Paying tribute to the heroes of ‘A’ Company
UN peacekeepers remembered in film “Congo - An Irish Affair”
Hailing from St Patrick’s Park, Carrick-on-Shannon, Matthew was only 17 when he and over 150 other Irish UN troops were attacked in the Congo on Wednesday, September 13, 1961.
A group of Irish UN troops were attending 7.30 am Mass on that date when they were attacked by a large force of heavily armed Katangan troops backed up by European mercenaries in what was later to be called the Siege of Jadotville, and Irish troop’s first ever major encounter since the beginning of the State.
Never before and never since, have Irish troops come under such sustained attack and the fact that the troops were there in a peacekeeping capacity made it all the more horrific for the Irish troops invoved.
For four long, hot, tortuous days and night, these brave Irish men fought from their trenches, as their supplies of food and water started to run out. The exhausted men had to endure being fired on from the guns and rockets of a Fouga Magister jet fighter, which returned on two consective days to spray the mens’ positions with gunfire.
Twice, reinforcements for the UN peacekeepers tried and failed to get through.
The 156 Irish soldiers faced horrific odds, left totally surrounded by a force of up to 4,000 Katangans and white mercenaries, their situation becoming extremely desperate.
On Sunday 17th September, Commandant Patrick Quinlan (no relation), a man renowned for his loyalty, bravery and honour, agreed a treaty with the Katangese in a bid to secure the lives of his men.
However, the Katangese broke the treaty and the men of ‘A’ Company 35th Irish Battalion were held as Prisoners of War until Wednesday 25th October.
For over five weeks the men had to face not only the uncertanty of their situation, they also had to live daily with the threat of execution and cannibalism from the tribe which held them priosner.
Amazingly, and unbelievably, when these brave soldiers eventually returned home, many were treated as cowards for not fighting to the bitter end. In fact, it was not until November 2005 that the men of ‘A’ Company 35th Irish battalion received any recognition for their bravery, when the Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea, unveiled a commemorative monument in their memory, in Custume Barracks, Athlone.
Recently the survivors of A company and their families came together to watch a very special film “Congo – An Irish Affair” a positively charged, historical documentary which details the plight of the men who fought in the Congo.
Screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival the film and the unveiling of the memorial to the men of A Company in Athlone, have helped to bring a sense of completion to the members of A company and the family who supported their calls for recognition over the last 50 years.
Sadly for Matthew and many of his commrades, the recognition has come too late. Matthew passed away in Australia in 1992. However his family would like to thank Brendan Culleton, Producer of ‘Congo An Irish Affair’ for giving them the opportunity to see what really happened to their brother.
They would also like to thank those brave soldiers who fought alongside Matt, including other local young soldiers, and to those soldiers who have dedicated their lives to having this story told, and to finally get the recognition they deserved and were so long denied.
To Commandant Patrick Quinlan whose bravery and leadership saved the lives of his men, we will be forever grateful. He was a true hero. May God bless them all. You are all heroes and we will never forget you.
“I have cried, painted and hoped
Bus most of all I have lived times
That others would say are best forgotten.
At least now today
I am able to say
That I am proud of what I was
excerpt from poem “A Soldier”.