The Siege of Jadotville, the story of the lightly armed Irish 35th battalion ‘A’ Company peacekeepers who held out against the odds in the Congo in 1961 is beginning to be told.
A film called The Siege of Jadotville, due to be released on Netflix in early October, has been specially screened in Dublin and received star reviews and a standing ovation; there has been a radio documentary; and 55 years after the event, soldiers involved in the heroic standoff have at last been honoured with a presidential citation — most posthumously.
Besieged in the mining town of Jadotville, where they were sent to protect Belgian settlers and locals, 100km from the main UN base, outnumbered by 30 to one when attacked by indigenous Katangese and French and Belgian mercenaries, the 150 Irish soldiers held out for six days and were forced to surrender when a force of Irish and Swedish troops could not reach them.
Yet despite inflicting heavy losses on the other side, there were no Irish fatalities; and though held prisoner for more than a month, all survived.
There are strong Kerry connections to the siege — in fact, the commander and tactician was a Waterville man.
Among those presented with the citation for bravery posthumously at Custume Barracks in Athlone, by Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe, was Jimmy Lucey, one of the legendary Kerry football Lucey brothers who hailed from Caragh Lake near Killorglin.
Four brothers Jimmy, Noel, the late Vincent and Paul played at junior and/or senior level for Kerry.
A year after Jimmy, a corporal, returned from Jadotville, he played mid-field for Kerry, alongside his brother Noel in the 1962 All-Ireland, winning an All-Ireland medal. He became a sergeant serving two more tours as a peacekeeper including Cyprus, alongside his brother Paul.
He died young, of cancer, at the age of 28.
“It meant an awful lot to my father Paul who had been talking about the Jadotville siege for many years,” said Tralee solicitor Niall Lucey, who attended the ceremony to receive his uncle’s award.
In Athlone, Niall got chatting to the man who shared the last magazine clip, or last bullet with his uncle in the trench in Jadotville all those years ago.
Sixty members of the original band are still alive.
There are other Kerry connections to Jadotville: the man in charge was Commandant Patrick Quinlan — played by actor Jamie Dornan in the film — from Waterville and his son Leo Quinlan received the citation on his father’s behalf.
A special screening of The Siege of Jadotville takes place at Tech Amergin in Waterville on October 15 next.
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