About four hundred people turned out in Waterville yesterday to pay respects to Pat Quinlan who commanded the UN peace keeping mission during the siege of Jadotville in the Congo in 1961. Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveiled the bronze memorial plaque with the portrait of Quinlan. In 1961, the newly established United Nations sent peace keeping troops to the Congo to protect the civilians of the young republic against rebel attacks launched by the Katangan break-away region and the Belgian uranium mining companies.
Several veterans of A Company attended and told the story of the 150 unexperienced Irish UN soldiers, some as young as 17, holding out against 3,000 Katangese militaries under the command of battle-hardened French Legionaires. Equipped only with outdated weapons (a single machine gun, two small mortars, old rifles and plastic UN helmets) and only limited ammunition and provisions, they faced four days of waves of overwhelming attacks, air assaults and shelling. Quinlan sensed trouble ahead and ordered his men to dig trenches, organise Supplies and to prepare ingenious perimeter defence tactics. While casualties on the aggressor side were heavy (as many as 400 dead and 800 wounded), there was not a single casualty amongst Quinlan’s men and only five injured. After four days with no water or ammunition left, Quinlan had no option but to surrender to save the lives of his men and they spent four weeks as POWs before returning to Ireland.
The most shocking part of the tale is the aftermath of the siege. While abandoned and un-supported by the still unexperienced UN command and its envoy Connor Cruise O’Brien during the siege, they were treated as cowards for the rest of their careers by their colleagues in the Irish Defence Forces and by Irish and UN politicians. For political reasons this incredible event was totally ignored and all recommendations for medals denied until it was highlighted by Declan Power’s book and Richie Smyth’s authentic 2016 Netflix movie with Jamie Dornan The Siege of Jadotville (highly recommended!) as well as the relentless campaigning for recognition by Pat’s son Leo. The bronze low-relief portrait of Pat Quinlan who died in 1997, set in Valentia slate, now stands at the Com an Chiste viewing point between Waterville and Caherdaniel. On 2nd December the veterans of the siege will eventually receive their medals after fifty six years of being ignored by politicians and colleagues.
Jadotville veterans and former Taoiseach Enda Kenny with a replica of the bronze plaque during the ceremony in the Sea Lodge Hotel
The new Pat Quinlan’s monument on Com an Chiste
With Pat’s son Leo Quinlan who made his research and photos available for the process.