Donegal soldiers honoured for role in siege of Jadotville

Heroic actions while stranded for six days in the Congo inspire new film starring Jamie Dornan and unique Presidential Citation for the entire unit.

Donegal soldiers honoured for role in siege of Jadotville

Members of the Kerr Family at the special wreath laying ceremony where the late Sean Kerr was among those honoured.

By Sue Doherty sue.doherty@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Eleven Donegal soldiers, living and deceased, have been honoured for their role in an historic siege and immortalised in a new film.

On September 13, 1961, 155 Irish soldiers from 35th Infantry Battalion, Company A were sent to protect the locals in Jadotville (modern Likasi), a small mining town.

Among them were eleven soldiers from Donegal - James (Jim) Gormley from Ballyshannon, the late William George Duffy, Harry Hegarty, the late James Harper, Michael McDermott, the late Patrick Nicell from Burnfoot, the late Sean Kerr from Bundoran, the late Patrick Gildea from Castlefin; the late Seamus (James) O'Kane from Castlefin, Leo Boland and Robert Bradley.

Their arrival was not welcome, as the locals were loyal to the Katangese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe.

On September 13, when most of the soldiers were at Mass, the Katangans and their mercenaries attacked. They'd taken a key river cross and the Irish were trapped.

The lightly-armed Irish soldiers resisted Katangese assaults for six days as a relief force of Irish and Swedish troops unsuccessfully attempted to reach them.

Because of the tactical genius of Comdt Pat Quinlan, who had ordered his men to dig trenches, not one of the soldiers died.

The outnumbered Irish company was eventually forced to surrender after ammunition and supplies were exhausted, but not before killing 300 of their attackers.

The Irish soldiers were held as prisoners of war for almost a month.

It was the last engagement of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) peacekeeping mission to involve Irish and Swedish troops in hostile action.

Last Saturday, September 17, the members of the 35th Infantary Battalion A Company, were awarded a Presidential unit Citation for their valour and courage.

Minister for State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe presented the citations to surviving veterans and family members of those now deceased at Custume Barracks in Athlone.

This is the first time in the history of the Irish State that an entire unit has been honoured in this way.

In marking this unique occasion, Minister Kehoe has also commissioned an insignia recognising the professional performance of the men of A Company.

Speaking at the event, the minister said “I am very pleased to present this Unit Citation which recognises the bravery and courage of A Company during the Siege of Jadotville whilst cut-off from support and reinforcements."

The Minister also said “The United Nations Operation in Congo was the first peacekeeping mission in which significant numbers of Irish soldiers took part. A total of 6,000 Irish soldiers served in the Congo from 1960 until 1964 and I want to take the opportunity to recall the contribution of all who served in the various Irish contingents over the course of this long Mission."

He concluded by saying, “Ireland can be justifiably proud of all our brave men and women who have contributed to the cause of peace and security. Our continued participation in United Nations missions illustrates the very positive and practical difference that small countries, like Ireland, can make in the world’s trouble spots.”

There was also a wreath laying ceremony to honour those who had gone. As the band played The Last Post' and serving members stood to salute these heroes present and past, you could hear a pin drop.

The Kerr family of Bundoran were there on this momentous occasion, representing a much loved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather, Sean Kerr, one of the heroes. His wife Peggy received the citation'with great pride, saying that, for her, and indeed all the family present, it was a very proud and poignant moment.

The Donegal Democrat has made every effort to learn the names of all of the soldiers from the county who were part of this brave squad and apologises if there are any omissions. If you have more information or photos, please email editorial@donegaldemocrat.com.