Ireland, the UN and the Congo

Wednesday, 7 February, 8.15pm in the Officers’ Mess, Custume Barracks

Talk by Dr Michael Kennedy

Ireland, Congo, Katanga, United Nations, UN, Jadotville

Irish soldiers stationed in the Congo as part of a UN mission, 1960 (Irish Defence Forces)

Summary When the Irish Civil War came to an end in 1923, few people would have imagined that it would be over a generation later – in a small central African city – that Irish soldiers would next find themselves in active service. What circumstances led to the Irish Defence Forces 35th Battalion serving with the United Nations’ ONUC peacekeeping mission in the Congo? Why, in the early morning of 13 September 1961, did those soldiers enter combat in Elizabethville, the capital of the secessionist Congolese province of Katanga, as part of what was called Operation Morthor?

Using interviews with veterans and research in the UN’s archives in New York, historian Dr Michael Kennedy and Commandant Art Magennis (ret.), who had served as Second-in-Command of the 35th Battalion’s Armoured Car Section, sought to answer these questions. Following on from that research, Michael Kennedy will discuss the origins of Operation Morthor, assess the conduct of the operation on the ground as seen from contemporary – and secret – UN documents from 1961. The lecture will also explore the subsequent cover-up by the United Nations to redirect blame for initiating Morthor away from UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold and towards UN officials on the ground, in particular the Irish diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien, who was then serving as Hammarskjold’s special representative in Katanga.

Speaker Dr Michael Kennedy is the Executive Editor of the Royal Irish Academy’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series, volume XI of which, covering the years 1957 to 1961, will be published in 2018. He has written and published widely on modern Irish diplomatic, military, and political history. His most recent book is Ireland, the United Nations and the Congo (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2014) (with Comdt Art Magennis ret.) and he has recently completed (with Dr Eoin Kinsella) a short study of Irish diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural relations with Japan.

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