Date Published: 10-Sep-2009
Chad is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world – but one where Irish soldiers, many of them based at Renmore Barracks, are endeavouring to bring both peace and stability through their work with the UN.
This landlocked country in central Africa is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west.
Bur while it is a largely semi-desert country, Chad is also rich in gold and uranium and stands to benefit from its recently-acquired status as an oil-exporting state.
It has a long history of civil instability but in 2003, unrest in neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur region spilled across the border, along with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees.
Ireland has played its part in attempting to bring a degree of stability to the region, contributing to the EU force that has a specific UN mandate to protect refugees, aid workers and UN personnel.
Unlike previous UN peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, the troops on the ground are able to use force if they deem it necessary.
The majority of the 100 Infantry Battalion currently serving in Chad are from the 4 Western Brigade, with 80 Galway based soldiers among their ranks – including Captain Brian Connolly from Menlo on the outskirts of Galway city.
For the duration of their mission, the 100 Inf Bn will maintain a high visibility presence, to project the UN mission in the Central African Republic and Chad in a strong and positive way to the people – not to mention to show a strong presence to the rebels and bandits in Chad.
Operation Pioneer was launched all through the operational sectors of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), as part of the UN plan to provide a safe and secure environment for the people of Chad and the refugees from Dafur in Sudan.
“For the 100 Irish Battalion in Sector South, it meant putting a Company on the ground for five days and four nights,” explains Capt Connolly, who is a son of former Galway hurling great Joe Connolly and his wife Cathy.
“It was to comprise four platoons: three from the Irish Battalion – one of which I am Platoon Commander of – and one from the Finnish Unit, stationed in the Irish camp with us, under the control of the Irish Commander in Sector South, Lt Col Ian Hanna from Athlone.
“This long range patrol was to be bigger and longer than any other patrol the Irish had done before.
“The mission, essentially, was to get out there and fly the UN flag and to show the people in the Irish Battalion area of operations that the Irish and the UN were there to keep them safe. This was no mean feat for the Company considering the area that had to be covered and the “trafficability” of the roads,” he adds.
The Irish soldiers soon discovered that rain increases water levels in the wadis – and 18 and a half tons of MOWAG doesn’t float very well!
“The normal two hour journey to KoukouAngarana lasted six hours and 40 minutes and not a traffic jam in sight, although the convoy did run into a 1,000 head of cattle the Nomads were evacuating for the rainy season.
“After five vehicle recoveries from the mud “en route” the convoy eventually got there. Earlier that morning No. 1 Platoon had gone into Kerfi village by helicopter and set up a patrol base at the APOD. Their task was to carry out foot patrols of the village, escorting Irish CIMIC teams into the area.
“The village itself was cut off to the convoy by land, so a new platoon had to be ‘inserted’ on a daily basis with Medics, CIMIC and Signals personnel. The rest of convoy had to set up a Company Forward Observation Base in KoukouAngarana and secure the APOD there.
“From this point the patrol HQ would send out armoured foot patrols into the villages of KoukouAngarana itself and Goz Amer on an erratic but constant basis,” he says. At one stage a patrol reached within 2km of their objective – but Brian admits it might as well have been 200.
Working in such heat, one of the priorities was to give soldiers enough “down time” between patrols, so that they didn’t dehydrate. That was exacerbated by the fact that all of the patrols into Kerfi were carried out in “flakkers” (body armour), an issue which tested all in this heat, but was necessary due to the absence of vehicles to carry them on the move.
With the platoons still rotating in and out of Kerfi from the Company forward observation base in KoukouAngarana, the routine was well established.
“The local DIS (UN-employed police tasked with protecting refugee camps) Commander called to the forward observation base one day to inform the patrol HQ that he was very happy with the Irish being there, in fact everybody was.
“And even better, he also said that “bandits” were 30 to 40km away, but would not come here as the Irish were here.
“By day five the intense patrolling had paid off with the local community, as they were happy to shake the hands of the soldiers on patrol and know what their faces and voices sound like .They were even learnt a few choice Irish words.
“The high tempo, though, had paid its price on the Irish company and, of course, their Finnish friends, (who also taught the Irish some choice Finnish words!).
“Eyes and legs were tired, some had been evacuated for dehydration, bites, exhaustion, but one thing is common amongst all of the Operation Pioneer Patrol – a sense of satisfaction that they came out to do a job worthwhile doing.
“Thirty-three patrols later and with uniforms a dull brown colour and smelling sweetly, the convoy tried to get back to Camp MINURCAT. According to a heli-recce carried out that morning, the rain in Goz Beida had more or less cut the convoy off from cool water, soft drinks and clean clothes,” explains Brian.
“But it was decided to try, and as “this is Africa – the land where anything is possible or impossible, depending on the time of day”, the convoy got through in two hours….straight into “replen” for the next patrol.”
The way we were – Protecting archives of our past
People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.
Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.
She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.
Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.
Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.
When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.
Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.
And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.
All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.
“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”
That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.
For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here
Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr
Date Published: 23-Jan-2013
Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup
Date Published: 29-Jan-2013
Athenry FC 1
Kilbarrack United 2
(After extra time)
For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.
On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.
An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.
However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.
They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.
With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.
Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.
Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.
Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.