Worst loss of Irish personnel on UN duty remembered in commemorative mass

Nine Irish army soldiers killed during Niemba Ambush in Congo in 1960 remembered in Dublin

Nine members of the Irish Defence Forces who were killed during the Niemba ambush have been remembered at a mass and wreathlaying ceremony in Dublin.

The Niemba ambush, which occurred on November 8th, 1960, was the first incident in which Irish soldiers serving with the United Nations (UN) lost their lives in combat.

A platoon of 11 men from A Company of the 33rd battalion were ambushed by Luba tribesmen, known as Balubas, at a bridge near the village of Niemba in the Congo.

The Irish troops were in the country following a request by the UN for peacekeepers. The resource-rich Katanga province had broken away from the newly independent Republic of the Congo. The Irish were sent over to protect civilians and government installations.


Eight of the men were killed on the spot, mostly by arrows tipped with poison. Trooper Thomas Kenny and Private Joe Fitzpatrick escaped the fight and made their way back to safety.

Another man, Trooper Anthony Browne, was reported missing, presumed dead. It was believed afterwards that the Irish troops were killed in a case of mistaken identity as the Balubas believed they were hostile foreign mercenaries.

Defence Forces head chaplain Fr Paschal Hanrahan reminded the congregation that 60 years ago President John F Kennedy had praised the role of Irish soldiers in the United Nations.

The men who died had been animated by service to the State and the desire to keeping peace in the world, he believed.

“They played their part in ensuring that Ireland to take its place and play its part in global affairs. They were exemplars of what those of us in this country hold dear,” Fr Hanrahan said. “This legacy lives on for future generations. Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Among those who laid wreaths at the altar were the Minister of State with responsibility for defence Jack Chambers; the secretary general of the Defence Forces Jackie McCrum; representatives of veterans’ organisations; and representatives of the US and British military.

The event was organised by ONE, the veterans’ charity which offers housing and support to homeless veterans across the country, with the ultimate goal of helping the ex-service personnel access permanent accommodation, improve their mental health and prevent future homelessness.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times