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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Jadotville hero is honoured on the Ring of Kerry

Congo: Comdt Pat Quinlan
Congo: Comdt Pat Quinlan
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

It went a long way towards righting a grave wrong, but while Commandant Pat Quinlan went to his grave bearing the "stigma of cowardice", he has always been honoured as a hero in his home county and by the men who served with him.

Three veterans of the surviving 40 or so members of the 35th Battalion A Company, involved in the Siege of Jadotville in Katanga, Congo, in 1961, joined Comdt Quinlan's five children, grandchildren and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny for a ceremony with military honours in Waterville, Co Kerry.

Also present were some of the "Congo babies" - children born to some of the 150 Irish UN volunteers, born after their fathers were delivered home safely by Comdt Quinlan having survived the siege and six weeks in captivity.

Weather dictated the ceremony to accompany the unveiling of a plaque - at the Coomakista Pass on the Ring of Kerry - had to be moved indoors to the Sea View Hotel.

Comdt Quinlan was born in Reeneragh, Caherdaniel, in 1919 and went to school in Loher. He died in 1997, two years before his wife, Carmel.

His son, retired Comdt Leo Quinlan, was 16 when his father served in the Congo.

"I was aware of where all his NCOs and men lived and the Army gave me a bike and they'd telephone my mother and then I'd cycle round to all the houses," he told the Sunday Independent.

"Later, when they were prisoners, I was given a tape recorder and I'd go round the houses taking messages from the wives and children and my father would play these for the men."

Corporal Tommy Gunn's eyes still well up when he remembers his commanding officer. He was 23 and a private when he served under Quinlan. He learned of the birth of his second child, a daughter, while in captivity. When he returned home he learned they had actually had a son.

Declan Power, on whose book the film The Siege of Jadotville, starring Jamie Dornan, was based, was also in Waterville.

Leo Quinlan says the actor bore an uncanny resemblance to his father. He got everything right except the accent.

"If he had done my father's accent, you'd need subtitles. He had a very strong Kerry accent," Leo said.

The men and their next of kin will finally be honoured by the State - one of the last decisions made by Enda Kenny as Taoiseach - for "full and due recognition in honour of their courageous actions".

The special medals will be presented in Athlone on December 2.

Sunday Independent

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