VIDEO: Seminal moment in history of Defence Forces immortalised online

Footage of the first full unit of the Irish Defence Forces to serve overseas more than 50 years ago has emerged online.

VIDEO: Seminal moment in history of Defence Forces immortalised online

The footage shows Irish peacekeepers at work in the Congo at a time of great political and social unrest, in the formative weeks of the newly independent nation.

The video, posted to the Defence Forces’ official YouTube channel, also includes images of the funeral processions of some of those who lost their lives serving in the Congo.

As the African state descended into civil war, prime minister Patrice Lamumba requested help from the United Nations in July 1960 - a move which led to a newly formed 32nd Infantry Battalion being deployed a fortnight later.

A 60-member strong unit led by Lieutenant Colonel MJ Buckley departed Dublin, to be followed shortly after by the remaining 635 members of the battalion.

Their main tasks on the United Nations operation were restoring essential services, reassuring the public, and overseeing the resumption of local trade.

Initially stationed in Kivu province, the Irish unit was then redeployed to the brutal war-ridden province of Katanga.

Shortly after redployment in November 1960, nine of an 11-man Irish patrol lost their lives in an ambush.

6,191 tours of duty (some officers may have served more than one tour) were completed over the four year period of service in the Congo before the end of the operation in June 1964. In total, 26 Irish personnel lost their lives.

One Military Medal of Gallantry - a recognition of acts of exceptional bravery or gallantry - and 65 Distinguished Service Medals were awarded over the four year tour of duty.

The 32nd Infantry Battalion’s service in the Congo was a watershed moment for the Irish Defence Forces and marked the beginning of over 50 years of unbroken service on UN missions. Today, four Irish personnel remain in the Congo having returned with the UN in June 2001.

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