When Irish Blood was Spilt in the Congo

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An Appreciation of the Niemba Ambush on its 60th AnniversaryBy Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

“The UN ‘blue helmets’ are literally on the front lines in conflicts that are the worst of the worst: protecting civilians, monitoring cease-fires, clearing minefields, and disarming combatants…” – US Senator Joe Biden, now the 46th President of the United States of America

UN Helmet by Michael McDonnell

We would normally meet and celebrate the memory of our fallen comrades at Niemba at this time, but not this year unfortunately due to Covid-19 restrictions – which in itself has brought tragedy and grief to too many families in Ireland and around the world to dismiss.

Every year we gather in Cathal Brugha Barracks to lay wreaths in memory of those that died in the Niemba Ambush in 1960 – the event is organised by the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE) along with the logistical support of the 7 Infantry Battalion. The event is always attended by large numbers including the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Defence Forces General Staff, military attachés along with representatives from RACO, PDFORRA, RDFRA, ONE, IUNVA, ARCO, and other smaller veterans’ associations, Congo veterans and the family members of deceased Congo veterans. It is truly a solemn occasion and one I’ve attended with great respect and interest as editor of An Cosantóir: The Defence Forces Magazine over the last number of years.

“The UN has over 100,000 Peacekeepers on the ground, in places others can’t or won’t go, doing things others can’t or won’t do. Peace, like war, must be waged.” – George Clooney

After nearly a century of Belgian rule, the Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference took place in Brussels from January 29th to 20th February 1960 with the date for Congolese independence set for 30th June 1960. The Congo faced a period of civil unrest up to this date.

In April 1960 the first-ever Irish peacekeepers who served with United Nations Observation Group In Lebanon (UNOGIL) were awarded their UN medals by An Taoiseach Seán Lemass. This was a great first for the Defence Forces and the start to a peacekeeping tradition that has been unbroken for the next 62 years.

When the Congo gained independence on June 30th, they held free elections with Patrice Lumumba being named as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president. On July 5th, the states’ gendarmerie and military ‘Force Publique’ (later retitled as the Congolese National Army or ANC) mutinied demanding a pay rise and the sacking of their Belgian officers. This resulted in Belgian troops intervening to protect Belgian civilians and to put down the mutiny. The newly formed Congo government sacked its Belgian General Janssens and appointed Victor Lundala a sergeant major as their new commander-in-chief.

At this time the mineral-rich province of Katanga declares its independence under the leadership of Moise Tshombe along with the support of Belgian companies and around 6,000 Belgian troops. On July 12th the new government of Lumumba and Kasavubu sought armed UN intervention to prevent a civil war and called on Belgium to withdraw her troops.

Members of the 32 Inf Bn head to the Congo. UN Photo #105384

Three weeks later on July 19th, the Irish Government accedes to a request from the UN Security Council to send an Irish Infantry Battalion to Opération des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) or in English the United Nations Operation in the Congo. To glorious applause and show of support to their countrymen, the 32 Inf Bn paraded down a packed O’Connell St., passing the historic GPO. On July 27th the US Airforce airlifted them from Baldonnel Aerodrome to the Congo on their massive Globemaster aeroplanes.

On September 5th, President Kasavubu sacks Lumumba after only 67 days in power and installs Joseph Ileo as prime minister. Shortly after on August 12th, UN troops entered Katanga, with the Belgian troops withdrawing. The Emperor of the Balubas, Albert Kalonji also declares the diamond-rich South Kasai as an independent state.

Within a few short weeks of the 32 Inf Bn departing Ireland, the 33 Inf Bn was dispatched on August 16th to the Congo, this was following a further UN request for more troops. 33 Inf Bn was located in different parts of Albertville, except for A Coy, which was located in Kamina.

Dag Hammarskjold is credited with saying, “Peacekeeping is a job not suited to soldiers, but a job only soldiers can do.”

The Niemba Ambush was the first-time Irish soldiers were involved in a combat engagement since the ending of the Civil War in 1922. And that the Niemba Ambush was, and still remains, the greatest loss of life overseas in a single incident for the Irish Defence Forces.

Comdt Louis Hogan, OC A Coy, 33rd Inf Bn (left) is seen here dictating orders to CS Mick O’Brien at Kamina base area, 1st August 1961. UN Photo #105689

In the weeks leading up to the day of the patrol, there was a heavily armed Gendarmerie mobile platoon consisting of about twenty-seven Congolese and eight Belgians who carried out daily patrols in the Niemba area.

There had been daily clashes and raids between the Baluba tribes and the European mercenaries and the Gendarmerie, resulting in huts and villages being burnt down – It is said that this made the Balubas sceptical of white European soldiers.

No 2 Platoon, A Coy, 33 Inf Bn. Photo: South Dublin County Libraries / WM_4713

On 8th November 1960, Lt Kevin Gleeson (Terenure, Dublin) commanded an 11-man patrol from No 2 Platoon, A Coy, 33 Inf Bn. Lt Gleeson was assisted by Sgt Hugh Gaynor (Leixlip, Co Kildare), and his NCOs Cpl Peter Kelly (Templeogue, Dublin), and Cpl Liam Dougan (Cabra, Dublin). The rest of the patrol was made up of Pte Matthew Farrell (Swords, Dublin), Tpr Thomas Fennell (Donnycarney, Dublin), Tpr Anthony Browne (Rialto, Dublin), Pte Michael McGuinn (Blackhorse Ave, Dublin), Pte Gerard Killeen (Queen St., Dublin), Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (Charlemont St., Dublin) and Pte Thomas Kenny (Ballyfermot, Dublin).

