Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Veterans mark Congo anniversary

Taoiseach Brian Cowen meets veterans during a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first deployment of Irish peacekeepers to the Congo

Half a century since he got on a plane to the Congo, proud and painful memories are still fresh in the mind of veteran Tom Kenny.

The 73-year-old former private joined around 1,000 ex-servicemen at Baldonnel to mark the 50th anniversary of the initial deployment of Irish troops to the newly independent country.

More than 6,000 personnel served in the Congo during the four-year mission - the first significant overseas assignment since the State was founded. The peacekeeping deployment was not without bloodshed, however, with 26 Irish soldiers losing their lives.

Mr Kenny, then a 22-year-old in the 33rd battalion, was one of just two men who escaped the Niemba ambush in November 1960 when nine colleagues were killed by Baluba tribesmen.

Despite sustaining painful and lasting injuries, the Dubliner insisted he would return to the Congo.

"We were red raw. We weren't tutored enough to say what could or might happen - unfortunately it did happen," he said. "But I'll never regret it until the day I die, I would've loved to be able to go back over."

Under bright skies by the Casement Aerodrome, Mr Kenny was reunited with old friends for a special commemoration.

"It's exactly like yesterday to me, it hasn't changed," he said. "We shared a cigarette, we shared a pint, we shared joys and we shared sorrows. You can't take that away from anybody."

The event was also attended by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Minister for Defence Tony Killeen and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sean McCann. After a memorial service in which candles were lit for the 26 soldiers who were killed, Mr Cowen unveiled a special plaque to mark the mission. Veterans and their families then looked on as serving members of the Defence Forces performed a parachute and equipment display.

Mr Cowen told the ex-servicemen they had left the State with a significant legacy. He said: "Your commitment and your sacrifice, and the service and sacrifice of your colleagues and those who came after you, make real the words and values enshrined in our constitution, of Ireland's devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations."

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