My name is Stephanie McNamara. One of the seven Columban Priests killed during the war, Tommie Cusack, was my uncle.

During the Korean War, the names of missing priests were announced on the radio at the end of the nightly news and one night the names Monsignor Patrick Brennan, Father Thomas Cusack and Father John O'Brien were listed. That is how our Grandmother heard it. This was not a first for her. She had no contact with Tommie during the four years from 1941 to 1945 during WW2 and no way of knowing whether he was dead or alive. She had already lost one son in WW2. Her son Michael was on The Irish Pine, a ship that was torpedoed by a German submarine in November 1942. All thirty-three crew members were lost. No trace of them or of the Irish Pine was ever found.

For the rest of her life our Grannie listened to the news in case any of her other children were listed as missing anywhere. There was no logic to this and as children we sat in silence if she was in our house or if we were in Tramore, while the news was on and just thought "How weird", but as adults we came to understand, in some little way, how heartbroken and traumatized she was.

Tommie, Monsignor Pat Brennan and Father Jack O’Brien were killed at the Massacre of Prisoners in Taejon on September 24th 1950.

Telegrams were the most common way of notifying families of the death of a family member. They were delivered by hand and began with the words “I regret to inform you...” This is how Tommie’s Mother heard of his death. There is a man living in Tramore who remembers the day that the telegram came to our Grandmother.

Tommie’s death in Korea caused unimaginable grief to his Mother, his brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
Our Mum wrote the following in a letter to her brother Joe:

Poor Mammie is heartbroken. She said to me at home, "Micho is gone. Tommie is gone". She remembers us all as little children and it is very hard on her to know that two of us are gone and both under such terrible circumstances.

Once again, I quote Mary Anne Costello a native of Ballycotton, Tommie’s home place: "The gentleness, the warmth and the kindness in his voice will stay with me forever. My last memory before going to bed was seeing the kitchen packed with all the people. The chat went on all night until the early hours of the morning: Then Dad, Tommie Mac and Martin Sheedy walked with him all the way to Liscannor to Sexton’s house where he was staying. The news of his brutal murder a few years later shattered them. They spoke frequently of him until their own passing."

In a letter dated 22 Feb 1951 and written to Father Dan Conneely, Father Patrick Monaghan, who had been Tommie’s Parish Priest when he first arrived in Korea wrote:
"I got back to Kwangju on Oct 2nd and was hoping to find the boys in prison. On the way into town I heard that the people in prison had all been liberated by the townspeople and that there was no massacre. The Korean priest had come through it alive but he had not seen or heard of our 3 priests from that first day he was talking to them in the officials’ room. No one had heard of their removal and some of the Catholics thought they had been taken out with a lot of others and shot. We sent up a search party and examined all the dead corpses but nothing doing. Afterwards we were to get definite information as to their removal to Taejon. The rest you know. The French priests in Tae-jon regard their deaths as almost certain but the bodies could not be traced. I still have a little hope that Tom will turn up sometime or other. That’s about it all Dan. If you think it advisable, pass it on to his mother in Tramore."

The names of the three priests were always spoken together in our family. It was always “ Monsignor Brennan, Fr Jack O’Brien and Tommie”. My Grandmother, my mother and her siblings lived with the awful image of “Their bodies were thrown into a disused well and they were never found”.

On the day my Mum died,in 2001, I promised that I would stand in Korea and say a prayer for them. In 2009 I tried to find out more about what happened to them and where the well was. I hit a brick wall. After every other avenue had failed I contacted the then President of Ireland, Mary Mc Aleese. With help from the officials in her department, the Irish Embassy in Korea and Father Denis Monaghan, a Columban Father in Korea, we succeeded.

On April 24th 2013 my daughter Tara, her husband Tom, their little girl Pippa, my son Ross and I arrived in Korea. The trip went way beyond our wildest dreams. The Columban Fathers made us feel so welcome. We felt like family. Fr Donal O’Keeffe arranged for us to go to all the places where Tommie had lived and died. Indeed he took us to most of these places himself. He introduced us to Kim Youn Bae ,who had kept the bones in a shrine in his backyard for 12 years before succuring a beautiful burial place for them, to Agnes who had been babtised by Tommie in Jan 1st 1950 and to Archbishop Kim Hyginis who had also been baptised by Tommie. He ensured that we were invited to the Irish Embassy who were honouring the Irish killed in the Korean War while we were there.

The following is what we learned from Father Monaghan and during our visit to Taejon:

On 1st May 2013 Father Donal brought us to the Convent of Holy Word which was originally the Franciscan Monastery where the Massacre of Prisoners took place

Sister Dannielle, a member of the order that now owns the original Franciscan Monastery, took us out to the garden where the well was. She told us the story of what happened after the North Korean soldiers left Taejon.

Sister Dannielle told us that the well was 20M deep and that people were thrown into it alive and were screaming “Get me out”. When the North Korean Army left one young lad, aged 12, was pulled out alive.

After the Communists left Taejon the Judge’s wife and her friend Teresa went back to look for the priest's bodies, but could not find them.



The Monastery in 1950 after the Korean War

The Monastery in 1950 after the Korean War


Sister told us that when the Franciscans returned to the Monastery after the Massacre strange things happened : doors opening, windows banging, screaming was heard and members of the Franciscan Order getting sick.

