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Eamonn Fitzgerald: Time to honour the heroes of Jadotville

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Eamonn Fitzgerald speaks to Kerry All-Ireland winner Noel Lucey about his brother, Jimmy, who survived the infamous Siege of Jadotville

Heroes should be remembered and it is never too late to do so. I have often been critical of the need for the Irish Senate, seeing it as a talking shop and an unnecessary huge expense on the Irish taxpayer.

However, I was very heartened to read the Seanad report last week and the resolution to honour 155 Irish soldiers, whose incredible bravery as peacekeeping heroes in Jadotville in 1961 has been for the most part ignored by successive governments for the past 59 years.

More about that later but first of all let us focus on two Kerrymen who were central to the mission, Pat Quinlan and Jimmy Lucey, who are sadly both now dead. Any of our readers who have seen the film ‘The Siege of Jadotville’ will appreciate the incredible story from 1961. Commandant Pat Quinlan was the leader of the A Company of the Irish Army's 35th Infantry Battalion. Jimmy Lucey played at midfield for Kerry in the 1962 All-Ireland final alongside Mick O’Connell. His brother Noel played at centre back that day and earlier this week I spoke to Noel, living in Glenflesk, about that 1962 final win and about his late brother Jimmy.

MAGICAL

My own memories of the 1962 All-Ireland are of listening to Micheál Ó Hehir creating those magical pictures for those of us at home listening to him on the wireless. We didn’t have a TV, even though that was the first All-Ireland televised live. I had it tuned in to Radio Éireann long before the throw-in and it was a good job, because there was an explosive start to the match. Kerry won the throw-in and unlike the modern ploy of working the ball in usually involving several inter-passing movements, the ball was dispatched route one to the forwards as Dr Eamonn coached at that time. No dilly dallying with it but send it in long to the forwards whose function is to score.

Gary McMahon was corner forward and he punched the ball past Aidan Brady in the Roscommon goal. Kerry were a goal ahead and all it took was 34 seconds, the fastest goal ever scored in an All-Ireland final and that still stands 59 years later. Gary has long since passed away but his younger brother Eoin, a solicitor in Newcastlewest, often told me that ever since then when he goes to an All-Ireland final he stands up for 34 seconds and only then can he relax and sit down on his seat knowing that his brother’s record stands for another year at least.

Johnny Culloty was the Kerry goalkeeper in 1962, when the Kingdom won the All-Ireland title for the 20th time.

My other memory of that game was of Jimmy Lucey catching a fine ball very early on in the game, then turning around and kicking it in towards his own goal providing an unexpected present for the unbelieving Roscommon forwards. Many friends said it happened much later in the game but Noel Lucey said my memory was correct. Goalkeepers were in no hurry to kick out the ball after a shock goal. Aidan Brady went long with the kick-out, as was the only game tactic of the day. No short kick out to the corner back. Jimmy Lucey fetched the O’Neills ball turned and kicked it in towards his own backs. I said to Noel that maybe Jimmy wanted to pass it to his brother. Maybe so, but he didn’t exert an accurate kick-pass. The ball landed some yards to Noel’s side, but any danger was quickly averted by that brilliant left halfback beside him, Mick O’Dwyer, who nipped into the ‘bearna baol’ and sent the leather up to either Dan McAuliffe or Jerry O’Riordan.

ATTACKED

Just one year earlier, Jimmy Lucey and 154 of his lightly armed fellow Irish soldiers were attacked from 7.48am on the morning of September 13, and all hell broke loose. They were holed up for five days fighting for their lives, in what is remembered as the Siege of Jadotville. They were sent to protect settlers and locals as part of a UN peacekeeping mission in the hostile and volatile situation in the Congo.

They were led by another Kerryman, Commandant Pat Quinlan from Caherdaniel parish. I got to know Pat in Dublin in the late 60s/early 70s and met him on a number of occasions where Kerrymen met. There was no ‘eirí in áirde’ in Pat Quinlan’s demeanour about his incredible leadership in Jadotville on September 13-17, 1961 and he didn’t say too much about their ordeal, although he was hurt by the reception they got when they came home.

They were publicly condemned. He was referred to as a coward for calling for a ceasefire and surrendering. He had no other choice with rations and waters supplies exhausted. The Irishmen’s bravery, masterful tactics and gallantry were all forgotten. In 2008 Maurice O'Keeffe recorded an audio documentary on Jadotville for South County Dublin Council. He found that the survivors had raw feelings about how they'd been portrayed.

