Jadotville soldiers honoured

I’m delighted to read the news this morning that the Irish soldiers who fought at Jadotville in the Congo are finally being honoured by the state today. Willie “Bad motherfucker” O’Dea is to unveil a commemorative plaque at Custume Army Barracks in Athlone at 4.30pm with the CoS of the DF, Lt.Gen. Jim Sreenan.
The Siege at Jadotville was shamefully swept under the rug, the men who fought there branded cowards. In truth those men fought with courage and honour and deserve to be remembered as heroes.

The Siege
When Congo was granted independence in 1960, the province of Katanga attempted to secede by declaring their independence. The then fairly new UN decided to intervene and sent ‘peace keepers’ to the region to help bring stability.
The Irish State, still trying to find her feet on the international stage, decided to offer soldiers to show we were willing to play our part in global peace keeping. In hindsight these were two huge mistakes. The UN was clueless and didn’t know how to handle the situation and the Irish Army, who were simply pawns in a game of politics, were ill-prepared and equipped for any such operation, and many of them were raw teenagers who had barely fired a gun.

In September 1961, “A” Company, 35th Battalion was sent to the town of Jadotville. They were in the town to provide security for the Belgian settlers who felt under threat from the native Congolese. However it was the Belgian settlers along with Katangan mercenaries who turned on the Irish troops, attacking them while they were at morning mass. For 5 days the 150 soldiers of “A” Coy 35 Bn, armed with only small arms, held out against a force of over 4000 Belgian-led forces who bombarded the Irish troops from the land & air. The siege resulted in over 300 Katangans killed and many injured but no Irish fatalities (only 7 injured).
The Irish soldiers were cut off from other UN forces and a number of attempts were made to help them, including an attempt by Ghurkhas, which all failed. In the end the Irish soldiers had no food, no water and no ammunition and “A” Coy Commanding Officer Commandant Quinlan took the only option he could, to surrender to the Katangans forces and avoid further unnecessary loss of life. The Irish soldiers were then held hostage by the Katangan forces before being released one month later under the terms of a prisoner-exchange programme.

This was certainly one of the most dramatic events in our young Army’s history and it’s utterly shameful that it’s taken us this long to honour these soldiers, especially now that so many have already died.
When I joined the FCÁ as a wide eyed 17 year old a veteran Coy Sgt took me under his wing and looked after me. As a young soldier he had served in the Congo and he would often tell me stories of his time there and just how badly prepared they were for duty in the region. It’s shocking that we would put our troops through so much then turn our backs on them when what they deserved was our appreciation for a job well bloody done.

So here’s to the brave men of “A” Company 35th Battalion!

Leave a comment


  1. I hadn’t heard this story before. The only Irish/Congo relationship I had heard of before was Roger Casements investigation and report on the region to the British Gov in the early part of the 20th century. I had also heard mention of Cononr Cruise O’Brien in the Congo as well but never felt the urge to investigate it further!

  2. I think O’Brien was in the Congo representing the UN secretary-general

    The Irish Army served in the Congo for 4 years from 1960 to 1964, over 6,000 lads served there with a loss of 26 lives (including 9 in the Niemba ambush)

  3. Good post, maca. I didn’t know much about this myself.

    These men certainly deserve proper recognition for their efforts.

  4. Interesting post.

    “The UN was clueless and didn’t know how to handle the situation and the Irish Army”

    Unfortunately that cluelessness was been repeated over and over again; Bosnia, Sierra Leone etc etc and cost untold lives.

    Makes you wonder what the point of the UN having a military force really is.

  5. Overall I think the UN is a force for good Paul. They certainly have serious faults but they also provide help to a lot of people throughout the world.

  6. When I first started working many years ago, there were still some WW2 vets in the workforce, and I was privileged to hear many stories from them when we’d break for lunch. One fellow in particular, Arthur Watt, served in the Pacific at the age of 17. He had the nicest teeth of anyone in his family, ’til shrapnel took them all out, pocked up his face, and took out his ankle joint. I suppose most WW2 vets are gone now, but it was nice to get to know some . . .

    Scríobh Maca:

    >>When I joined the FCÁ as a wide eyed 17 year old…

    A bit off your topic, but your mention of the FCÁ made me think of a clever song from 1993 by the Saw Doctors. The chorus was a partially shouted line: “I was BORED! BROKE! OBLIVIOUS! so I joined the FCÁ!”. If you’ve never heard the tune, the lyrics are to be had here:

    Always gives me a chuckle when I hear it. ;-)

  7. Howya Cionaodh! I never liked the saw doctors so much, funny lyrics though, I love the last verse:

    ” The night before we left
    I met my favourite girl uptown
    I felt like I was leaving
    For some war on foreign ground
    We promised love, kissed goodbye
    Like we never did before
    For the cause of Mother Ireland
    She could’nt have dunmore”

  8. >>Howya Cionaodh!

    Howdy, maca; just checking in once in a while. ;-)

    >>I never liked the saw doctors so much

    I liked their first record (“If this is rock ‘n roll I want my old job back”), but I think they went steadily downhill from there.

    Last saw them in concert in 2003 (big disappointment!), and I haven’t bought their last two CDs.

