50th anniversary commemoration of Irish UN peacekeeping role at Baldonnel
The 50th anniversary of the deployment of Irish troops to The Congo (The Congo Airlift) was marked at a ceremony at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel on Friday last July 23.
The Congo mission was the first major involvement of the Irish Defence Forces with the UN. Between 1960 and 1964 six thousand soldiers served in Congo and 26 lost their lives. It was also the first armed Irish peacekeeping mission with most of those serving never having been abroad before. In the early 1960’s they were also ill equipped for what turned out to be a difficult and traumatic operation.
During the early months of the operations, upwards of 1,400 Irish soldiers were in Congo at any one time and an Irish officer, Lt. gen Sean McKeown served as overall UN commander from January 1961 to March 1962.
Just four months into the campaign, nine members of an eleven man patrol were killed by Baluba tribesmen in the now infamous Niemba ambush.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen, Defence Minister Tony Killeen and Chief of Staff Lt Gen Sean McCann paid tribute to the bravery of the Congo peacekeepers at Friday's commemoration.
The ceremony included a memorial service conducted by the Head Chaplain to the Defence Forces, Monsignor Eoin Thynne. He said the ceremony was in memory of those remarkable men who began the epic journey of peacekeeping. He praised their sense of adventure, tenacity and bravery.
Mr Cowen unveiled a commemorative plaque. Current members of the Defence Forces carried out a parachute display, a 4 ship flypast was flown by Pilatus PC-9's, military equipment was on show, and a commemorative photo book was launched.
Pictured at top during the ceremony was Irish Air Corps Agusta Westland AW139 serial 274. Also present were Eurocopter EC135P2 serial 270 and EADS CASA CN-235 serial 253, both pictured below.
With thanks to Joe McDermott for reporting from Baldonnel.