Reading the 33 Inf Bn Unit History, Lt Gleeson had patrolled the area of the ambush the day before where they had been out dismantling roadblocks and repairing bridges in the Niemba area of operations. They also found natives armed with bows and arrows who claimed to be Pygmys and not Balubas.

At about 1330 hours on that faithful day, Lt Gleeson’s patrol left as instructed to recce the road south towards Kinsukulu. They travelled in a Land Rover and a Volkswagen pick-up. Lt Gleeson and the three NCOs carried Gustaf machine guns along with Tpr Browne. Privates McGuinn and Fennell carried two Bren Guns, and the rest were riflemen.

An hour and a half into the patrol and having bypassed a few roadblocks, the patrol was stopped as three Baluba tribesmen stood on the road armed with bows and arrows. Lt Gleeson and Sgt Gaynor approached them with local greetings, but they disappeared into the bush. Lt Gleeson ordered the patrol to get out of the vehicles and on to the road. With some patrol members serving in the Engineers at home, they assessed the bridge but found only three planks remained. They would have to rebuild the bridge to cross, so they searched left and right to find an alternative way across the Luweyeye River.

Pte Fitzpatrick was posted at the rear of the vehicles along with Tpr Browne and they could see the Balubas moving about in the bush. Then a large group of approx 40 Baluba tribesmen came out on to the road screaming and shouting at them while heavily armed with clubs, hatchets and their custom bows and arrows. Immediately the Baluba warriors stormed the patrol before they could get the Bren Guns into action and were on top of them before they heard Lt Gleeson’s order to ‘open fire’. The patrol had to fight a rear-guard action and make their way across the river and on to the other bank. Many of them had received wounds from potentially poison-tipped arrows. The patrol members were all dispersed in the tall bush grass but were picked off and ferociously attacked by the Baluba tribesmen.

Tpr Browne having survived the initial attack broke cover and fired his Gustaf machinegun, he is thought to have escaped but later killed, as his body was not found until two years later.

Baluba warriors in the central Congo province of Kasai train for battle with homemade small arms on January 2nd, 1961. By legendary photojournalist Horst Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

The only two peacekeepers to survive the ambush were privates Fitzpatrick and Kenny, who were very fortunate to escape with their injuries. They hid and wandered in the wild bush separately for hours before they were pickup by Irish patrols sent out to find Lt Gleeson’s patrol who had missed their check-in and failed to return.

An Irish Peacekeeper in the Bush in the Congo

It is believed that the Baluba tribesmen thought they were attacking European mercenaries who were hired by the breakaway Katanga province. The Baluba tribe had not supported the secession. It is said that the small Irish patrol who were trying to keep the bridge over River Luweyeye open, had killed and wounded a large number of the attacking Baluba tribesmen.

The Niemba Memorial being erected in the Congo in the 1960s. Photo Military Archives

The nine remains were flown home to Baldonnel, where they laid in state before a large funeral procession back through the streets of Dublin, before the funeral in Glasnevin Cemetry. Thousands of silent mourners turned out to acknowledge the sacrifices these Irishmen had paid for the cause of world peace in a country nearly seven thousand miles away.

On 8th November 1961, a year to the day, the then Irish President Éamon de Valera unveiled a plaque in Arbour Hill Church to those Irish peacekeepers who were killed in Niemba. An Taoiseach, Seán Lemass presented the only medal awarded to Lt Gleeson’s patrol – An Bonn Míleata Calmachta or The Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG) with Distinction, which was posthumously presented to Mr John Browne, father of 20-year-old Tpr Anthony Browne, from Rialto, Dublin.

Trooper anthony Browne’s MMG Citation

Tpr Browne was awarded his MMG for the heroic actions he showed during the ambush, where his citation reads, “He endeavoured to create an opportunity to allow an injured comrade to escape by firing his Gustaf thereby drawing attention to his own position which he must have been aware would endanger his life. He had a reasonable opportunity to escape because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade.” This is the highest award and the only MMG given out of the 60 plus medals awarded to over 6,000 Irish peacekeepers who served in the Congo in a four-year period from 1960-1964. 26 Irish peacekeepers died while serving in the Congo.

In the recorded history of the 33rd Inf Bn held in Military Archives, the unit OC Lt Col R. W. Bunworth opens with, “I cannot omit mention of our great tragedy at Niemba. This will always be our special memory, a memory made poignant by the knowledge that the small and ill-fated patrol were only carrying out to the best of their ability, the role of keeping the peace in a country torn, especially in the area of 33 Infantry Battalion, by civil war.”

In the unit history, he mentions that the 33 Inf Bn were, “soon to realise the very considerable difference between the peacetime, barrack life at home in Ireland and the active service type of operation with UN in Congo.” Citing lack of experience, and the difficulty for all of them “to visualise what a UN peacekeeping mission entailed,” when they were equipped and trained in the traditional infantry weapons yet restricted in their use by the, “well-known and accepted UN policy of avoiding the use of force.”

