1st Issue Congo Medal
There are two different ribbon colours for the Congo medal. The Congo medal was awarded to Irish Troops for service in the Congo from 1960 to 1964. The image shows the first issue Congo medal. The ribbon is UN blue with two narrow white stripes. The ribbon also has a small bar with CONGO written on it. The ribbon is the same colour used on other UN medals and it is the CONGO bar that denotes service in the CONGO.
2nd Issue Congo Medal
The second type Congo medal has a broad green centre strip with a narrow white stripe either side and a blue border as in the image on the left. This is the type you will see for sale more often than the first type because it is still produced in the UK under licence from the UN, although a lot of Ebay sellers will advertise these as Irish Army the nearest they has been to an Irish Soldier is if the seller passed the Army Barracks on his way to the post office.
The 3 ribbon bars in the image above are, top, UN Observer Group in the Lebanon (UNOIGL), the mission was to observe and UN personnel had no mandate to take any action, this mission lasted from June to December 1958. The next bar down is for is for the UN Observer Group in Palestine (UNTSO), again this was an observer mission only and started in June 1948, the mission is still ongoing but this colour medal ribbon is no longer issued for this mission.
The tragedy struck on 8 November 1960 near the village of Niemba in Katanga, when an eleven-man Irish patrol was ambushed by Baluba tribesmen at a river Crossing. The Irish had been sent out to repair a bridge that the Baluba had destroyed the previous day to halt incursions into their territory by Katangan troops.
Eight members of the Irish patrol died at the scene, hit by a hail of arrows. Some were bludgeoned to death as they lay wounded. Others died within minutes from the effect of poison on the arrow tips. Not all the arrows were poisoned but those that were had been dipped in the deadly venom of the black mamba snake. Approximately 25 Baluba were killed in return fire. Three Irish soldiers managed to escape. Two of these, Tom Kenny and Joe Fitzpatrick, were found alive a few days later in a search operation. But the search parties failed to find the third man, Anthony Browne, who was initially listed as missing, presumed dead. Browne's body was recovered on the 7th of November 1962.
From 1960 to 1964 a total of 26 Irish soldiers died in the Congo. Of these, four died in traffic accidents, while three were shot accidentally, two died of natural causes and one died following a medical operation. The bulk of the casualties arose from the Niemba massacre and the fighting for control of Elisabethville in 1961.
The 'not so Irish' Congo Medal
Before buying any UN medals credited to the Irish Army is it best to check the internet as the majority of medals offer as Irish Army have never been next or near a member of the Irish Defence Forces and can be purchased for a fraction of the price without the supposed Irish Army connection.
The piece of ribbon on the left in the image is the proper Congo medal ribbon. The piece of ribbon on the right is from a NATO medal. Several websites and auctions are offering medals and ribbon advertised as Congo medals with this NATO ribbon instead of the correct Congo ribbon. The ribbon on the right is darker and thicker than the correct ribbon.