SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE

jadotvillefilm

Poster for The Siege of Jadotville Netflix film starring Jamie Dornan

Michael Fisher

The launch of the Netflix film “The Siege of Jadotville” last week marked the 55th anniversary of an important event in Irish military history. The bravery of the unit involved, ‘A’ company, 35th Battalion which was serving on United Nations peacekeeping duties in the Congo, has only now been acknowledged by the authorities.

Over the years, this group of men under the leadership of Commandant Patrick Quinlan was never given proper recognition for the courage they showed in Jadotville. The Irish soldiers resisted the secessionist Katangese forces for six days as they waited for reinforcements to reach them, but had to surrender after their supplies were exhausted. The men were then taken as prisoners of war for close to a month, but none of the 155-strong contingent was killed. 

Jadotville ceremony  Custume Barracks Athlone  (5).jpg

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe TD accompanied by Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett presents the unit citation to Sergeant Harry Dixon 35th Infantry Battalion     Pic: Merrionstreet.ie

Last Saturday 17th September the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe T.D. hosted an event at Custume Barracks, Athlone marking the collective actions of the men of ‘A’ Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and its attachments at the Siege. The Minister presented a unit citation to the Company in recognition of their bravery and heroism. A copy of the citation was presented to each member or next-of-kin of the unit. This was the first time a unit citation had been awarded within the Irish Defence Forces. In marking this unique occasion, Minister Kehoe also commissioned an insignia recognising the professional performance of the men of ‘A’ company.

Speaking at the event the Minister said: “I am very pleased to present this Unit Citation which recognises the bravery and courage of ‘A’ Company during the Siege of Jadotville whilst cut-off from support and reinforcements. The United Nations Operation in Congo was the first peacekeeping mission in which significant numbers of Irish soldiers took part. A total of 6,000 Irish soldiers served in the Congo from 1960 until 1964 and I want to take the opportunity to recall the contribution of all who served in the various Irish contingents over the course of this long Mission.”

The Minister concluded by saying “Ireland can be justifiably proud of all our brave men and women who have contributed to the cause of peace and security. Our continued participation in United Nations missions illustrates the very positive and practical difference that small countries, like Ireland, can make in the world’s trouble spots.”

Jadotville was an event that occurred during Ireland’s peacekeeping mission in the Congo in September 1961. ‘A’ Company of the 35th Infantry Battalion took responsibility for the UN post at Jadotville on the 3rd of September. On the 9th of September they were surrounded by a large force supporting the breakaway province of Katanga. Early on the morning of the 13th September the Company came under attack from this force. Over the coming days until 17th September they endured almost continuous attacks from ground and air.

Despite their courageous resistance and the sustained efforts of 35 Infantry Battalion HQ to provide assistance, ‘A’ Company was taken into captivity on 17th September. By this time ‘A’ Company had no water and several men had been wounded. ‘A’ Company remained in captivity until finally released on 25th October 1961.

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Group of Jadotville Soldiers Picture: RTE

The men of ‘A’ Company were drawn mostly from Custume Barracks, Athlone and what was the Western Command. The Citation is as follows:-

UNIT CITATION AWARDED TO ‘A’ COMPANY, 35TH INFANTRY BATTALION

“This Citation recognises the leadership, courage, bravery and professional performance of “A” Company 35th Infantry Battalion and its attachments who, under challenging circumstances at Jadotville, while besieged by overwhelming numbers of Katanganese Gendarmerie and cut-off from support and reinforcements, did valiantly defend their position from the 13th September 1961 to 17th September 1961.”

IRISH JOURNALISTS VISIT THE SOLDIERS HELD PRISONER IN JADOTVILLE

My father the late Desmond Fisher was one of three leading Irish journalists who managed to visit the soldiers when they were held prisoners. He was accompanied on the trip by Raymond ‘Congo’ Smith from the Irish Independent and John Ross from RTE. In the accompanying article my father does not admit that he was the person who was driving the hired car that failed to stop at a gendarmerie checkpoint, but luckily they all survived to tell the tale. Nor does he mention what apparently became of the ballot papers that the journalists brought with them to hand out to the troops, who were experiencing a shortage of modern domestic essentials in their confinement. The story ends with my father’s memory of the soldiers cheering them after their one-hour visit and singing as the reporters departed: “It’s a long way to Tipperary…”

The Irish Press October 2nd 961 p.1

AN 80 M.P.H. DASH TO CAMP . . .AND THE PRISONERS CHEERED

I meet the men of Jadotville siege

(From Desmond Fisher)

JADOTVILLE, Sunday —- Today I became one of the first Irishmen since the fighting in Katanga to drive down the famous Jadotville Road, across the Lufira Bridge — which two relief columns could not pass — into the town itself to meet the 181 Irish prisoners there. The outstanding impression from our visit was that all the boys were in the best form and delighted to get the bag of mail we brought to them.

Special permission for our trip was given by President Tshombe. General Muke, head of the Katangese gendarmerie, provided an escort of a gendarmerie adjutant and a paracommando officer to ensure our safe conduct.

 Our trip had minor historic significance — with us we brought ballot papers which, if inevitable Congolese differences are straightened out in time, may enable the prisoners to vote in the General Election.

The ballot papers arrived by air from Leopoldville (a) half hour before we left. They were handed over to us at a heavily-guarded Indian roadblock outside Elizabethville by Lt.-Col. Jock Casserley, who was accompanied by Col. McNamee, O.C. of the 35th.