“Peacekeeping is a soldier-intensive business in which the quality of troops matters as much as the quantity. It is not just soldiering under a different colour helmet; it differs in kind from anything else soldiers do. There are medals and rewards (mainly, the satisfaction of saving lives), but there are also casualties. And no victories. It is not a risk -free enterprise.” ― Larry Wentz, contributing Editor ‘Lessons From Bosnia: The IFOR Experience’

Operation Shamrock with injured Baluba Tribesmen being detained. Photo John Joe O’Connor

There is more to this engagement that might bring some closure. On 30th November 1960, ‘Operation Shamrock’ took place, this was a secret mission by members of B Coy 33 Inf Bn to raid the Manono Hospital for the wounded Baluba tribesmen involved in the Niemba Ambush. Five wounded Balubas were detained and brought to trial in Elizabethville in September 1961. The trial was adjourned for a while as the city was the under bitter fighting between UN and Katanga forces. The trial resumed on 12th October 1961 and proceeded with a conviction. According to the 33 Inf Bn’s unit history, that on Monday 13th November 1961, the five Niemba men accused, were found “guilty of murder and attempted murder, without pre-meditation, as well as the offence of carrying arms in an insurrectionist movement. Two of the accused were sentenced to three years’ penal servitude. The other three received sentences of two years penal servitude.” Operation Shamrock was explained in more detail by Des Keegan (IUNVA) in July-August 2018 issue of An Cosantóir.

On 26th June 1963, the US President John F Kennedy praises Irish UN peacekeepers during his visit to Ireland:

“The major forum for your nation’s greater role in world affairs is that of protector of the weak and voice of the small, the United Nations. From Cork to the Congo, from Galway to the Gaza Strip, from this legislative assembly to the United Nations, Ireland is sending its most talented men to do the world’s most important work – the work of peace.

…like the wild geese after the Battle of the Boyne, you are not content to sit by your fireside while others are in need of your help. Nor are you content with the recollections of the past when you face the responsibilities of the present.

Twenty-six sons of Ireland have died in the Congo; many others have been wounded. I pay tribute to them and to all of you for your commitment and dedication to world order. And their sacrifice reminds us all that we must not falter now.

Ireland’s influence in the United Nations is far greater than your relative size.

I speak of these matters today not because Ireland is unaware of its role, but I think it important that you know that we know what you have done, and I speak to remind the other small nations that they, too, can and must help build a world peace.

My friends, Ireland’s hour has come. You have something to give to the world, and that is a future of peace with freedom.”

In 2006, the then Irish Minister for Defence Mr Willie O’Dea is quoted by The Irish Times as saying he wholeheartedly recognised and acknowledged that “both Pte Kenny, particularly in view of the serious wounds and injuries he sustained and Pte Fitzpatrick survived a horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued.” He commended them both, “for the selfless service they have given their country.”

Niemba Plaque in Cathal Brugha Barracks, November 2020. Photo Irish Defence Forces

On Saturday 7th November 2020, the 60th Anniversary of the Niemba Ambush was commemorated in a closed ceremony in Cathal Brugha Barracks. Wreaths were laid by Brig-General Tony Cudmore, GOC 2 Bde, and the National Chairman of ONE Brig-General Colm Campbell retired. They were accompanied by CQMS Michael Colton retired, who is the Honorary President of Post 1, Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA). CQMS Colton was also a member of the 33 Inf Bn and was one of those selected to escort the remains of those killed-in-action home.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

Former President Receives Peace Award

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As published in the December 2019 /January 2020 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine

By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Armn Sam Gibney

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland  (1990-1997), was presented with the Tipperary International Peace Award for 2018, at the Tipperary Peace Convention 2019, at a ceremony held in the Excel Centre, Tipperary Town, on 7 November 2019.

Seán Cosgrave, IUNVA Post 24 salutes former president Mary Robinson as honorary secretary of the Tipperary Peace Convention Martin Quinn accompanies her.

As Irish president she was also supreme commander of the Defence Forces, and as such would have inspected many Irish soldiers serving around the world and at home. An honour guard from Post 24 (Clonmel) and Post 4 (Tipperary) of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) greeted Mrs Robinson. The honour guard was handed over by Seán Cosgrave (Post 24), who served 11 times in Lebanon during his lengthy service.

Mrs Robinson has held the positions of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), UN Special Envoy on the Great Lakes in Africa & Democratic Republic of the Congo (2013-2014), and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change (2014-2015), and is the current chair of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders, established by Nelson Mandela in 2007, who work together for peace, justice and human rights.

Guests at the convention included members of the Dáil and Seanad, EU and international diplomats, local county councillors, senior members of An Garda Síochána, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM and Captain (NS) Brian Fitzgerald.

On entering the theatre Mrs Robinson, who was accompanied by her husband, Nicholas, was greeted with a standing ovation.

MC for the occasion, Martin Quinn, honorary secretary of the Tipperary Peace Convention, regaled the audience with stories Mrs Robinson’s previous visits to Tipperary during her presidency.

In introducing this year’s award recipient, Martin said that Mary Robinson had “rocked the system around the world over the last number of decades”. He referred to her work as a politician, becoming the first female president of Ireland, her many roles with the UN, her great charitable work, and her continuous efforts to highlight climate change around the globe.