"Crowds would abuse them at football matches. Some turned to drink or suffered terribly in other ways," O’Keeffe said.

"They weren't recognised for their courage; they were seen as traitors for surrendering.”

Sadly so many of the heroes of Jadotville suffered in later life with post-traumatic stress. Some died by suicide, alcoholism and other ailments. It reminded me of what happened to the heroes of 1916, who were very unpopular in the eyes of the Dubliners for drawing all this trouble and fighting to the capital. That changed after the executions of the leaders and they became heroes.

Hordes of indigenous Katangese, as well as French and Belgian mercenaries, attacked the Irish, and the terrible ordeal began. The peacekeeping force, aided by Quinlan's competence and tactical strategy, kept an estimated 3,000 attackers at bay. They lived through a five-day downpour of shells and bullets but with supplies exhausted and help unable to reach them, he called surrender.

Then followed six weeks of captivity as prisoners of war, not knowing if and when they would be executed. What is remarkable is that none of the 35th Irish Infantry Battalion were killed, whereas up to 300 of the attackers were reported as killed. Five of the Irish were injured.

Leader Quinlan kept their spirits up, kept them together, and kept them alive.

Jimmy Lucey survived and I asked his brother Noel earlier this week what he remembered about his brother’s ordeal and near death on UN peacekeeping duty.

“Not an awful lot really, but I do remember my mother and father listening in closely to the reports on the radio at that time at home in Caragh Lake. There was no television there at that time, not even electricity. The reports were coming in about the Irish soldiers being ambushed, then captured and imprisoned. They didn’t know whether Jimmy was dead or alive. It went on for a long time, day after day and I remember they survived and they were home before Christmas.”

And did Jimmy talk to you about Jadotville?

“He didn’t say much about it at all. But one day he did tell me that one of the other lads was shot in the arm and Jimmy pulled him in to safety and saved his life, otherwise he would have been riddled with bullets. I also remember that when they came home they didn’t get a great reception because some people didn’t like it that they surrendered after five days in the siege.”

KERRY TEAM

“We played together with Kerry,” Noel continued. “He was in the army base in Naas and I was in the Air Corps. We played in the Whit Sunday Tournament in the Park (the Fitzgerald Stadium) in May or June of 1962 against Roscommon and that was Jimmy’s first day playing for Kerry. We met them afterwards in the All-Ireland final. He played very well and was picked at midfield with Mick O’Connell. He played his first championship game with Kerry against Waterford in Listowel.”

Kerry then trounced Cork in the Munster final in Cork on July 15 and easily beat Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park. Jimmy and O’Connell held sway in all those games, and then on to the final where they beat Roscommon 1-12 to 1-6.

Jimmy went back on two further UN Peace missions including Cyprus. Mo bhrón, he had a short life, surviving the attack in Jadotville and the other UN missions, winning that coveted medal with Kerry, but his life was short, too short. He died of cancer while still a very young man.

His brother Vincent played at right half forward on the Kerry team beaten by Galway 0-12 to 0-9 in the 1965 All-Ireland final. Paul Lucey, the fourth brother, certainly played with the Kerry juniors and if memory serves me well the four brothers won a Kerry SFC with Mid-Kerry.

I understand that some of those 155 Jadotville heroes are still alive. Some efforts were made over the years to honour the heroes of 1961. The A Company received a unit citation in Athlone some years ago. There were also talks of individual medals for distinguished service and gallantry.

Attempts were made by successive governments but it never happened and that that gap is still there.

Noel Lucey and his late wife Mary (nee Shine) had five daughters, Karen, Linda, Saundra, Áine and Deirdre, all great runners who have won numerous titles at local and national levels. I often saw them in full flight. With the Lucey DNA and coached by their father, they were winners in several arenas. Sadly, Linda passed away recently. She was married to Pat Eviston of Eviston House Hotel.

Back to the Seanad. Thanks to the efforts of Mark Daly, the Seanad cathaoirleach, Simon Coveney, Minister for Defence, Frances Black (the singer who said that that some of those soldiers  in Jadotville were as young as 15 year old) and other senators a new move is in train to award Distinguished Service Medals (DSM) and Military Medals for Gallantry (MMG)  to the Jadotville heroes.

2021 will be the 60th anniversary of the siege at Jadotville. I hope there is no obfuscation in the Seanad report and urge Minister Coveney and those who have the power to officially honour the heroes of Jadotville, to do so promptly, even if most of the awards are granted posthumously. Their relatives will appreciate the much longed for recognition.