    >>I love the last verse

    Don’t be getting notions, maca, or the missus’ll put the chase on ya. ;-)

  9. Jaysus…it’s been ten years since I’ve listened to a Saw Doctor’s song.My mate Tony was visiting D.C. and we were ripping around the Beltway in my old Mustang one step ahead of the law and two steps ahead of the rust.”I wish I was on the N Seventeeeeeen…”yarrup ya boyo!
    Seriously though I think it’s a disgrace that 44 years had to pass before ANY recognition was given to those men who served Ireland and the civilized world so well.How many of those soldiers are still alive today to see it?
    One of the PDF cadres attached to my old unit found himself on a USAF transport to The Congo and recalls that the bods got cheese “sangwidges” while the hofficers got ham.Fucking Typical.Then again Paddy was so old that when the PDF got the Steyr and was told he’d have to train on it he disarmingly told the CO that he’d never bothered “Learnin’ that fecking FN yoke”
    True story.

  10. I am delighted to hear that these brave soldiers are being honored at last. I was a very proud 15 year old at the time of the Congo operation. I kept a scrapbook of all the newspaper photos of the deployment, and the subsequent actions. I still have vivid memories of the troops boarding the U.S. GlobeMaster transport aircraft. If I remember correctly, the first group to depart was the 32nd Battalion.
    As for being unprepared… one picture I have clearly in my mind was one of a Congolese soldier, wearing a light khaki uniform, with a big smile on his face, checking the texture of the heavy woolen green dress uniform of one of the just-arrived Irish troops. This was in summer… in central Africa! I kept that scrapbook until it was destroyed in a flood in 1968, after I returned to Kansas City from Viet Nam. As I recall, the relieving force was pinned down by a Belgian jet fighter-bomber, at a bridge on the way to Jadotville. So much for parity of weaponry!!! Unprepared… was an understatement.

    I hope they will also commemorate the massacre at Niemba. I remember reading the account of the atrocity, by the lone survivor. The work detail was repairing a damaged bridge, and was led by a Lt. Gleason, who, when he went to talk to the opposing force was killed by a spear, thrown without warning, by a native mercenery. The account of the deaths of these men was blood curdling. There was a book published in the late 1960′s called “The Fighting Irish in the Congo” which described many of the battles they were involved in. The Irish soldiers who participateds in that horribly disorganized mess have nothing to be ashamed of, and a great deal to be proud of. I, for one, considered them heroes then, and I still do. God bless them!!!

  11. Good post, thanks for sharing Proinsias!

  12. Nice to hear good comments from young chaps who have heard of Katanga and Jadotville. Lovely place, but not too friendly people. I should know, I was THERE with ‘A ‘Coy.35th Irish.Batt, ONUC. I was in Custume Bks. Athlone too for the unveiling of Memorial and at LAST felt a Sense of Pride that they ‘slur’ had finally been lifted from our brve actions and in particularly the Leadership of Cmdt.P.J.Quinlan, Coy.Cmdr.

  13. Thanks for posting Hawkeye. It’s good to hear from someone with some first hand experience of the Congo.
    Coincidentially, I got a mail today from someone today who is looking for information on the Niemba ambush, a friend of his was amongst those killed. If you don’t mind i’ll forward the email to you, would that be ok?

  14. I just got the book and am dying to read it. I had several members of the family in the Congo over the years and they had some harrowing tales to tell. The Irish soldier is completely undervalued and deserves better pay, conditions and recognition.
    Great site and some very interesting comment!

  15. I just went in to Wikipaedia and edited a completely inaccurate account of the siege. This book by Declan Power is doing a great service and those who care about the Irish army should all do their bit to correct such lies!

  16. Welcome to the site John.
    I’ve been meaning to get the book, must put it on my christmas list.
    Do you have a link for the Wiki page you edited?

  17. I went into Google, typed in Jadotville and it was about six down below Raimeis.

    Níl an caint seo Raiméis, is é an fhírinne atá ann!

  18. This one? I was reading it earlier. There should be a full page on the siege if anyone is willing to do it.


  19. As a member of A coy 35th Batt it is about time that what we were put into in Jadotville and how UN rules were to play such a big part in Comdt Quinnlan’s decesions

  20. I grew up hearing my dad’s stories about Jadotville. I just finished Declan Power’s book, and it was fascinating to see my father’s memories confirmed in vivid detail.

    The stone inside the walls of Custume Bks. is nice, and I hate to be negative, but it’s simply not enough. It will be seen only by members of the army, will never be highlighted with the pride and honor these men deserve. As far as I am concerned, the stone simply holds down that rug under which the event has been shoved. I don’t mean to denegrate the tireless work done by those campaigning for even this recognition, I simply mean that the army should do more in this case.

    Give the surviving men, and their families the medals that Comdt Quinnlan recommended, and put a bloody monument where we can see it, where we can point to it and share the story with visitors to our town, and say, ‘yes, that was what our fathers and grandfathers did in 1961 under the blue flag’.

    I have mellowed a little with age, but this is one thing that seems to just piss me off. Apologies for being blunt. So who do I write to about this?