, Sisters Elizabeth Taffe, Rosarii McTigue and Brid Kenny cut the celebration cake In 1963 Fr. McGlinchey brought together as an Association the various Socio Economic Development projects which he had initiated. The Association, named the Isidore Development Association was under the patronage of the Spanish saint Isidore, patron of farmers. Archbishop Henry who, as Fr. Henry, had welcomed our first Sisters to Mokpo, was president of the Association while Fr. McGlinchey was its executive director. Our new weaving industry, to be known as Hallim Handweavers, would be integrated in the Association. It was hoped that, in time, our business would be self-supporting; that hope was to be realized in the not too distant future.
In addition to providing initial equipment for the project Fr. McGlinchey had employed six potential workers for the plant. We would begin with these – five women and one man – as trainees in the early days of the weaving.
WebEd: So with the first six workers the real task of weaving and producing was about to begin!
Rosarii: The site for the handweaving industry lay just a short distance from our convent. Much was in readiness before we took over the project formally. In the first place, Fr. McGlinchey had provided accommodation for our work in the form of five Quonset huts – a very large one and four of medium proportions. With financial aid from Misereor, an organisation established by bishops in Germany to provide aid for developing countries, he had equipped the huts with basic necessary machinery and materials. Mr Ford of the United States Overseas Mission helped to procure our first weaving loom. Not only that! He came to Hallim and helped to install the loom. With this loom as pattern, local carpenters built three more small looms suitable for thirty-six inch material. They also built fifteen large looms on which double-width, i.e. seventy two inch, material could be woven. All the looms were housed in the largest of the five Quonset huts.
Water, without which the industry could not even begin, was obtained through the help of a water diviner. The brother of Columban Father James Wilson, resident in Ireland, was shown a picture of the site proposed for the weaving. With his divining equipment Mr Wilson located a spot on the site of the proposed new industry where a powerful spring could be found. So it happened that water was found. Initially, until plumbing procedures were complete, it was minimal in availability, but eventually it reached the stage when not only was it sufficient for the needs of the handweavers; it supplied also the household needs of the convent and the priests’ house. Father McGlinchey also bought and installed a new generator which ensured that electricity for our work was always plentiful.
WebEd: I’m interested in hearing something of the process of what I think of as sheep’s wool to shop!
Rosarii: The process of bringing the raw wool to its final stage of market readiness was a long one. Initially, the Sisters and their companions worked with relatively small amounts, sufficient to enable planning, trial of processes, etc. First, the wool was sorted according to its suitability for different types of yarn. Then it was washed in a large vat and later dried outside on wire trays. Occasionally, if water were scarce, the wool was washed in a nearby clear inlet and brought back to the plant for drying. Once dry, it was carded to loosen its fibres in readiness for the spinning wheels. Off the spinning wheels it was threaded into pattern looms to prepare patterns for use on the large looms. Then it was ready for the warping mill according to the decided pattern. Warping finished and the lengthwise yarn carefully secured on a steel rod, the yarn was then threaded carefully according to the desired design through treadles on the loom. Now it was ready for weaving.
The women whom Fr. McGlinchey had employed for the beginning of the weaving industry had had some training in the art of weaving and 50 they participated with us in training new staff. Having improved our skills on a small loom and seen our very first bale of cloth come off it and be weighed, we ventured into setting up the larger looms and continued work on them. Little by little we introduced colour into our fabrics. At first we dyed the wool on site but later, as the industry progressed we sent the raw wool to Pusan to be processed and dyed in specified colours. Before long we were producing high quality fabrics including rich textured tweeds – all manufactured from one hundred percent wool. While we were very happy about this we had a small worry. We had hoped that by offering employment we could help to improve the living standards of the people in the area, but the weaving industry was limited in the number of employees it could accommodate. There were still many women out daily in hazardous occupations, never sure whether their efforts would yield enough to supply their families’ needs. They needed assistance also. So it came about that we launched a ‘Knitting-and-Crochet-at-Home project’. Not only would this step widen the scope for employment; it would also introduce diversity into our products.
Knitting and Crochet
The plan for this project was to find women willing to learn a variety of patterns in knitting and crochet using wool. Many of our designs originated in Ireland, especially the soon-to-become popular Aran patterns, and were eminently suitable for our purposes. Sisters Brid, Elizabeth and myself spent long hours teaching the methods required for different patterns, and it was gratifying that, despite our faltering grasp of Korean language as we taught them, the women learned the different designs and were ready quite quickly to begin work at home. We developed a system for encouraging them while monitoring their progress at their work.
On arranged days, members of our staff set off for Cheju city where the parish priest had generously offered us the use of the parish hall. Many of our knitters and crochet workers came to meet them there. Our staff paid the workers for the finished garments they had brought and gave them fresh supplies of wool for new garments. Similarly, our staff visited the homes of knitters and crochet workers who were unable to come to Cheju, collected finished garments, paid the women, gave them fresh wool and returned to the factory where all work completed outside was checked to ensure that it was of high standard. Each garment was then labelled and prepared for marketing. The knitting and crochet project developed; at times we had as many as three hundred women employed in knitting and crochet. With fine garments and lovely woollen fabrics in stock we were ready to go to market. But where would we begin?
The Final section of ‘Sister Rosarii’s Hallim Mission Story –THE QUEST – will be published early November 2013
For Part I of ‘Sister Rosarii’s Hallim Mission Story – Click here