On receiving her award, Mary Robinson said she was “very honoured and very humbled” to accept the award. She went on to name some of the previous recipients before adding: “There is something special about this award.”

The former president also invited the members of the IUNVA honour guard to receive a round of applause from the packed auditorium, saying: “I inspected many a guard of honour as president – but this one was special as it was made up of Irish peacekeepers, of whom I am very proud.”

For more information on the Tipperary International Peace Award and Peace Convention visit: www.tipperarypeace.ie

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

ATHY’S HEROES & VETERANS

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As published in the February 2019 issue of An Cosantóir  
Report & Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Athy, Co Kildare, is a thriving market town located approximately 65km from the Red Cow/M50 junction and 22km from the Curragh Camp and is the place where the River Barrow and the Grand Canal meet. Athy became one the initial Anglo-Norman settlements after Richard de Clare (Strongbow) granted the area of Le Norrath to Robert FitzRichard in 1175, and other Anglo-Norman lords, including Robert St Michel, settled on the surrounding lands. At the beginning of the 13th century, the St Michel family built Woodstock Castle, and it was outside this castle that the first Anglo-Norman settlement developed. Subsequently burned and sacked a number of times, it is believed the town was walled as early as 1297; walls that were maintained until well into the 15th century.

In the Shackleton museum.

One famous local resident was renowned Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who was born in nearby Kilkea. The intrepid explorer is honoured and remembered with a whole floor dedicated to him in Athy’s Heritage Centre, which is based in the old Town Hall on Emily Square. (Visit www.shackletonmuseum.com)

Athy Heritage Centre’s military history section.

When I visited the Heritage Centre I met with local historian Clem Roche, who took me through the town’s military history, which predates the establishment of the Curragh. Clem has researched the exploits of Athy men through many wars and told me that they have been serving in the military since the 1730s.

Local historian, Clem Roche, beside the John Vincent Holland VC display.

The story that caught my attention was that of John Vincent Holland, born in Athy in 1889, who won a Victoria Cross (VC) in World War I. Holland attended Clongowes Wood College near Clane, Co Kildare, studying veterinary medicine for three years before leaving in 1909 for a more adventurous life in South America, where he tried his hand at ranching, railway engineering and hunting. On the outbreak of the Great War, he returned to Ireland and was commissioned as a lieutenant into the Leinster Regiment. He was wounded at the second battle of Ypres in 1915 but recovered to take part in the Somme campaign of 1916, serving as a bombing officer with the 7th Battalion of the Leinsters.

Lt John Vincent Holland VC

On 3rd September 1916 he played a crucial role in the capture of Guillemont, which was rated as one of the great achievements of the 16th (Irish) Division, and was subsequently awarded a VC for:

“most conspicuous bravery during a heavy engagement, when, not content with bombing hostile dug-outs within the objective, he fearlessly led his bombers through our own artillery barrage and cleared a great part of the village in front. He started out with twenty-six bombers and finished up with only five, after capturing some fifty prisoners. By this very gallant action he undoubtedly broke the spirit of the enemy, and thus saved us many casualties when the battalion made a further advance. He was far from well at the time, and later had to go to hospital”.

Drawing of the attack led by Lt Holland VC

Holland, clearly a modest man, attributed his award to “the fidelity and extraordinary gallantry” of the men he commanded. On his return home, he received a civic reception but did not remain in Ireland. He served for a time in the Indian Army, returning as a major during World War II. He finally settled in Australia, where he received a state funeral after he died in Hobart, Tasmania, on 27th February 1975.

It was my interest in this VC winner that initially brought me to Athy to find out more about its military past. This led to my meeting with some of the veterans who had started St Michael’s ONE branch in the town, one of the newest branches in the veterans’ organisation. The branch, which was established nearly five years ago and has 12 full-time members and seven associates, takes its name from the parish of St Michael’s, which in turn takes its name from the St Michel family mentioned earlier.

For the first four years, St Michael’s Branch held their monthly meetings in Dominican Hall and Methodist Hall on the Carlow Road before moving to Athy Community College (with many thanks to Principle Richard Daly) for the last year.

I met with several members of the branch to get some background. Branch Chairman Kevin Carton, originally from Wicklow, spent his career with the Transport Corps in the Curragh. Branch Secretary John Roche, an Athy native who comes from a large military family, served with the Ordnance Corps, also in the Curragh. Other branch members at the meeting were Anthony Davis, formerly Medical Corps; Pat Roche (John’s brother and the father of Clem, the local historian who had been my guide in Heritage Centre) formerly Artillery Corps; John Lawlor, from Athy, formerly of the Engineer Corps; William Lawlor, who served in the Curragh and Dublin; Liam Foley, from Athy, who served in the Military College; and John Roche’s wife Kathleen and his other brother, Michael, who are associate members.

St Michael’s Branch members

At the start of our meeting, the branch members paid tribute to Raymond Clarke, one of their founding members, who sadly passed away three years ago. Raymond had served with An Slua Muir and Civil Defence.

John recalls the meeting held in 2013 in Fingleton Auctioneers in the town to see if there was sufficient interest and ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor came along and spoke to those present. There was great interest and Kevin says: “Starting off it looked good with numbers.” Of course, though, starting off any venture like this provides many challenges and obstacles to overcome so it was by no means easy but all agree it was worth the effort.

