Photo recalls soldiers' Congo sacrifice
Memorial to honour slain young UN peacekeeper
Published 08/08/2011 | 05:00
TWO young Irish UN peacekeepers pose happily with a colleague and two young Congolese boys.
The photograph shows the soldiers just weeks before they were killed in the Congo in 1961.
Trooper Pat Mullins (18) and Corporal Michael Nolan (22) died when their armoured car was ambushed in Katanga, a breakaway province of Congo on September 15, 1961.
Both fought bravely against overwhelming mercenary forces before being shot and killed.
Trooper Mullins's body was never recovered -- one of two Irish UN peacekeepers still 'missing in action'.
The photo came to light after the families of the two soldiers -- who had lost contact over the years -- got back in touch as their comrades sought to have their sacrifice honoured.
A special memorial will be unveiled next month to mark the 50th anniversary of the ambush. Pat Mullins's best friend and Congo comrade, John O'Mahony, wrote a book about the ambush last year.
John and military historian Paudie McGrath got in contact with Edward Nolan, Michael's younger brother, now living in the UK.
He had a photograph that shows both young Irish peacekeepers chatting with Congolese children. It is the only known photo of the two young men together in the weeks before the fatal ambush.
"The problem was that there were very few photographs of either Pat or Michael that we knew about," John told the Irish Independent.
"'This is a remarkable find,'' he added.
Trooper Mullins died when he courageously tried to defend his badly wounded colleague, Cpl Nolan, after their patrol was ambushed by heavily armed Katangan mercenaries during the Congolese civil war.
One of the mercenaries was 'Colonel' Bob Denard, a former French Navy recruit who inspired 'The Wild Geese' and 'The Dogs of War' films.
Cpl Nolan's body was later recovered thanks to the efforts of Cmdt (Rtd) Art Magennis.
However, despite widespread searches, there has been no trace of Trooper Mullins's body.
The badly damaged armoured car was found with empty bullet casings strewn all over the ground.
It has been speculated that the Katangan soldiers took the corporal's body because of the courage he displayed.
Now, the Defence Forces and the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) are commissioning a memorial to his memory.
The sandstone monument will be erected in front of Kilbehenny Church in his native Limerick village.
It will be unveiled on September 15 to mark the exact day 50 years ago when the young soldier was killed alongside his friend and comrade.
Cmdt Magennis -- now in his 90s and living in Blackrock in Dublin -- will attend the ceremony.