by ehistoryadmin on May 2, 2014

Congo Bound Redux

James Durney

On 1 July 1960, following nationalist riots against Belgian rule, the independent Republic of the Congo was declared. Within a few days anarchy prevailed as the mineral-rich province of Katanga threatened to secede from the new nation and form its own independent country. The Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, appealed to the United Nations for help. Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, was authorized by the UN Security Council to recruit a military force to restore order and keep the country intact.

Ireland was asked to contribute to the UN force and, in late July 1960, the first Irish peacekeeping force, the newly-raised 32nd Battalion, left the country for Central Africa. An advance party of the 32nd Battalion flew to the Congo on 23 July, to prepare the way for the main body of men who would arrive a few days later. These included four officers, six non-commissioned officers (NCOs), seven interpreters and a UN Political Adviser. They were led by Commandant Joseph J. Adams, second in command of the Battalion, and Commandant Joseph Laffan, senior medical officer.

Commdts. Adams and Laffan flew out from Dublin Airport on 21 July, while Captain P. J. Liddy, Legal Officer, and Captain Domhnall Sweeney, Assistant Quartermaster, accompanied by six NCOs flew out of Dublin Airport, via Aer Lingus, for Paris en route to the Congo two days later. The non-commissioned officers were: CQMS Michael Kennedy, Lower Grange, Co. Waterford, attached to the Curragh Command, married with four children; SQMS Desmond Nolan, Carlow, married, attached to the Curragh; Cpl. James Mulcahy (lineman), from Youghal, living in Newbridge, Co. Kildare, married with four children (Curragh Command); Cpl. Joseph Shine (cook), Ballyhooley, Co. Cork; Cpl. Richard Mahon (lineman), Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny; Cpl. Francis P. Fogarty, Birr, Co. Offaly. They were seen off by their families, the Chief of Staff, Major-General McKeown, and other senior officers. Among those saying farewell to Capt. Liddy was his sixteen-year-old son, Michael, in the uniform of the FCA.

On arrival in Leopoldville, on the following day, the men were taken by speedboat across the river to the office of General Van Horn, the Swedish Military Commander of the UN Emergency Force in the Congo. Gen. Van Horn, who had overall command of all the forces, including the Irish, welcomed them and they discussed the requirements of the 32nd Battalion. The area of operations for the Irish contingent was the Kivu province, on the east side of the vast country, on the borders of Rwanda and Burundi.

The advance party had to gather intelligence about the Kivu region and secure Goma airport for the arrival of the 32nd Battalion. Two newspapermen, Cathal O’Shannon, from the Irish Times, and Michael O’Halloran, from the Irish Press, also joined the party on its trip to Goma. After landing at Goma the advance party was taken in a Congolese Army military bus to the town and to schools in the area to survey a suitable base for the Battalion. The Congolese Army offered the advance party ‘accommodation’, but this was declined and Headquarters was established in the local hostelry, Grand Lac Hotel. On 29 July 1960 689 men of the 32nd Battalion arrived at Goma, the first battalion of Irish soldiers to serve outside of Ireland since the foundation of the state.

Note: Thanks to Patrick Mulcahy for bringing this historically important information to our attention.

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