The branch has an excellent Facebook page that lets people know what they are about and to share photos of events/projects they are involved in. One of those projects, cleaning and renovating the grotto on the Monasterevin Road, has earned great acknowledgement for the branch. Due to the branch’s efforts the grotto, originally built in 1954 by the Lower St Joseph’s Residents’ Association, now includes a roll of honour for the 87 members of the Defence Forces who died on overseas service, and has won numerous awards, including the Athy Tidy Towns Award in 2016 and again in 2018, jointly with another location.

The grotto in Athy

Among the branch’s many activities last year, they took part in the town’s St Patrick’s Day parade and provided a guard of honour for the visit of the Rose of Tralee. The branch does a fair amount of annual fundraising, including holding a number of raffles, collecting for ONE’s Fuchsia Appeal and lotto draw. Their local charitable work includes donating large, framed pictures to St Michael’s Parish Church, and plaques in the old and new graveyards.

St Michaels Branch accepting their joint Tidy Towns Award for 2018. Photo: St Michael’s
Branch, ONE

As a result of all of the above, this young branch has already made an impact locally. John said the branch receives very positive feedback in the town for their charitable work. In recognition of its community spirit, St Michael’s Branch became the first ONE branch to get a civic reception when they were given one by Kildare County Council in March 2018, at which the branch gave a presentation on the Fuchsia Appeal to the councillors to make them aware of the plight of veterans.

Looking to the future they would like to increase their membership numbers over the coming year and have been in discussions with their local councillors for assistance for a suitable building they could turn into a Veterans Support Centre (VSC), along the lines of those that ONE has opened up around the country. Kevin says: “If we had our own VSC in the town we would have a place to meet veterans that might need help.”

I was very impressed with the comradery within the branch and by the respect in which they are held locally. It was also good to meet the members in person after having come across them at many veterans’ events over the years.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Carlow Military Museum

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in March 2013 issue.
By Cpl Paul Millar – Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Co. Carlow Military Museum LogoThe Carlow Military Museum punches well above its weight and its story is as interesting as the stories of the 7,500 items it currently holds. 

IMG_3373The museum began life in 1995 as a memorial to Chief Warrant Officer Donal Cunningham, a Carlow native who served with 10 Inf Bn before moving to America, who, after several tours abroad as a helicopter pilot, was killed in a training accident in Cyprus. To remember Donal, some of his former comrades in the Reserve put together a collection of his kit in their drill shed. As word grew, donations came in and it became apparent that a larger building was needed.

After a long search, the group was allocated St Dympna’s Church, in Carlow Hospital grounds, by the Health Board. The church is ideal for the museum as it is an historic building in its own right: the stained glass window over the altar, worth over €1.2 million, has proven to be an attraction all of its own. The move to the church in 2001 was only the beginning of many years work and dedication on behalf of the volunteers.

IMG_3382Today the military museum covers all aspects of Carlow’s warrior history, from medieval times to the 21st century. Most displays are interactive. For example, the medieval exhibits give a real sense of the weight of chain mail armour and weapons, and an appreciation of the time it took to get suited up for battle. There’s also a small area on the 1798 rebellion with a restored ‘Brown Bess’ musket holding centre stage.

IMG_3383The most extensive exhibits in the museum cover the period from 1900 to 1950, with a selection of uniforms, ordnance, bayonets, kit, and an atmospheric reconstruction of a three-man observation trench overlooking no-man’s land in Ypres.
All the exhibits have a Carlow connection and were donated by people who served in various armies, or by family members.

All donations are cared for by a dedicated team of volunteers and together they highlight the personal sacrifices made by the people and families of Carlow during various wars. The museum has just received a donation of Black-and-Tan medals and even during our visit donations of various medals were made.

Taking main stage in the medal collection is the Military Star awarded to Lt Kevin Gleeson, who lost his life in the Niemba Ambush, a significant event in Defence Forces’ history. All services are represented, with an Air Corps presentation and a display for PO TJ Doyle, who died in service with LÉ Róisín.

IMG_3385Members of 10 Inf Bn were key in advertising and collecting for the museum and the unit is now honoured with an area that celebrates its life and times.

Many older serving or retired members of the DF would remember the various uniforms, kit, bicycles and comms equipment on display. A lot of the ordnance and kit was sourced with the help of Comdt Gerry Shinnors (Retd) and is reason enough for a visit. There’s even a collection of DF pottery complete with chamber pot!

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An Cosantoir Staff with Museum Staff and visitors

The work of the museum is ongoing and the staff is doing a fantastic job cataloguing current stories from today’s Carlow natives serving with a range of armies. This will become the history of the future. Whereas Carlow used to be a gateway to the Pale, now it’s a gateway to the past. A visit here would be part of an ideal day out for people interested in the best of what a small volunteer museum can offer. For more information ring 087-6904242, or visit www.countycarlowmuseum.org, or checkout their Facebook page

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie








FOUGA MAGISTER ON DISPLAY

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in July/August 2013 issue.
Report & photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

IMG_9793In the early hours of Monday the 5th June members of the Air Corps transported a Fouga Magister aeroplane (216) from Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel to Clarke Square, in Collins Bks.

