Veterans to be awarded medals for bravery at Siege of Jadotville
Peacekeeping soldiers involved in the Siege of Jadotville are to be awarded medals for their bravery in the ill-fated 1961 United Nations mission in the Congo.
More than 50 years on from the battle, the Government agreed to honour Commandant Pat Quinlan, those he recommended for their actions in the face of overwhelming odds and the rest of the battalion.
A medals board at the time denied them the honour.
The decision was taken at Enda Kenny's last cabinet meeting as Taoiseach after letter writing and lobbying of politicians by fifth-year pupils at Galway Community College.
Philip Cribbin, head of history at the school, said: "It's great that you can bring history to life and show that you can make a difference in the lives of others, those who served their country."
The medals will be awarded to all soldiers from 35th Battalion A Company at Jadotville or their next of kin for "full and due recognition in honour of their courageous actions".
Mr Kenny said: "The UN peacekeeping operation in the Congo was the first time the UN deployed a significant military force and it was also one of Ireland's earliest UN peacekeeping operations.
"I want to take the opportunity to also recall the contribution of all the members of the Defence Forces who served over the course of this mission."
Some 155 Irish soldiers from A Company were tasked with protecting the local population around Jadotville from militia, tribesmen and foreign mercenaries loyal to the Katangese prime minister Moise Tshombe.
It was peace enforcement rather than monitoring.
The story of their bravery was turned into a film starring Jamie Dornan last year.
The Jadotville commander's son Leo Quinlan, himself a retired commandant, and Jadotville veterans Corporal Tadgh Quinn, Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe and Corporal Tom Gunn raised the campaign with Mr Kenny earlier this year.
"What it means to me is probably closure for the Quinlan family point of view, but that's the least of it," Mr Quinlan said.
"I'm extremely happy that the final recognition of the events of Jadotville and what an extraordinary achievement it was, that my father and those men who were recommended for medals are finally recognised for what they did.
"From a pure military point of view it was an absolute masterpiece of classic defence, incredible leadership from the NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and bravery by all concerned."
Noel Grealish, Independent TD for Galway East, was one of those to back the schoolchildren's campaign and pressured Mr Kenny to act.
"I'm delighted this campaign has come to fruition and that the veterans of Jadotville are finally going to be acknowledged for their bravery," he said.
It will be several months before the medals can be awarded.
Armed with light rifles, 60mm mortars and two armoured cars with turret-mounted machine guns, the Irish soldiers came under heavy attack from a force of about 3,000 on September 13 1961.
Under Commandant Quinlan's direction, the UN-mandated force held out for five or six days, largely down to accurate shooting and mortar fire, killing 300 of the enemy and wounding another 750.
No Irish soldiers died.
A plaque was unveiled in Custume Barracks, Athlone, in 2005 in memory of those who served in Jadotville and the 35th Battalion A Company was honoured last year with a Presidential Unit Citation.