Review ordered into refusal to award bravery medals for Siege of Jadotville

UN Veterans Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe (left) and Corporal Tadgh Quinn at Buswells Hotel, Dublin.

Defence chiefs have been ordered to review the refusal to award medals to soldiers in the ill-fated 1961 United Nations mission in the Congo which led to the Siege of Jadotville.

Eight officers and NCOs from 35th Battalion A company of the Defence Forces were recommended by Commandant Pat Quinlan for their bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.

A medals board at the time denied them the honour.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he would bring the case to Defence Forces Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett but said he could not guarantee the decision would be reversed.

"It's not known why the medals were not awarded. I think that's something that we need to look at," he said.

"They showed exceptional bravery and courage. Some have not been awarded medals and Commandant Quinlan, his actions saved the lives of other people."

Some 155 Irish soldiers from A company had been tasked with protecting the local population around Jadotville from militia, tribesmen and foreign mercenaries loyal to the Katangese prime minister Moise Tshombe.

It was Ireland's first overseas UN mission and it was the first time soldiers were ordered to peace enforcement rather than purely peacekeeping and monitoring. The story of their bravery was turned into a film starring Jamie Dornan last year.

UN Veterans Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe (left) and Corporal Tadgh Quinn (right) with RetÕd Commandant Leo Quinlan, son of late Commandant Pat Quinlan, outside Leinster House, Dublin.

Conor Cruise O'Brien was special representative to the UN secretary general at the time the decision was taken to mandate troops to peace enforcement.

Armed with light rifles, 60mm mortars and two armoured cars with turret-mounted machine guns, the Irish soldiers came under heavy attack from a force of about 3,000 on September 13 1961.

Under Commandant Quinlan's direction, the UN-mandated force held out for five or six days, largely down to accurate shooting and mortar fire, killing 300 of the enemy and wounding another 750.

No Irish soldiers died.

Commandant Quinlan was forced to surrender after his troops ran out of ammunition and water.

They were held for about one month before being freed.

UN Veterans Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe (centre left) and Corporal Tadgh Quinn, with pupils from Malahide community school, outside Leinster House, Dublin.

The commander's son Leo Quinlan, himself a retired Commandant, met the Taoiseach along with Jadotville veterans Corporal Tadgh Quinn, Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe and Corporal Tom Gunn to discuss the appeal for a review.

"It's up there with Rorke's Drift and the Alamo only none of the Irish Army lads died," he said.

"I think it was buried because of the embarrassment of the UN in Jadotville. The soldiers were small pawns in a bigger game and it was buried.

"If Jadotville was to be lauded and praised for the unbelievable actions that it was with five men wounded against 300 of the enemy dead and 750 wounded then the question would have to be asked why were they out there in the first place."

The reasons why the recommendation for medals was dismissed in the 1960s have not been made public.

The experience of the UN mission in Jadotville and the strategy and bravery of the soldiers is taught as a case history in the British and Australian military schools.

A plaque was unveiled in Custume Barracks in Athlone in 2005 in memory of those who served in Jadotville and the 35th Battalion A company was honoured last year with a Presidential Unit Citation.

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