 

Main pic: Jamie Dornan portraying Quinlan in the 2016 film 'The Siege of Jadotville', which is currently available on Netflix.

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Killarney girls prepared for Munster final duel

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U16 Munster League Final

Killarney RFC v Ennis

Saturday at 1pm

LIT

The Killarney RFC U16 girls’ team are heading for Limerick today (Saturday) hoping to cap a magnificent season with a trophy.

This talented group of players, many of whom are new to the sport, have taken on all comers en route to the decider and now Ennis stand between them and provincial glory.

Even reaching the final is a great achievement for the Aghadoe-based club. Coach Diarmuid O’Malley says his charges will need to find “another level” to get over the line.

“We have seen [Ennis] play on a couple of occasions this season and what’s clear is that they have being together for many years,” O’Malley said. “We again will need to step it up to another level in order to be able to compete effectively against them.

“I look back on the success of the Limerick hurling team when they reached the All-Ireland final in 2018, not many gave them much of a chance at the time. The common theme was that “it’s a young team and their time will come”. They not only took the opportunity in 2018 but have since won three out of the last four All-Irelands.

“Finals are all about being present, patient and taking your opportunity, and not letting the occasion get to you. These girls have a great approach to everything they have done in the most challenging environment this year in the current global circumstances.

“It’s going to be one hell of a battle against a very good Ennis team and they are very much favoured to win, but nothing is beyond this capable bunch of Killarney girls.”

If Killarney are to cause an upset, their defence will be key.

“We have had a phenomenal run to get to the final and all through the journey the girls have not compromised on the quality of the rugby they are playing. The most pleasing aspect of our semifinal win against Bruff was keeping them to zero as we have put huge emphasis on our defence all season.

“We will very much approach the final versus Ennis in the same way.”

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100 days of Jack O’Connor

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Our sports editor Adam Moynihan analyses the first 100 days of Jack O’Connor’s third spell as Kerry manager.

The McGrath Cup isn’t exactly the acid test – it has been distinctly alkaline so far, truth be told – but Jack O’Connor’s feet are now firmly beneath his desk. It’s hard to believe but he has already put down his first 100 days as Kerry’s manager. I think that gives us the green light to start analysing the poor man to within an inch of his life, as is the custom in these parts.

Kerry have played just two preseason games during O’Connor’s third stint but there is still plenty to pore over. (And if there wasn’t we’d find something, says you.)

THE BEGINNING

Going back as far as Day 1, and even before that, there was significant controversy surrounding his appointment. O’Connor was officially ratified on October 4 but he appeared to publicly flirt with the idea of returning to The Kingdom on an Irish Examiner podcast in August. Some people felt that this was disrespectful to Peter Keane – Kerry had just been knocked out of the championship by Tyrone – and O’Connor later admitted that his comments were “naïve”.

However, I wouldn’t personally go along with this idea that Jack O’Connor ought to have been more mindful of Peter Keane in this situation. The two were competitors in a very competitive field and Keane was technically no longer the Kerry manager after the Tyrone defeat because his term was up. If a journalist asks Jack O’Connor if there is an “allure”, why should he lie and say there isn’t?

The interview process that followed drew sharp criticism in some quarters, particularly amongst Keane supporters, because there was a perception that O’Connor was the preferred candidate before he, Keane and Stephen Stack were interviewed. So what if he was? Complete impartiality is impossible in this kind of scenario. The candidates are known to the board, so some sort of bias is inevitable.

That doesn’t mean they were wrong to meet with Keane and Stack. If Keane was turfed out without getting the chance to make his case, his supporters would have been livid over that as well. There is no nice way to lose a job, particularly one that is as prestigious and coveted as the Kerry gig.

Off The Ball AM went one step further and, quoting an unnamed source, alleged that O’Connor had been hired even before the interview process had started. If true, that would have been a different story. That would be completely unfair and a real slap in the face for Keane and Stack and their respective teams. But the accusations were denied in the strongest terms by outgoing chair Tim Murphy, and OTB AM later apologised for their “groundless, false, and incorrect” claims.

The bottom line, when you sidestep all the politics and gossip, is that Keane was given a three-year term and Kerry were knocked out of the championship by underdogs in Years 2 and 3. No Kerry manager has ever survived such a sequence. There was appetite for change and the board acted.

Only time will tell if they made the right decision by opting for Jack O’Connor. He will be judged by his results, just like every Kerry bainisteoir before him.

LEAVING KILDARE

O’Connor faced some more understandable criticism over the manner in which he left his previous post in Kildare. From the outside looking in, it did appear as though he left them high and dry, but he subsequently explained that he hadn’t actually committed to The Lilywhites for 2022. In fact, he had “more or less” made his mind up that he would be standing aside.