IMG_9783The plane was then reassembled and will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts & History and is on load for the summer months from the Air Corps Museum & Heritage Project.

IMG_9784“It’s a great privilege to be displaying a Fouga Magister aircraft, we are very grateful to the Air Corps” said a member of the museum staff.

With its distinctive ‘butterfly’ tail, the iconic French built Fouga CM 170 Magister was a 1950s two-seat jet and was Fouga’s greatest success with nearly 1,000 constructed. It had a top speed of: 715km/h, a wingspan of: 12m and a length of: 10m.

The Fouga Magister has a unique place in Irish military history: one was used to attack Irish troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the Congo in 1961. This lone Fouga was flown by a Belgian mercenary in the Katangan Air Force who carried out the bombings and machine gun attacks on Irish troops.

IMG_9791This was the first occasion on which Irish troops would experience an air attack. The Air Corps operated six Fouga Magisters (CM170-2) from 1975 to 1999, four of which equipped the Silver Swallows Aerobatic display team.

silver-swallows-logo

 

 

The Silver Swallows were famous internationally for winning the Lockheed Martin Cannestra trophy for ‘best display by an overseas team’ at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford in 1997. This plane is one of those used by the Silver Swallows.

FOUGA BookFor more information and history on both the Fouga Magister and the Silver Swallows I recommend reading: Fouga Magister – An Irish Perspective by Joe Maxwell and Radu Brinzan with original drawings by Philip Avonds. ISDN: 978-0-9562624-1-7 – 108 Pages, 210 x 297 mm. Price: €22. www.maxdecals.comjoe@maxdecals.com

You can also learn about Ireland’s military history since 1550 at the permanent Soldiers & Chiefs exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts & History in Collins Bks. www.museum.ie/en/exhibition/soldiers-chiefs.aspx

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie








Sir Roger Casement Branch, ONE

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in May 2012 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

ONE_BadgeThe Sir Roger Casement Branch of ONE (Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women) was established in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, in late 1979. The branch has grown from strength to strength over the years mainly due to the efforts of its members and the great relationship it has had since its foundation with successive GOCs and serving Air Corps personnel.

 

church-monument

ONE Memorial Garden

Significant events undertaken by the branch include: establishing the ONE Memorial Garden in Baldonnel with a monument to the memory of deceased former Air Corps personnel who have served within the Air Corps; holding an annual Mass of Commemoration in the Garrison Church; the presentation of a unit flag designed by a member of the branch to the Apprentice Training School; and a presentation to GOC Air Corps of a book of copies of the letters of Roger Casement.

In addition, every year the branch organises a number of trips to places of historical interest as well as organising events that provide an opportunity for former colleagues to meet and renew old acquaintances. An example of the latter is the annual Christmas lunch for retired Air Corps personnel. This very popular event has become a favourite reunion for former colleagues.

Paddy O’Meara, who stood down as branch chairman in January 2012, joined the Air Corps as a boy apprentice in 1956 and served for 12 years, mostly as an instructor in the Air Corps Apprentice School, retiring as a flight sergeant in 1969. After leaving he joined AnCo the industrial training authority that had been recently set up to promote industrial training throughout the country. Paddy has been an active chairman since his election in January 2007.

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ONE Memorial Garden

During his tenure he oversaw the updating of the magazine-style version of The Link newsletter, which is circulated to all members on a quarterly basis and is greatly appreciated particularly by overseas members. An extensive website was created that provides full details of the branch’s history, committee, and details of upcoming events. Copies of The Link are also archived on the site. The website has been the key in generating contacts from many former Air Corps members who are scattered around the world and who wish to maintain contacts with their old comrades. A new Facebook page and email address were also created for the benefit of all members.

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Finnbar Lyons & Paddy O’Meara

In addition, Paddy successfully negotiated with the board of ONEt and the Dept of Defence, with the kind support of the GOC Air Corps, for approval for the members of the branch to wear Air Corps-style forage caps as part of their ONE uniform. This headgear has been very popular with the members. It further identifies the branch and its members with the Air Corps family and branch membership has increased as a result.

A programme of collection days was set up in selected shopping centres to generate support for ONEt’s national Fuchsia campaign. These collections were professionally arranged with the use of advertising posters, backdrops and videos. In addition to the funds generated, the PR spin off for the branch was invaluable, particularly with the communities in the Baldonnel, Clondalkin and Dublin Airport catchment areas.

Paddy will continue to serve as a committee member, with special responsibility for maintaining the communications systems, and he wishes the incoming chairman every success in the position.
The new chairman, Finnbar Lyons, enlisted in 1953 as a direct-entry aircraft mechanic and served with No 1 Fighter Squadron (Gormanstown) until he left in 1961 to work for Aer Lingus as an aircraft technician. Finnbar says his main focus as chairman will be to continue Paddy’s great work through the communications media, events and outings, and to increase membership, which currently stands at 150+.

