63rd Anniversary of the Nimeba Ambush

Irish soldiers who lost their lives in Congo mission were honoured at a commemorative ceremony today, 11 November 2023. More than 20 wreaths were laid by Irish and international military representatives to commemorate the nine Irish soldiers who died in Niemba Ambush in 1960.

Irish Defence Forces veterans’ charity ONE, earlier today commemorated the 63rd anniversary of the Niemba Ambush, with a remembrance mass and wreath-laying ceremony at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin. Honouring the nine Irish soldiers who tragically lost their lives in the Congo in 1960, the ceremony took place at 12 noon in St Patrick’s Garrison Church, where more than 20 wreaths were laid in their memory.

The Niemba Ambush represents the largest-ever loss of life for the Irish Defence Forces in an overseas mission. Among those laying wreaths will be the Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin; Minister of State Jack Chambers TD representing the Government; Brig General Rossa Mulcahy representing the Defence Forces; Secretary General Dept of Defence, Jacqui McCrum; ONE National President, Mick Kinahan; Representative of 33 Infantry Battalion; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Defence Forces Representative Associations, Veteran Associations; and the families of the brave men who were killed in Niemba.

On 8th November 1960, an 11-man Irish Peacekeeping Patrol from 33 Inf Bn – who were serving under the United Nations in the Congo (ONUC) – were ambushed by more than 100 Baluba tribesmen at Niemba. The nine men who lost their lives were Lt Kevin Gleeson (Terenure, Dublin), Sgt Hugh Gaynor (Leixlip, Kildare), Cpl Peter Kelly (Templeogue, Dublin), Cpl Liam Dougan (Cabra, Dublin), Pte Matthew Farrell (Swords, Dublin), Tpr Thomas Fennell (Donnycarney, Dublin), Tpr Anthony Browne MMG (Rialto, Dublin), Pte Michael McGuinn (Carlow), Pte Gerard Killeen (Queen St, Dublin). A tenth soldier, Pte Patrick Davis, lost his life on 10th November 1960, in a follow-up operation to recover the remains of those killed. He was laid to rest with his comrades from the ambush.

The Niemba Ambush was, and still remains, the greatest loss of life of Irish Defence Forces personnel in a single incident while serving overseas. It was also the first time Irish soldiers were involved in a combat engagement since the end of the Civil War in 1923. Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (Charlemont St, Dublin) and Pte Thomas Kenny (Ballyfermot, Dublin) – who passed away in October 2021 – were the only two peacekeepers to survive the ambush, while Tpr Anthony Browne was posthumously awarded An Bonn Míleata Calmachta (Military Medal for Gallantry with Distinction) for his actions during and after the ambush – the highest award in the Defence Forces.

ONE is a registered Irish charity offering 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. Since 1961, ONE has hosted an annual Niemba Ambush Commemoration in Cathal Brugha Barracks in early November to remember those who lost their lives.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Defence Forces Veteran and CEO of ONE, Cormac Kirwan, said:

“It is with great pride that we honour the Irish men who lost their lives during the Niemba Ambush of 1960. We warmly welcome the families of the fallen to today’s commemoration. Irish Peacekeepers have been deployed in wars or their immediate aftermath, without interruption, since 1958. This record of uninterrupted service in conflict zones is unequalled anywhere in the world. It is also important to note that this record has been achieved by one of the smallest military forces in Europe, while also engaged in extensive security operations on land, sea and air in Ireland before, during and after the Troubles. Today, we remember those brave men who made the ultimate sacrifice serving their country – a sacrifice that will never be forgotten.”

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