Reader Mail: Irish Troops in the Heart of Africa

To the Editor:

Judah Grunstein’s interesting article on EUFOR/Tchad quotes Yves Boyer remarking on the amazing European fact of an Irish general commanding a European protection force in the heart of Africa (and his further doubts that Ireland would have the political will to take casualties).

You should know that this does not mark the first time an Irish general has commanded peacekeeping troops in the heart of Africa, nor the first time Ireland has taken casualties in the cause of peacekeeping there or elsewhere.

During the Congo Crisis of the early 1960s, the U.N. command in Katanga and in the former Belgian Congo was led on the civilian side by Irish diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien (subject of a recent interesting biography) and on the military side by General Sean MacEoin, the famous “Blacksmith of Ballinallee.”

The Irish were involved in numerous combat actions in the Congo, most notably at Jadotville, where they fought off a massively superior force of Katangese and mercenaries, inflicting huge casualties before running out of ammunition and water. Unfortunately, until recently only their forced surrender was widely remembered and not their astonishing combat performance.

Moreover, Ireland has participated in peacekeeping operations in Africa and elsewhere continuously since then, sustaining hundreds of dead and wounded with justifiable pride in their professionalism. Recently in Liberia, Irish helicopter-borne “Fiannaglach” commandos freed a group of hostages held by heavily armed militiamen in a widely-admired operation.

While one does not expect every article on Africa peacekeeping to contain historical knowledge of the combat experience of every nation involved, the selective illustration of Ireland as a new and unique event warrants a correction of the record.

Dan Hamilton
Washington, D.C.

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