Peter Feely DSM, Colonel (retired), joined the Defence Forces in 1958 and was commissioned in January 1960. In December the following year, as a young infantry officer, he went to the Congo with the 36th Infantry Battalion. He was one of three Platoon Commanders at the Battle of the Tunnel in Elizabethville, Congo in December 1961 where two Irish soldiers, including one of the Platoon Commanders, were killed in action. Col Feely was one of fourteen men from ‘A’ Company, 36th Infantry Battalion who received a Distinguished Service Medal. Col Feely was interviewed for the Military Archives Oral History Project on 24th June 2016.

In this clip, Colonel Feely speaks about his own arrival in Elizabethville in December 1961 on a Globemaster plane. He outlines some of the difficulties they faced including the uniforms they were given. He also recalls hearing the sounds of bullets hitting the plane as they got closer to Elizabethville. Colonel Feely explains that the immediate reaction for Infantry soldiers in the plane was to 'Cover, crawl, observe and fire' and recalls that the men on the plane 'hit the deck' automatically but then sat on their helmets. Peter explains the reasons they were fired on while flying low over the town of Elizabethville. In this clip, Colonel Feely outlines his first impressions of Elizabethville and Leopold Farm where they were based. Recalls speaking to Captain Harry Agnew, a Captain in 'A' Company who had gone out in the advance party. While they were speaking a shot was fired in through the window, from an enemy sniper.
In this clip, Colonel Feely outlines his family background and states that his father Tom Feely was a native of Fermanagh, who had been a member of the IRA and had fought in the Irish War of Independence. He outlines his father's military background and lists the various places he was posted around Ireland. Speaks about his father's knowledge but states that he rarely spoke about his own past and background. Here, Colonel Feely speaks about his early childhood in the Curragh in Connolly Villas and McDonagh House. He recalls that 'My mother's joke about that is she'd put me out in the pram and at this stage the recruiting had started after the outset of the war. She reckoned that the first words she heard me utter were clé deis, clé deis, left right, left right'. Peter also discusses the family’s time Limerick when his father was stationed at Sarsfield Barracks. He recalls that the famous Limerick hurler Mick Mackey was under his father's command. Peter finally recalls his decision to join the army as a young man.
Here, Colonel Feely reflects on the death of his fellow Platoon Commander Lieutenant Paddy Riordan, during the Battle of the Tunnel. Here, Colonel Feely remembers his early training days in the Glen of Imaal, a remote glen in the mountains of western Wicklow.
Here, Colonel Feely speaks about his enlistment into the army in 1958 and early days of training. He states that at this time, Minister Kevin Boland made a decision that all business in the army would be conducted through the Irish language in order to help revive the language. He reflects on the challenges with this and underlines the strict implementation of this rule and outlines the punishment if soldiers spoke English. Here, Colonel Feely speaks about the various aspects of training and education during his early days of army life and lists the various subjects which were studied as part of their formation.
Here, Colonel Feely reflects on the Siege of Jadotville (September 1961). He discusses the feelings within the army at the time that the men should not have surrendered. He also speaks about Commandant Pat Quinlan who was commander of the Irish troops at Jadotville and affirms that he was an impressive commander. Here, Colonel Feely recalls hearing on many occasions that his father was a 'good commander' and discerned a large respect for him over the years. He speaks about his father's approach to army life and in particular how he treated the men under his command. He also states that his father was known as Tom 'Turf' Feely because he had once taken a bank of turf near the Curragh and cut his own turf.
Here, Colonel Feely recalls the Battle of the Tunnel and recalls being very close to the Tunnel which had been taken over by gendarmerie and mercenaries. He remembers getting close enough to lob grenades into the carriages of a train which had been occupied and reveals that the hand grenades didn’t work. Here, Colonel Feely speaks about how the news filtered through about the Niemba Ambush (November 1960). He explains that a match was ongoing when the news came through and many of the soldiers playing knew some of those killed. Peter explains how the name Baluba became a derogatory name within the Irish army. The Niemba Ambush occurred on 8 November 1960 when an Irish Army platoon was ambushed in the Congo by Baluba tribesmen. Nine Irish soldiers were killed in the ambush which was the first time the Irish Army was involved in a battle on foreign soil. The army were in the Congo on a peacekeeping mission, as part of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC). The nine Irish soldiers who died at Niemba were as follows: Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson of Carlow, Sergeant Hugh Gaynor of Leixlip, Corporal Peter Kelly of Templeogue, Corporal Liam Dougan of Cabra, Private Matthew Farrell of Jamestown, Dublin, Trooper Thomas Fennell of Donnycarney, Trooper Anthony Browne of Rialto, Private Michael McGuinn of Carlow, and Private Gerard Killeen of Rathmines. Some 25 Baluba tribesmen were also killed.
Here, Colonel Feely outlines his memories of the Battle of the Tunnel. He remembers his Company Commander Joe Fitzpatrick, Kevin Page, (Second in Command) and Harry Crowley, (Staff Officer) who told him 'we have a job on in the morning'. Peter states that the initial commands were not to attack the tunnel and claims that it was not in fact necessary to do so. He states that the orders were initially to take the road leading to the tunnel and 'to be prepared to take the tunnel'. However, he then states that the Irish Battalion HQ then made the decision to take the tunnel. Here, Colonel Feely powerfully details his memories of the Battle of the Tunnel and outlines the challenges of the operation. He recalls seeing the bodies of Lieutenant Paddy O’Riordan and Private Andy Wickham, who were killed during the operation; 'I have a clear memory of getting to the morgue. Literally a little building, can’t have been more than thirty yards from where Pat Riordon was killed. But I remember at one stage, getting into a firing position at the door of it. When I got to the door, I glanced back and there were the two bodies on the slabs.'
Here, Colonel Feely reflects on the Battle of the Tunnel and discusses the night before the action when he, Seán Norton and Paddy O’Riordan (Three Platoon Commanders) shared a can of Guinness. Colonel Feely discusses the possibility that Lieutenant O’Riordan may have been more worried than he was, given his experience of the dynamics in the Congo. 'I arrived in cold to the thing and I wasn't probably too aware of the implications. Paddy would have been there around the camp and listening to what was going on and all the talk and the conjecture and he may have had a sharper appreciation for the potentials of the situation ... I often wondered was he extremely worried and concerned'. Here, Colonel Feely remembers in June 1960 when word came through that volunteers were wanted for the Congo. He recalls the Company Sergeant Austin Jordan calling for volunteers for the Congo and speaks about levels of awareness with regard to the conflict in the Congo in the army at the time.
Here, Colonel Feely speaks about the early days of recruitment for the Congo and discusses his own call up and also discusses the evolving military situation in the Congo including the increasing proficiency of the Katangan rebels with air power.