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Branch members on the Fuchsia Campaign

Personnel who have served in any part of the Defence Forces are welcome to join the branch and to attend its meetings, held on the third Thursday of the month at 20.00hrs in the NCOs’ Mess, Baldonnel. For more info on the branch, contact the secretary: Noel Murphy, onerogercasementbranch@gmail.com or visit www.oneaircorpsbranch.com or www.facebook.com/pages/ONE-Roger-Casement-Branch/100278033401653

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie








Niemba Peacekeepers Remembered

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As previously published in An Cosantóir in December 2013/January 2014 issue.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Sgt Mick Burke

On 8th November 1960, the biggest loss of life of Irish soldiers in any single incident overseas happened in the Belgian Congo. This heartbreaking and significant moment in the history of the Defence Forces took place while these troops were serving as UN peacekeepers with 33 Inf Bn as part of the Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC).

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Erecting the Niemba memorial in the Congo, 1961.

On that fateful day Lt Kevin Gleeson took his 11-man patrol over a bridge on the Luweyeye River near the town of Niemba where Baluba tribesmen ambushed them. After a courageous fight against overwhelming numbers, nine of the patrol were killed. One member of the patrol, 20-year-old Tpr Anthony Browne from Rialto, Dublin, survived the initial attack but was subsequently killed. His body was not found until November 1962. Tpr Browne was also posthumously awarded the first ever An Bonn Míleata Calmachta (Military Medal for Gallantry), the Defence Forces highest military honour, for his conduct during the ambush.

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His citation reads:

“He endeavoured to create an opportunity to allow an injured comrade to escape by firing his Gustaf, thereby drawing attention to his own position, which he must have been aware would endanger his life. He had a reasonable opportunity to escape because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade.”

Those that lost their lives were: Lt Kevin Gleeson (30), Sgt Hugh Gaynor (29), Cpl Peter Kelly (25), Cpl Liam Dougan (34), Pte Matthew Farrell (22), Tpr Thomas Fennell (18), Tpr Anthony Browne MMG (20), Pte Michael McGuinn (21) and Pte Gerard Killeen (27).

Two members of the patrol survived, Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (then 21) and Pte Thomas Kenny (then 24).

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Members of ONE and IUNVA

On 10th November 1960, in a follow-up operation to recover remains, Pte Patrick Davis died after he was shot accidentally. He was laid to rest with his colleagues from the ambush. From 1960 to 1964, 12 Defence Forces units with almost 6,200 troops, served with ONUC. In those four years 26 Irish troops paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace.

On Saturday 9th November 2013, the 53rd Niemba Commemoration took place in the Garrison Church, Cathal Brugha Bks, with a Mass at 1200 hrs followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial Garden outside the church.

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Niemba Memorial in Cathal Brugha Bks

The annual ceremony is organised by the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONEt) on the first Saturday in November. The veterans of ONEt and IUNVA provided a guard of honour and the ‘Last Post’ was played by members of the Army No 1 Band. This was followed by a minute’s silence, ‘Reveille’ and then the national anthem as the national flag was raised to full mast.
Wreaths were laid by Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Pat McCartan; Chief of Staff Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle; Secretary General of the DoD Maurice Quinn; ONEt President John Hennessey; the UK Ambassador HE Dominick Chillcot; US Defence Attaché Lt Col Sean Cosden; Dan Garland of IUNVA; Lt Col Joe Aherne (retd) of ARCO; Brig Gen Jerry Enright (retd) of 33 Inf Bn; Comdt Earnan O’Naughton of RACO; Mark Scally of PDFORRA; Comdt Eugene Gargan of RDFRA; Declan Pendred of the Irish Naval Association; Noel Cullen of the Royal British Legion; and Martin Coyne ONEt (on behalf of the American Legion in Ireland). Also present was former Swedish army officer Stig von Bayer who served in the Congo at the time of the ambush.

Even though most of these trailblazing peacekeepers have now retired, their memories of the Congo and places such as Elizabethville, Jadotville and Niemba are still very strong within the Defence Forces as we continue to remember and honour them.

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UN plot at Glasnevin Cemetery

On the previous day, Friday 8th November, members of the IUNVA, with families and friends of troops of 33 Inf Bn, held a ceremony and reception in Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum at the monument and plot for Irish soldiers who died while on service with the UN and for members of Óglaigh na hÉireann, which is where the state funeral for those who died in the Niemba Ambush took place.

After the ceremony the family of Tpr Anthony Browne (MMG) presented his old bull’s-wool uniform to IUNVA for a loan. It will be put on display in IUNVA’s HQ at Arbour Hill.

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UN Veterans Ronnie Daly and Dan Garland with Tpr Browne’s uniform








Supporting Our Leinster Veterans (ONE)

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As published in An Cosantóir in May 2014
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Badge Main IMG_0439On Tuesday April 1st, An Cosantóir met with one of the newest branches of the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONE), the Royal Meath, situated in the north Leinster area.
The Royal Meath branch was set up just over a year ago (January 2013) so that ONE members from the area wouldn’t have to travel to Dublin or Drogheda/Slane for ONE meetings and events.

The branch chairman, Conor Swords, who has served with ONE for 25-years, told us that he and other members of the Fr James Gilmore Branch (Artane) established the new branch and formed a committee. They canvassed the areas of Kells, Navan, Trim, Oldcastle and Virginia looking for new members, and now have 34 active members in the branch. Members of the new branch have sponsored three flags (national, UN and branch) as well as the chairman’s chain of office.

