Irish soldiers not recognised at the time for their bravery at Jadotville

COMMENT: 'Meehan's Muses'

Paddy Meehan

Reporter:

Paddy Meehan

Irish soldiers not recognised at the time for their bravery at Jadotville

Jamie Dornan in a scene from Jadotville

Sitting in a Bundoran cinema last Sunday evening with the noise of bullets flying all around the place from the latest blockbuster movie the ‘Siege of Jadotville’, I immediately thought- reminiscent of the movie ‘Zulu’.
Even though hundreds of Congolese soldiers and mercenaries were being mowed down, I was swelling with pride with this true story surrounding this latest blockbuster movie. A fitting tribute to the courage of 150 troops of ‘A’ Company,35th Battalion of the Irish Defence Forces and Commdt. Patrick Quinlan.
Sadly the film did not portray Irish born United Nations representative to the Congo, Conor Cruise O’Brien in the same light. In June 1960 the African state of Congo gained its independence from Belgium. But the Belgians did not want to leave as indeed also other prominent outside nations had huge financial interests in the mineral rich mines in the Katanga region.
To retain these they set up a secessionist state, under a puppet leader and also hired battle hardened Belgian and French Foreign Legion mercenaries.

The United Nations immediately sent in peacekeeping troops from 17 nations, among these the Irish Defence Forces who did not have battle experience. Coincidentally, Irish born Conor Cruise O’Brien, then a diplomat at the UN, was appointed as Special Representative to the Congo.
Many of us of a certain age will remember in 1960 the horrific news filtered back to Ireland that nine members of an Irish peacekeeping platoon had been viciously massacred by Congolese tribesmen, the Baluba.
Indeed in Ireland the word ‘Baluba’ entered the popular lexicon as a term of abuse and is still used to this day. From an ordnance point of view, in 1960, the Irish Defence Forces sent to the Congo were not very well equipped. Young men of great courage supplied with antiquated weapons, heavy wool uniforms ill suited for the African heat.
Apparently the same weapons, old Vickers 303s and small mortars were all ‘A Company’ had against the mercenaries. 50 calibre ‘Heavy Machine Guns’ at Jadotville. For five days they held out, not one Irish soldier killed, yet they killed almost 300 attackers.
Out of ammunition, Commdt. Quinlan reluctantly surrendered and they were thrown into a prison camp under the threat of a death sentence. They were released a month later and returned to Ireland. Quinlan and his brave men at that time never fully recognised by government or superior Defence officers. The siege never assumed the place it fully deserved in the popular consciousness.
Well done to screenwriter, Donegal man Kevin Brodbin.

‘The Cruiser’
Conor Cruise O’Brien left the United Nations in the mid 1960’s and returned to Ireland. Described as an Irish politician, writer of several books, historian and academic. MEP and Senator, at the 1969 General Election was elected as a Labour Party TD for Dublin North-East.
Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1973 – 1977 and also the Labour Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman.As Minister in 1976 he vigorously enforced censorship of Radio Telefis Eireann under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.He specifically banned spokespersons for Sinn Fein and the Provisional Republican Army from RTE.

Departing politics in 1979 he became editor in chief of the UK Observer newspaper. He died at in 2008, aged 91 years.

“Around by Brockagh Corner”
Writing about the good and great I also must mention my good friend Michael Gallagher from Brockagh Glenfin – otherwise known as the ‘Weather Postman’. Now retired from An Post, some months ago he had some antique artefacts stolen from his little roadside museum. Among these, swords and a beaver castor hat that belonged to the famous Dr.Johnston of Johnston’s Motor Car and ‘Brockagh Corner ’fame. All is well again, as two weeks ago, as in a covert dark night operation, someone was kind enough to return Dr Johnston’s old hat back to the roadside museum!