“This thing that I left Kildare because I was asked to manage Kerry or that it was a done deal is absolute and total nonsense,” the Dromid man said. The commute was taking its toll and his management team had largely disbanded.

Even if he had another year with Kildare in the tank, the reality is that no Kerry-born intercounty manager is going to turn down Kerry if the opportunity arises.

CALL-UPS

Now, down to the real business of assembling a squad. Whereas previous regimes were condemned for sometimes overlooking players who were performing well for their clubs, O’Connor has taken a different approach.

Three Austin Stacks players – Dylan Casey, Jack O’Shea and Greg Horan – were drafted in on the back of the Rockies’ heroics in the County Championship. Two more of last season’s most eye-catching club players, Andrew Barry and Jack Savage, were also added to the panel.

Dan O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche both starred for East Kerry in their title-winning campaigns in 2019 and 2020. One could argue that they both might have been looked at sooner.

Elsewhere, goalkeeper Shane Murphy was recalled after being dropped by Peter Keane in 2018. Shane Ryan has done well over the past three seasons but there has been a nagging feeling in the county that Murphy and his unique attributes, particularly when kicking from the tee, might merit a recall. Clearly, Jack O’Connor is of the same mind.

There is also great excitement amongst Kerry fans surrounding the return of Stefan Okunbor. The former Geelong Cats player had made just a couple of appearances for Na Gaeil and St Brendan’s when O’Connor’s first panel was drawn up, but Okunbor was included anyway. He started at midfield in the first McGrath Cup game against Limerick and his eye-catching fetch from the throw-in left those of a green and gold persuasion rubbing their hands with glee.

THE KERRY WAY

There’s no denying that we consider ourselves to be the aristocrats of Gaelic football down here in Kerry. We demand that our senior footballers play the “Kerry way”. This “traditional” style of attack apparently includes plenty of kicking and catching, conveniently ignoring the fact that our best ever team was built around the handpass.

Nevertheless, we do enjoy a fast, direct game, and if the opening two matches in the McGrath Cup are anything to go by, Jack O’Connor intends to deliver on that front.

So far it has been an obvious tactic to get the ball into the hands of the team’s best passers – Paudie Clifford, Seán O’Shea and nominal corner back Tom O’Sullivan – and allow them to spray long, accurate passes into the full forward line.

O’Sullivan in particular appears to be operating as a free man and playmaker, taking advantage of the fact that most opponents drop an extra player back in defence.

This tactic has worked so far with Paul Geaney and Killian Spillane reaping the rewards in the opening preseason fixtures. That has certainly been encouraging. Whether or not the approach will continue to function as well when things get serious remains to be seen.

PLAYER WELFARE

One of the biggest talking points from O’Connor’s first 100 days arrived on the 100th day itself. Last Wednesday night up in Templetuohy, Co. Tipperary, Tony Brosnan and Jack Savage entered the fray as second-half substitutes. The problem? They had lined out earlier that same day for MTU Kerry in their Sigerson Cup victory over UCD. Another MTU Kerry player, Paul O’Shea, was also named on the Kerry panel, but he did not feature against Tipp.

O’Connor’s decision to play Brosnan and Savage just hours after they had finished another match in a different county was rightly called into question. After all, player welfare is a hot button topic and surely there is no shortage of footballers in the county who would be delighted to receive a call-up.

There were mitigating factors, though. Kerry were missing 14 players due to club and college commitments. Without the MTU Kerry trio, they would have travelled to Tipperary with just 20 players. While it should be possible to find replacements, even at short notice, perhaps O’Connor was keen to keep the circle small, so to speak. Particularly with Covid so rampant.

The Kerry boss also indicated that the players were left to decide for themselves if they wanted to play. You might say, well, a fella scrapping to get on the Kerry team is hardly going to say “no”, and that’s a fair enough point to make. Who knows, maybe O’Connor was testing the players to see if they were willing to go above and beyond?

Either way, it’s not something I’d like to see happening again, although in this instance there was no harm done.

GOOD VIBES

By and large, O’Connor has made popular choices up to this point and the mood on the street is positive. Victory over Cork on Saturday in front of a healthy home crowd will add to those good vibes, and with that in mind he is likely to name a strong starting lineup.

But, as the man himself knows all too well, the temperature will gradually increase over the next 100 days or so. O’Connor’s third coming will ultimately be judged in the boiling heat of championship action.

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