seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Niemba Ambush

The Niemba ambush takes place on November 8, 1960, when an Irish Army platoon in Congo-Léopoldville is ambushed, the first time the Irish Army is embroiled in battle since the founding of the Irish state in 1922. The Republic of Ireland had deployed troops as United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) peacekeepers.

After the Belgian Congo becomes independent (as Republic of the Congo) in 1960, a civil war breaks out in Katanga, the southern, mineral-rich province of the Congo. A local political leader, Moïse Tshombe, declares Katanga an independent state. United Nations peacekeeping troops are invited to help restore order and to end the Katanga secession.

The Luba people or “Baluba” ethnic group do not support the Katangese secession. As a result they come under attack from pro-Katangese and allied forces. On October 4, several villages are attacked by Katangese gendarmes and European mercenaries and many Baluba are massacred. This leaves them suspicious of and hostile to any white European troops. Irish troops are sent to the area to secure it and encourage local people to return.

On November 8, 1960 an eleven-man section from the Irish Army’s 33rd Battalion arrives at the bridge over the Luweyeye River. They are forced to leave their vehicles when they encounter a blockade on the road. While clearing it, they encounter about 100 Luba militiamen armed with bows, poison-tipped arrows, spears and clubs, as well as some guns. While the Irish troops had arrived to protect the Baluba, the militia undoubtedly mistakes them for Katangese mercenaries. Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson, advancing unarmed with his platoon sergeant, Hugh Gaynor, attempt to greet them peacefully, but is hit with a barrage of poison-tipped arrows.

Gleeson and Gaynor are overtaken, beaten and hacked to death. The surprised Irish soldiers, who had not been deployed in a defensive formation after dismounting from their vehicles, retreat behind trees on either side of the road and open fire on the tribesmen with their Gustav submachine guns, Lee–Enfield rifles and Bren light machine guns. The Baluba however advance on them, and the Irish are cut off from their vehicles. Despite taking heavy losses, the Baluba overrun the Irish soldiers and fierce hand-to-hand fighting breaks out, during which most of the Irish troops are killed.

The surviving Irish troops regroup by a ridge but are surrounded by the Baluba. They fight to hold them off but their position is rapidly overrun and all but three of them are killed. The three survivors manage to escape. One of them, Anthony Browne, reaches a nearby village and gives all the money he has to the village women, hoping they will get him help, but is instead mobbed and beaten to death by the village men. His body is recovered two years later. The two surviving soldiers manage to hide and are found by other UN troops the following day.

A total of nine Irish soldiers die: Lt. Kevin Gleeson of Carlow, Sgt. Hugh Gaynor of Blanchardstown, Cpl. Peter Kelly of Templeogue, Cpl. Liam Dougan of Cabra, Pt. Matthew Farrell of Jamestown, Dublin, Tpr. Thomas Fennell of Donnycarney, Tpr. Anthony Browne of Rialto, Pte. Michael McGuinn of Carlow, and Pte. Gerard Killeen of Rathmines. Some 25 Baluba are also killed.

The bodies of the Irish dead are flown to Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, where they lay in state. Lt. Kevin Gleeson’s coffin is placed on a gun carriage, while those of the rest are placed on army trucks. Following a funeral procession through Dublin, they are buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.

A stone commemorating Lt. Gleeson can be found in his hometown of Carlow while a plaque commemorating Sgt. Hugh Gaynor can be found in his hometown of Blanchardstown.

The notoriety of the attack, and the allegations of mutilation and cannibalism that circulate in the Irish popular press in its aftermath, lead to the word “baluba” (sometimes spelled “balooba”) becoming a synonym for any “untrustworthy and barbaric” individual in certain parts of Ireland.

(Pictured: Baluba militiamen in 1962)


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The Carrowkennedy Ambush

carrowkennedy-ambushThe Carrowkennedy Ambush is carried out at Carrowkennedy, near Westport, County Mayo, by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) West Mayo Flying Column on June 2, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

The ambush is organized by Major General Michael Kilroy, later Commandant of the 4th Western Battalion of the IRA. He and his flying column of volunteers take up position between Widow Sammon’s House and that of Widow McGreal in Carrowkennedy and await a Royal Irish Constabulary patrol.

At 6:30 PM, a scout signals the approach of the patrol, which includes two Crossley tenders and a Ford motorcar. Jimmy O’Flaherty, a former Connaught Ranger, lines up his sights on District Inspector Edward J. Stevenson in the lead vehicle. Stevenson is killed by a bullet through the centre of his forehead. The lorry lurches forward and stops in the middle of the road and comes under heavy fire from the hillside above. Police tumble out quickly and get down behind a bank which gives them some cover. A Lewis gun is thrown out and trained on the third section of IRA men. After two short bursts of fire, the gunner lay dead beside his gun. A second gunner fires a burst of shots from the Lewis in the direction of the third section, then he swings the muzzle in the air to protect himself from the riflemen above. This is unsuccessful and he also falls dead beneath the gun. Four men in the lorry are now dead and the remaining men are led by Sergeant Creegan. They attach a grenade launcher to a Lee–Enfield rifle and keep the IRA at bay.

The second lorry is stopped by gunfire from both sides of the road as soon as shots are heard from the direction of the first lorry, killing the second driver. This lorry coasts to the ditch at the side of the road. After a while the men run towards McGrale’s thatched cottage facing the road. They poke rifles through the front windows and through a window high in the gable which looks down on the Westport road. They use up a lot of ammunition unnecessarily and then realize that they have left their spare ammunition in the lorry. They unsuccessfully try to persuade the Widow McGrale and her young son to fetch the ammunition.

The motorcar is some distance behind the second lorry and stops beyond the cottage. Three men jump off the exposed side and two remain on the sheltered side of the road which has a thicket beside it next to the cottage. One of the policemen advances towards the rebel position but is badly wounded.

Two hours later, Michael Kilroy is worried that if the first lorry does not surrender soon, the column might not have time to concentrate on the police in the McGrale cottage as enemy reinforcements could arrive at any time. A fresh assault on the lorry is made by Johnny Duffy and Tommy Heavey who have bayonets. A rifle grenade, which is hurled by the police, falls back into the lorry and explodes, killing the man who threw it and fatally wounding other police beside him. A handkerchief of surrender is hoisted on a rifle by Sergeant Creegan, who is fatally wounded in the legs and abdomen.

The captured Lewis gun is fired on the McGreal house from a covered position by O’Flaherty. The men inside come out with their hands above their heads.

The IRA column captures 22 rifles, eight drums for the Lewis gun, several boxes of grenades, 21 revolvers, and approximately 6,000 rounds of rifle ammunition. Petrol is poured over the two lorries and the motorcar and they are set ablaze.

Eight of the British are killed outright or die of their wounds and sixteen surrender. The Black and Tans who surrender are not killed, even though this policy has been endorsed by IRA General Headquarters due to the terror and mayhem they inflict on civilians. Many of the local people go into hiding to avoid the retribution of the Tans. The IRA volunteers escape arrest by sheltering in safe houses.