Two Irish Army Infantry Battalions which included soldiers from Carlow and Kilkenny were deployed to the Congo to serve with the United Nations forces in 1960. It was the first large scale overseas mission undertaken by Irish troops since the establishment of the state in 1922. However it was not the first service overseas by Irish Army personnel with the United Nations. The first United Nations mission in which members of the Irish Army were involved began on June 27th 1958. On that occasion Lieutenant Colonel Justin MacCarthy and a group of 50 other officers served with the United Nations Observer Group in the Lebanon.
On June 30th 1960 the Belgian Congo became an independent republic. Independence was quickly followed by civil unrest. Within a week a mutiny broke out in the army and this was followed by the secession of two areas of the country, Katanga and South Kasai. An appeal was made by the Congolese Government to the United Nations to help restore order and preserve the territorial integrity of the country. The appeal was successful and on July 13th Ireland was requested to provide troops for the ONUC (Opération des Nations unies au Congo) mission.
Legislation enabling the mission to take place was passed by Dáil Eireann. As a result Ireland became one of thirty countries from around the world to provide soldiers for the mission. Just over two weeks later the 635-strong 32nd Infantry Battalion departed for the Congo. A month later the Irish contingent was brought to 1,000 troops with the arrival of the 33 Infantry Battalion. The Irish contingent was further boosted when an Armoured Car Group began operations in the Congo on January 15th 1961. They were using armoured cars which had been manufactured by Messers. Thompson & Son Limited, Hanover Works, Carlow.
The ONUC mission in the Congo lasted from 1960 to 1964 during which time 6,000 Irish soldiers served in the Congo. During that time twenty six Irish soldiers lost their lives. In one engagement called the ‘Niemba Ambush’ nine Irish soldiers, including Lt. Kevin Gleeson and Private Michael McGuinn of Carlow, were killed. Since their deployment in the Congo, members of the Irish Defence Forces have continuously served on UN missions in various parts of the world.
Irish Defence Forces began service with the United Nations in the Congo in the year 1960 On This Day.
ONUCsmall1 by Irish Defence Forces on 2009-11-16 17:14:15
ONUCsmall2 by Irish Defence Forces on 2008-06-24 15:41:17
34th Battalion ONUC