IMG_0443 editDespite being in existence for just over a year, the Royal Meath Branch has taken part in many events, and not just ONE events; others have included the French Foreign Legion Day, Anzac Day, and the Royal British Legion. The Branch has also built up a great relationship with the Thurles Memorial Trust, with Royal Meath members being made honorary members of the Trust.
The Branch has planned a church collection on August 3rd and they hope to hold their first annual Mass and Lá na bhFiann (Soldier’s Day) in September.

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Branch PRO, Bridget Quinn, who is possibly the first female PRO in ONE, told us that branch members have a long history of travelling on the International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, with Bridget completing 14 trips and Conor with in excess of 20.

Always on the lookout for new members, the Branch meets on the first Tuesday of every month in the Martry Restaurant (formerly the Silver Tankard), Kells Road (R417), Navan, Co Meath. Prospective members can also contact Peter Rogers, the branch secretary, on 086-4040049 or Bridget Quinn on 087-8332762.








IUNVA Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony 2014

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As published in An Cosantóir in July/August 2014
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

IMG_0994 editOn May 25th 2014, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) held their 16th annual wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of all Defence Forces personnel, members of An Garda Síochána and civilian personnel who died on UN peacekeeping missions throughout the world. The ceremony was held at the memorial garden in IUNVA’s HQ on Mount Temple Road, behind Arbour Hill Church and Cemetery, where a memorial stone is inscribed with the names of those who sacrificed everything in the cause of world peace. The garden was opened by President Mary McAleese on November 8th 1998.

IMG_0993 editWhat makes this year special is that it is the 25th anniversary of the formation of IUNVA. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of UNFICYP in April 1964, when 606 members of 40 Inf Bn arrived in Cyprus, and the 50th anniversary of the ending of Irish involvement in the Congo when 2 Inf Gp left ONUC in June of the same year.

The ceremony started at 12am with the parade commander, Sgt Major John Egan (retd), marching the UN veterans into position. Then the MC, Comdt George Kerwin (retd), introduced the IUNVA chairman, Michael Butler, to address all those present.

IMG_0985 editDCOS Sp, Rear-Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, addressed the parade, thanking IUNVA for making sure the memories and names of all those that made the ultimate sacrifice for world peace are remembered. Fr Pat Mernagh CF and the Very Rev John Marsden, Dean of Kildare, led those present in prayers and then Airman Michael Whelan read out his poem ‘Fallen Friends’. The roll of honour was then read out by members of IUNVA posts from around the country.

IMG_0946 editIMG_0948 editWreaths were then laid on behalf of the Defence Forces by Airman Michael Whelan (Air Corps), Pte Tadgh Luby (7 Inf Bn) and A/Sea Michelle Thompson (Dublin Unit, NSR). A wreath was also laid by representatives of other armed forces.

After representatives and families laid their own wreaths a minute’s silence was observed by all before a piper’s lament was played followed by ‘The Last Post’. The National Flag was then raised and the bagpipers were joined by two members of the Army Band in playing the National Anthem.

IMG_0970 editThe day went very well and although it was such a solemn occasion it was very uplifting with everyone enjoying the parade and the opportunity to remember lost loved ones in good company.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie








Defence Forces Veterans’ Day Parade 2014

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As published in An Cosantóir in October 2014
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Cpl Neville Coughlan

14931744937_81b6d6b6b1_oOn 2nd September 2014 the first Defence Forces Veterans’ Day Parade was held on McDermott Square, DFTC, Curragh Camp. Many veterans from around the country joined under their respective flags. In attendance were the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA), the Organisation of Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONE), along with the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers (ARCO). The Minister for Defence, Mr Simon Coveney TD, officially attended and was accompanied by the Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Conor O’Boyle and Brig Gen Seamus Ó’Giolláin, GOC DFTC.

14931738108_33bd9b436b_oThe Minister in welcoming past servicemen and women confirmed the Defence Forces were committed to our veterans:

“There are many honours and responsibilities associated with service in the Defence Forces. Today I am happy to acknowledge the important service that former servicemen and women have contributed to Irish society in domestic operations and in hostile regions around the world. Today we are recognising the service of all former members of the Defence Forces across all three services, the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps, at home and abroad”.

_EVL2985The Minister complimented the Defence Forces on our 54-years of international peacekeeping:

“The 27th July 1960 was a watershed moment when Ireland sent its first peacekeepers with the 32nd Inf Bn to the Congo, the first complete Irish unit sent overseas as part of a UN mandate. For a further fifty four years the Irish Defence Forces contributed to the cause of peace in places like Lebanon, Chad, Liberia, East Timor and Syria (to name but a few) and continue to do so today”.

The Minister reviewed a parade of the representative associations, and also serving members from the Army, Naval Service and the Air Corps. Following a short multi denominational religious service by Rev Fr John Marsden and Rev Fr PJ Somers CF, and a lament was played by piper CQMS David Usher (Ord Sch), and then the Minister laid a wreath along with the three representative associations to honour our deceased servicemen and women.

15095327196_a472b479b4_oThe Minister finished by paying tribute to the 86 members of the Defence Forces who died on operations at home and abroad in the service of their country, “They paid the ultimate price in the cause of peace”. The day was finished off with light refreshments and displays of current weapons and vehicles and also a display of historical vehicles and weapons brought in by the Irish Military Vehicle Group (IMVG).

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie