‘We literally would all have died in Jadotville but for him’

Tribute paid to Col Pat Quinlan who led 155 Defence Members safely back to Ireland in 1961

Tribute has been paid to the man who led 155 Defence Force members back to Ireland after the Siege of Jadotville in 1961.

The late Col Pat Quinlan from Caherdaniel in Co Kerry was an extraordinary leader and a true hero to his men following a furious battle with Katangese forces in the Congo in September of 1961, former taoiseach Enda Kenny said.

Unveiling a memorial to Col Quinlan on Saturday, Mr Kenny said Ireland should be proud of its Defence Forces and their peace keeping work with the United Nations from their first mission in the Congo to the present day.

"It's a privilege to be here today in Waterville - this is a special place and Pat Quinlan came from a special place on the west coast of Ireland. We are defined by our history and our geography and Pat Quinlan drew on his experience growing up here when he led his troops in Jadotville," he told a 300 strong crowd.

"Pat Quinlan was a true hero as were those who served under him ... He showed leadership and courage and bravery and professional performance with his men in A Company of the 35th Battalion when, cut off from supporting forces, they came under attack from the Katangese gendarmerie."

A native of Reeneragh in Caherdaniel, Col Quinlan was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Irish Army in the 1940s. As a commandant, he led the contingent of 155 men into Jadotville in 1961 as part of a UN mission only to be attacked by secessionist Katangese forces and foreign mercenaries.

After four days of fighting in which the Irish inflicted over 200 casualties on the Katangese without a single Irish fatality, Comdt Quinlan was forced to surrender with food and ammunition running low. A month later he and his men were released with all eventually returning safely to Ireland.

Among those who attended the ceremony at Waterville were Jadotville survivors Tom Gunne from Mullingar, Tadhg Quinn from Abbeyfeale and Leo Boland from Leitrim, as well as Noel Carey from Blarney who paid tribute to the Col Quinlan for his leadership.

“Pat Quinlan’s courage and concern for his men and his leadership emerged above everything. His presence and influence could be felt across the entire position, encouraging, motivating and re-assuring every man. We literally would all have died in Jadotville but for him.”

Also in attendance was author Declan Power whose book The Siege of Jadotville provided the basis for the Netflix film of the same name starring Co Down actor, Jamie Dornan as Comdt Quinlan as well as Col Quinlan's grandson, Conor Quinlan, who played soldier PJ Joyce in the film.

Role model

The Defence Forces under Comdt John O'Sullivan from Caherdaniel provided both a military honours guard and a flag party from Clancy Barracks in Limerick for the unveiling ceremony, with Lt Michael Moriarty from Castlegregory carrying the national flag.

Brigadier General Patrick Flynn, GOC 1 Brigade paid tribute to Col Quinlan, saying his decision to dig in at Jadotville had become part of the Army's training on tactics, techniques and procedures while it was also taught in military courses in the UK, Germany and Australia.

Col Quinlan's adult children, Leo, Hilary, Peter, Michael and Padraig were all present at the ceremony which had been scheduled to take place at Coomakista but had to be transferred to the Sea Lodge in Waterville due to the adverse weather after mist shrouded the mountain pass.

"We're were always immensely proud of him," said Leo "but now I suppose we're officially proud of him to have him honoured in this way by Kerry County Council. He left a legacy for the Army, but he also left a legacy for us as a family in terms of being a role model with a real sense of character.

"Sculptor Holger Lonze captured him well in his UN uniform and placing the memorial at Coomakista is so appropriate. Looking down to his right is Abbey Island where his parents and brother and sister are buried, and to the left is where he went to school. It's right in the heart of where he grew up," Leo said.