The Franciscans sold the Monastery to the Sisters of Holy Word quite cheaply but did not tell them the reason why they were selling it. The strange things continued, Sisters got sick, they heard screams and had nightmares. The sisters said special prayers for the dead every Thursday night. Eventually the strange things stopped and when an interest developed about the Martyrs the Franciscans wanted to buy it back. The Sisters of Holy Word did not sell it.


The following is a translation of a letter written by Sister Cecilia Seo:



Sr Dannielle took us out into the garden where the Church and well were.





The well is all filled in now and is in the centre of a beautiful green lawn edged with not too big rocks with flowers growing in between them. The Stations of the Cross are set among the rocks and flowers. They are small and made of metal. There is a feeling of peace and tranquillity in the garden. It is beautiful.

Sr Dannielle then took us into the Church where Fr Jack O’Brien, Fr Tommie Cusack and Monsignor Pat Brennan were killed.

She told us that the walls were red with blood and were so damaged with bullet holes that it had to be completely re-plastered.





A bullet from the Massacre embedded in a piece of the wall.


On 2nd May Fr Donal took us back to the Convent of Holy Word where we met Sister Dannielle again and Kim Youn Bae ,the man who had kept the bones in a shrine in his backyard for 12 years before succuring a beautiful burial place for them and to whom we the families of the three priests owe such a debt of gratitude.

Sr Dannielle took us into the parlour where we heard a detailed account of the Massacre and got lots of insight into the happenings in Taejon in 1950. Again, Donal translated for us.
Kim Youn Bae explained that there were about 600 political prisoners. These included the priests. The political prisoners were kept in the Monastery because the North Koreans knew that the South Koreans wouldn’t bomb it. Each time there was an air raid by UN forces, the Western prisoners were ordered onto the roof to be used as human shields.

The non-political prisoners were kept in Taejon Jail. It is estimated at between 5,000 and 7,000, as well as soldiers of the Republic of Korea, were slaughtered at Taejon between September 23 and September 27, 1950. (Atrocities Against American P.O.Ws In Korean War).

Father Pio Kim, son of Kim Youn Bae, later told me that the prisoners in Taejon Jail were killed with bayonets. He had relatives killed there.



(AP photo / James Pringle)

Bodies of some 400 civilians lie in and around trenches in Taejon’s Prison Yard during the Korean War in Sept 1950. The victims were bound and slain by retreating Communist forces before the 24th Division Troops recaptured the city Sept 28. Witnesses said that the prisoners were forced to dig their own graves before the slaughter. Looking on, at left, is Gordon Gammack, war correspondent of the Des Moines Register and Tribune.

We also learned that the bodies from the well in the Monastery were taken up after the war and were cremated. The burning took 10 days. It started on April 5th 1952. Because the heat wasn’t intense enough it rendered into small bones. These bones were buried in a trough on the side of a hill.12

In 1996 the hill was being developed so the trough had to be taken out. Again, Kim Youn Bae told us about it.
Relatives came to claim the bones and Kim Youn Bae came to represent the priests. He told us that the relatives of the Korean people who had been killed didn’t realize that the Priests were buried there too. He took 3 small containers of bones to represent Monsignor Pat Brennan, Father Tommie Cusack and Father Jack O’Brien.


Photo credit for all the following pictures of the exhuming of the bones in 1996 - Kim Youn Bae











Kim Youn Bae took these three little containers of bones, dust and ash to represent our three Priests.

Kim Youn Bae approached the Diocese of Gwangju (The Diocese to which Monsignor Pat Brennan, Father Tommie Cusack and Father Jack O’Brien belonged) three times to see if they would like to have the relics but got no response. He kept the relics in a shrine in his own back yard for 12 years.






Kim Youn Bae approached the Diocese of Daejon and asked if they might like to have the relics. They accepted them and so they are buried in a beautiful graveyard attached to the Seminary of the Diocesan College in Daejon.

The Ceremony took place on May 8th 2008.










This is the gravestone erected in memory of Father Tommie Cusack, Monsignor Pat Brennan and Father Jack O’Brien who were killed at the Massacre at Taejon in Korea on Sept 24th 1950.

In an article in The Mantle Fr Dan Conneely, a life-long friend of Tommie’s said, “I set out to speak of Fr Cusack and found that the story of his life is inseparably interwoven with the story of others who shared his captivity”.

In his last message home entrusted to Fr Michael O’Connor Tommie said that he would never be happy again if he left his parish when his people most needed him. So, it seems right that the bones of all those who were “inseparably interwoven” in the last days of their lives are inseparably interwoven in death.



Pippa, Steph, Tara, Fr Donal and Ross standing at Tommie’s grave in Korea in 2013.

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever believe that it could happen.

There are no words to describe the joy. Thanks to Ross and Tara for coming, to Pip who seemed to know intuitively when a Pippa hug would make everything O.K., to Father Donal and Father Denie who made it happen and most especially to Kim Youn Bae who kept them safe for 12 years and without whom there would be no happy ending.

In 2000, the names of the Columban Priests who were killed during the Korean War were inscribed in “The Book of Martyrs” presented to Pope John Paul II at a ceremony in the Colosseum in Rome commemorating Martyrs of the 20th Century.