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Saturday 24 March 2018

Irish Congo war heroism will be finally recognised

'Fifty Shades' actor Jamie Dornan stars in film about real-life 1961 siege in Belgian Congo

Actor Jamie Dornan Photo: PA
Actor Jamie Dornan Photo: PA
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

The Irish Army heroes of one of the most successful defence actions in modern military history are to receive a special bravery award, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The 150 soldiers, who in 1961 fought off 3,000 Congolese rebels and mercenaries backed by artillery and fighter jets, are the subject of a new Netflix movie, Jadotville, which premiered in Galway Town Hall theatre last night.

Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan, 34, who is from Holywood, Co Down, plays the lead role of Cmdt Pat Quinlan, who led his men through the siege, emerging with only four wounded - compared with 300 dead and 700 wounded on the other side.

The special unit citation for bravery is to be awarded to survivors and families of the soldiers at a special ceremony to mark the 55th anniversary in September.

The news of the citation, which many soldiers felt should have been made decades ago, was given last night by the son of Cmdt Quinlan, Leo Quinlan, who also served as a commandant in the Army.

And, in another twist surrounding the forthcoming movie release, Cmdt Quinlan's son, Conor, the grandson of Pat Quinlan, also acts in the movie as one of the Irish UN soldiers in the siege.

The Irish action at Jadotville was never officially recognised by the government or Defence Forces, despite the extraordinary bravery and skill that saw the unit survive overwhelming odds.

The Irish Jadotville action is placed alongside other historical sieges such as the British Army's defence at Rorke's Drift in the Anglo-Zulu war in 1879, in which all 150 soldiers were eventually killed while fighting a force of between 3,000 and 4,000 strong. This event was commemorated with 11 Victoria Crosses.

Jadotville is also mentioned alongside the stand of the American revolutionaries at the Alamo in 1836, in which all were killed by an enormously larger Mexican force.

The Irish action, while little remembered here, has become a text-book study for young officers around the world.

The soldiers were serving with the UN mission in the former Belgian colony during the bloody transitionary period when they were surrounded by 3,000 to 5,000 Luba warriors with support from regular French, Belgian and Rhodesian mercenaries. The attacking force also had heavy artillery and Fouga fighter jets which strafed and bombed the Irish position.

The Irish soldiers, who had only light arms and mortars, held out for six days, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers before surrendering after running out of ammunition.

One of the last radio messages from the besieged soldiers before their surrender includes a line that has gone into Irish military history. It is said to have been: "We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey."

The Irish action at Jadotville was the subject of two books by Cmdt Leo Quinlan along with author Rose Doyle, and former Army Corporal Declan Power.

The movie release on Netflix is set for September.

Sunday Independent

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