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  • Northside West

A local hero is honoured

Friday, 16th February, 2018 8:00am
A local  hero is honoured

Fingal Mayor Mary McCamley with Millie Farrell (Great Grandaughter of Hugh Gaynor), Thomas Kenny (Niemba Ambush Survivor) and Sally Tallon (sister of Hugh Gaynor). PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

A local  hero is honoured

Fingal Mayor Mary McCamley with Millie Farrell (Great Grandaughter of Hugh Gaynor), Thomas Kenny (Niemba Ambush Survivor) and Sally Tallon (sister of Hugh Gaynor). PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

A LOCAL hero who died while serving with UN Peacekeeping Forces in the Congo in 1960 was honoured in Blanchardstown earlier this month.

Sergeant Hugh Gaynor served with the 33rd Infantry Battalion, which was deployed to the newly created African nation in late 1960 to help quell an illegal process of secession supported by powerful European mining and political interests.

Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Patrice Lumumba, sought international help to put down the attempted break up of his country and the UN Security Council sanctioned a Peacekeeping Force.

Ireland, along with Sweden, volunteered to help and ‘Operation Sarsfield’ was launched with the departure in late July 1960 of the 32nd Infantry Battalion of 650 men under the command of Lt Col Murt Buckley.

Prior to its departure, the Battalion paraded up O’Connell Street before thousands of enthusiastic well-wishers before being bussed out to Baldonnel Aerodrome for the flight to Africa.

Sergeant Gaynor and the 33rd Infantry Battalion under the command of Lt Col Dick Bunworth followed in early August that year and were deployed to Albertville, in Katanga Province.

Its area of operations bore the brunt of the ongoing threats from the warring factions, those forces loyal to the DRC government and the white mercenary led secessionist forces.

Irish troops worked to keep roads open and liaise with the local Baluba population, who backed the Central Government but on November 8, 1960, a platoon led by Lt Kevin Gleeson and his NCO, Sergeant Gaynor, were ambushed by a large force of Baluba tribesmen armed with their traditional weapons.

The Irish soldiers had just left their clearly marked UN white vehicles and were inspecting the destroyed bridge over the River Luweyeye in the district of Niemba.

Lt Gleeson tried to negotiate with the attackers, but to no avail. He ordered his men to defend themselves but, in a short space of time, eight of the patrol members were overwhelmed and killed.

One died later from his wounds elsewhere, and, miraculously, two were found alive the next morning by a UN search party. Twenty-eight of the attackers died. The Irish bodies were brought home and, on November 22 1960, hundreds of thousands of citizens again lined the streets of Dublin in silent homage as the huge cortege made its way slowly to Glasnevin Cemetery, accompanied by the Army Bands playing the plaintive Dead March from Saul.

Sgt Gaynor was remembered on February 3 last, when Mayor of Fingal, Cllr Mary McCamley unveiled a commemorative plaque in Blanchardstown to remember the local hero.

Mayor McCamley joined members of the Gaynor and Gleeson families, including Sgt Gaynor’s daughter Sarah Tallon, members of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, including Private Thomas Kenny, survivor of the Niemba ambush, Members of the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen, and many local people for the occasion.

“It’s fitting that we remember Sgt Gaynor’s sacrifice and that of his comrades in this public way here where he lived in the heart of Blanchardstown,” the mayor said.

The Mayor also warmly congratulated and commended Commandant (retired) Frank Russell for taking the initiative to commemorate Sergeant Gaynor and the other men who died at Niemba.

“I want to pay tribute to Commandant Russell’s hard work and to Sarah Tallon, Sergeant Gaynor’s daughter, for making this occasion possible” she added.

The Mayor also paid tribute to the 87 Irish soldiers who have lost their lives while serving in different UN missions in many parts of the world.

This year marks the 60th year of international service by the Irish Defence Forces, which has the longest unbroken record of peacekeeping duties of any country in the world.

Read the digital editions of the Dublin People Northside East, Northside West & Southside here