We are currently in the middle of the fiftieth anniversary of the Siege of Jadotville.
It is very possible, even likely, that you will never have heard of it.
In September 1961, as part of the UN peacekeeping effort in the Congo, torn apart in the wake of independence from Belgium and internal succession crises, Irish troops operated on foreign soil for the first time since independence.
Just under 160 members of the Irish 35th Battalion, from A Company, were, that month, posted to the small mining town of Jadotville (today, Likasa), tasked with protecting locals from members of the breakaway Katangan militia. The UN force, ONUC, were launching major offensives elsewhere in the country, and the Irish were isolated.
They had no heavy weapons. They had no field artillery. They had out of date guns and kit. It was their first tour, for most, the first time they had been outside Ireland.
Their leader, Commandant Pat Quinlan, ordered them to dig an expansive defensive perimeter during their time there.
On the 13th of September, while most of the troops were at Mass, their position came under attack from a force of Katangan militia and mercenaries.
For the next six days, they held out. They were hit by mortar and artillery rounds. They were strafed by a Fouga Magister aircraft. They beat off assault after assault in the unbearably hot Congolese sun. They maintained their position, their defence, and their cohesion. They inflicted thousands of casualties on the enemy and held on.
They were cut off. No ONUC troops were able to relieve them. Brave attempts to break through the cordon via helicopter proved fruitless, when the supply of water it carried was contaminated.
Only when Quinlan’s men ran out of ammunition, food and, most importantly water, was he forced to surrender. He did so without any clear instruction from his commanders. He had wounded men he could not evacuate. When the Katangans took over the position, they refused to believe that the peacekeepers had suffered no dead, having lost 300 to Irish fire.
They endured captivity for a month until they were released as part of a prisoner exchange.
Returning home later, the men of A Company suffered the indignity of becoming pariahs within the Irish Defence Forces. Their surrender, despite the circumstances, was seen as an embarrassment. Despite their bravery, professionalism, dedication and sheer will in holding that position alone and outgunned, they were given no commendations, no awards, no recognition. A small plaque in their home barracks is all they ever got.
I would consider the Siege of Jadotville to be the finest piece of warfare conducted by the Irish Defence Forces since the Civil War. Perhaps it is the anti-militarism streak in the more modern Ireland that has prevented Jadotville, an Irish Alamo, from being remembered as it should be.
We remember Niemba, a catastrophe. We do not remember Jadotville, a triumph.
Is it too late for official recognition, for the Military Medal of Gallantry to be awarded, posthumously, to Pat Quinlan for his amazing leadership? Is it too late for Jadotville to be included as part of the historical syllabus in our schools, as Niemba is? Is it too late for the Siege of Jadotville to become something that is talked about, more well known?
I hope not. Those men did something extraordinary fifty years ago. We should remember them, remember that.