Monument remembers soldier missing for 50 years

A MONUMENT unveiled yesterday in honour of a brave young Irish soldier, who has been missing in action for 50 years, will help ensure his memory and sacrifice endures, his family said.

And the Government has indicated that it will help the family of Limerick native, Trooper Patrick Mullins, visit the site in the Congo where it’s believed he was killed.

Tpr Mullins was just 18 when his armoured car was ambushed by armed mercenaries in Katanga on September 15, 1961.

His remains have never been recovered — he is one of just two Irish UN peacekeepers who are still ‘missing in action’.

Defence Minister Alan Shatter and Defence Forces chief of staff, Lieutenant General Sean McCann, joined Tpr Mullins’s family and former comrades for a special memorial Mass in Kilbehenny, Co Limerick, yesterday to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

After the Mass, a monument inscribed with Tpr Mullins’ name, age, unit and UN badge, was unveiled nearby.

Trp Mullins’s sister, Mary, said it was both a “sad and happy occasion”.

His brother, Thomas, said: “It’s been a long time since he died but still it’s not final because we never knew where his body was and it makes it much harder.”

Retired Trooper John O’Mahony, a friend of Tpr Mullins who served with him in the Congo, said the monument will keep his memory alive.

“Those of us who knew him are all the better for having served with a young man of such a very high calibre and we can be proud of him,” he said.

Brigadier General Paul Packenham, of the 1st Southern Brigade, said the monument will serve as a focal point to remind everyone of the “ultimate sacrifice made by this brave young soldier”.

“Amongst his comrades, Trooper Patrick Mullins has become a household name for selfless sacrifice and gallantry, especially within the 1st Cavalry Squadron and the Cavalry Corps.”

Mr Shatter said it was regrettable that despite “exhaustive efforts”, his remains were never found.

“I know that the members of his family would welcome an opportunity to travel to Lubumbashi, as Elisabethville is now known, to visit the location where Trp Mullins died.

“The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces would be pleased to facilitate such a visit subject to the agreement of the United Nations and the prevailing security conditions in the Congo.”

Prayers were also offered during Mass for members of Corporal Michael Nolan’s family who were among the congregation.

Cpl Nolan, 22, from Colbinstown, Co Wicklow, was killed in action in the same engagement. His remains were recovered and he was buried with full military honours in the Army Plot in Glasnevin, on November 16, 1962.

Patrick Mullins was born to Edward (Ned) and Catherine, and raised in Boher, Kilbehenny, with his six older siblings.

He enlisted in Collins Barracks, Cork, on May 9, 1960, as a member of the 6th Recruit Platoon, Command Training Depot. He departed for the Congo on June 16, 1961, with the 634-strong 35th Infantry Battalion serving with the UN Mission — ONUC.

On September 14, 1961, he was a member of a four-man crew of an armoured car which was hit by an anti-tank projectile while on a patrol in Elisabethville.

Two of the crew escaped the vehicle. The vehicle was driven back towards the base where Trp Mullins and Cpl Nolan were involved in another engagement. They fought heroically against overwhelming mercenary forces but were killed.

It is believed that the Katangan soldiers took Trp Mullins’s body because of the heroic courage he displayed.

On November 8, 1998, defence minister Michael Smith presented The Military Star, awarded to Trp Mullins, to his mother, Catherine, who died a month later.

Four years ago, a special research team reexamined the circumstances of Trp Mullins’s death.

They concluded last year that after 50 years, it is highly unlikely that the remains will ever be located, identified or recovered to Ireland.

Picture: Family members of Trooper Patrick Mullins lay a wreath to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his disappearance in the Congo. Picture: Don Moloney

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