Kilkenny soldier remembers bloody 'Battle of the Tunnel' in Congo 57 years ago

Kilkenny soldier remembers bloody 'Battle of the Tunnel' in Congo 57 years ago
Private Johnny O’Halloran (left), and Private Tony Marshall after landing in the Congo in December 1961 on board a Globemaster troop carrier. Picture courtesy of Johnny O’Halloran.

For decades Irish soldiers have sacrificed Christmas time with their families in order to keep peace in far-off parts of the world at conflict.

Today’s date, December 16, will forever live in the memories of former soldiers who were involved in one of the most famous battles in war-torn Congo in 1961.

Fighting for peace today, 57 years ago, included Kilkenny man Johnny O’Halloran, a former Private with Company B, 36th Battalion, which was involved in the “Battle of the Tunnel”.

Shortly after O’Halloran and his comrades in Company B dropped into the Congo, on board a Globemaster troop carrier, they “came under fire”.

The conflict raged from “dusk till dawn”, he said.

“Shots were fired our way and we fired back. We had a couple of near misses,” said O’Halloran, aged 75, and living in Waterford.

Asked if he had killed anyone during the conflict, O’Halloran replied: “It’s a question no one of us can answer”.

Three brave souls from the 36th Battalion fell mortally wounded during the Battle for the Tunnel - a strategic landmark and a key artery into the city of Elizabethville, the Kantangan capital, and vital rail link to Jadotville.

Despite a continuous flow of machine gun fire and mortar attacks, the 36th eventually took the Tunnel.

O’Halloran and others from Company B were “about 150 yards” from it when members of Company A were shot down.

Private Frankie Keane, Private Johnny O’Halloran and (right) Private Tommy Dorney (R.I.P.) .Picture courtesy of Johnny O’Halloran.
Private Frankie Keane, Private Johnny O’Halloran and (right) Private Tommy Dorney (R.I.P.) .Picture courtesy of Johnny O’Halloran.

“We were fighting them for the ten days prior to that,” he said.

O’Halloran and others from Company B met up last Friday to share their memories of the time.

“It’s something we’ve been doing for the past ten years. One of these days we’ll be all dead and the memories will be all gone,” he said.

By sheer luck no one from O’Halloran’s company was killed, but some were injured.

There were battles going on in the city prior to that. It was frightening. All of us were (aged) 17 or 18 at the time.

We knew the trouble was starting when we were leaving Dublin, (but) we didn’t really know what we were heading into.

I went back to the Congo again the year after. There was trouble again, but not as severe.

Despite it all O’Halloran said the “good memories” have got him and his comrades through.

“You don't think of the bad times, you think of the good times. It put manners on us,” he added.

O’Halloran and other brave members from Company B - including Tony Marshall, Carrick-on-Suir; Denis Ryan, Clonmel; and Patrick Walsh, Thurles - meet up regularly to share photographs and memories of those days.

More, who put their lives on the line shortly before Christmas 1961, and who also participate in their meet ups, include Johnny Ryan from Fedamore, Co Limerick; Dick Whelan of Carrick-on-Suir and living in London; Mick Dee, from Clonmel; and Johnny Griffin, from Sligo.


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