Director of film about Irish UN soldiers in The Congo calls for bravery medals

Siege at Jadotville stars Irish actor Jamie Dornan
Siege at Jadotville stars Irish actor Jamie Dornan

The director of an epic new movie about the Irish UN who fought in The Congo has urged the State to award the men medals for their bravery.

Richie Smyth called for the men to be decorated following a recent Presidential citation and added: “It’s a shame that it took our movie to do this. It’s ridiculous. I do think they should all be honoured with medals, every one of them. I really do.” 

The troops’ Commander, Pat Quinlan, called for his men, mostly from Custume Barracks in Athlone, Co Westmeath, to be awarded medals when they came home in 1961  -  a plea that was rejected. 

Now Smyth’s film has made him one to watch in Hollywood, and his story of the mens’ days-long battle will be seen by up to 83 Netflix viewers worldwide from next month. 

Siege at Jadotville, starring Irish actor Jamie Dornan, tells the story of how  the 150-strong Irish UN battalion came under attack from at least 3,000 militia and mercenaries after a peace-keeping mission went drastically wrong. 

The action-packed conflict movie shows how the men came under repeated assault from troops and mercenaries loyal to the region of Katanga and its president as various nations fought for control of valuable natural resources.

Not one Irishman died in the battle, but after six days, when their ammunition and water ran out, Quinlan was forced into a ceasefire and then a surrender. The men were imprisoned for a month before being released  -  but their courage under siege was largely ignored when they got home, and the term ‘Jadotville Jack’ became a term of derision across the Defence Forces. 

“They were getting nowhere, and they were losing men. The only reason Quinlan agreed in the end was because they were going to die if they didn’t. He thought: ‘I’m not going to lose all these boys over something that’s going on in HQ’. He was damned if he was going to lose his men for that. 

“This was the first time there’d been US peacekeeping troops in the field. That kind of pressure was coming down from above. But it just disappeared into history, it just got lost.” 

Smyth, who spent years directing music videos for bands including U2, had long been looking for a subject for his first film. When he came across the story of the Irish men as a footnote in a book, he was intrigued. 

“I couldn’t believe that this story hadn't been told. When I found it it was almost like I’d been given the job. It took seven years. I was in LA developing other stuff and I was reading books when I came upon it. 

“I stumbled upon it and I think the fact is was in such an unusual place, a book about mercenary soldiers. I thought: ‘why haven’t I heard about this?’” 

He subsequently optioned a book on the subject by journalist Declan Power and Jadotville started filming in South Africa last year. But the project got a huge boost when it was picked up by global streaming giants Netflix, who have been moving into film in the past year. 

“I knew them well, and thought they were a really smart company, and the reach they had was so good. They took the whole project - I think it was the first full film project they brought from script. They let us make the movie we wanted to make. 

“They knew the story we wanted to tell and they were really supportive about it. We got the budget we needed to have drama and action in the movie.” 

Smyth’s tale of these men will now be seen worldwide and there’s even talk of it featuring in next Spring’s Oscars. “The fact that so many people all over the world will know about it is a great thing. It’s great that it now gets out there and is now properly a part of history.” 

The Siege of Jadotville is now in Irish cinemas. It debuts on Netflix on October 7th.