 The trip began at gendarmerie headquarters in Avenue de La Reine, Elizabethville, where we picked up the escort. For eighty miles we drove at eighty miles an hour in a large hired American car which, after crashing through a gendarmerie roadblock, we discovered had no brakes. By the time we had pulled up on the dead straight road the gendarmerie were out of sight and the paracommando with us laughed — and waved us on.

But we made sure to pull up at Lafira Bridge, where a strong guard and roadblocks were still maintained round the clock. We got out of the car to inspect the bridge, which has now gone into Irish history, on account of the two gallant rescue efforts to relieve the Jadotville garrison.

It was very easy to see why the rescue columns could not get through. Steep banks lead down to muddy waters and on both sides of the river is swampy ground. Upstream, about fifty yards, is the wreck of a concrete bridge blown up during the fighting.

Warning call

Clambering down the embankment to get a closer view of the bridge, we clutched for support to a strong yellow cable. Gendarmerie called out a warning that the cable was a trip-wire for the mined bridge.

On arrival at the sunbaked mining town of Jadotville, fuller of soldiers than of miners, and with boarded sidewalks closely

To page 3

The Jadotville story (p.3)

From page 1

resembling the scene for a Western film, we drove to gendarmerie headquarters. Here there was more red tape for an hour, while we drank ice-cold Simba beer and gave diplomatic pats to a naked toddler tumbling on the dusty floor of the guardroom.

In true Congolese manner the Colonel in charge demonstrated authority, but a hesitant mention of President Tshombe, whose picture hung on the wall (as on every wall) proved an open sesame.

On the steps

Finally we reached the camp, not the prison camp, but a hotel in the middle of the town which was ringed off with barbed wire and blocks across the road. Across the street from the hotel, sitting at tables in a pavement café, were Katangese gendarmerie, while others were at the road blocks.

There, sitting on the steps of the verandah of the hotel, were the Irish prisoners. When they saw us they could hardly believe we were Irish too. Then we greeted them and they were all around us, smiling and laughing.

Soon we were swapping news — we giving them the latest from the free world while they told us about their heroic four-day stand and how they felt about being prisoners. On one point they reassured us — and through us the people at home — that they are being treated very well indeed.

Best of food

They get the best of food. They also get a fry for breakfast and also have a light lunch and a good dinner. On the menu is meat, soup, cheese, vegetables, fruit and jam.

The gendarmerie do the shopping for them in the town. While it is true that they are confined to the hotel, the building is large and airy. They do physical exercises on the roof and “play games of cards, chess and so on”.

The chaplain, Father Fagan, said: “The boys also do a lot of praying”.

Co-operation

The uppermost thought in everyman’s mind is — “when will I be free?” We were able to assure them that the peace talks are going well and that there should be good news for them soon. Our own observation showed us what seemed to be genuine co-operation between the Irish prisoners and the gendarmerie.

The spirit of goodwill between the Katangans and the Irish prisoners was expressed to us in another way by our guard on the way home. “Irish, our friends,” he said. “During the fighting we could have wiped them out altogether but we bore them no (ill-will)”.

The only civilian in the camp is the interpreter with the 35th Battalion, Mike Nolan. He is a great help to the prisoners because he understands French, Swahili and other African dialects.

Heroic stand

The medical officer, Commandant J.J. Clune, said that he examined all the men and they were in the best of form. The wounded were not seriously injured and they were all responding well to treatment.

The men crowded round us for the full hour we were allowed to stay there, telling us about themselves, recording interviews and being photographed for papers, television and army records.

Of the many battles in which the Irish distinguished themselves in the Katanga fighting, none was more heroic in the face of overwhelming odds than the Jadotville garrison, and we can bear this out after our visit here.  (NOTE THIS PARAGRAPH IN PARTICULAR)

Most of the men were at Mass and those manning trenches found their positions there being rushed, and the shooting started.

4-day attacks

Commandant Quinlan thought at first that it was a local incident and told the men not to use maximum fire, though they could have mown down the gendarmerie who were moving up. For four days the Irish were under heavy attack.

First came heavy mortar barrage and Irish mortar replied with good effect. As positions spread out, Commandant Quinlan decided to withdraw after dark to stronger positions astride the main road about a mile from the town.

The men holding the forward positions fought with great courage under fire while new positions were being dug. All the troops fell back safely to the new strong positions, but they were completely surrounded on all sides. It is estimated that the gendarmerie had 3,000 in the area.

Jet attacks

The Irish were being fire at from the front, rear and sides. They had laid in water supplies when the fighting started but this became putrid. They could not leave the trenches during those four days of fierce fighting.

There were flies all over the place. The jet plane joined in the attacks and bombs fell very near the trenches where the Irish were. The jet also machine-gunned them. The Irish fired back with small arms and the jet did not come in as low afterwards.

More jet attacks followed on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday and there was also heavy mortar fire. Propaganda warfare too.

‘Indigestion’

A man purporting to be from the Red Cross rang up the Irish to say that tribesmen were coming in to attack them and would eat them. Commandant Quinlan replied “If you come and try and eat us, we will give you indigestion.”

Commandant Quinlan warned too that if there were any more mob attacks the Irish would mow them down mercilessly. Convoys were heard at night moving on to Lufira Bridge to meet the breakthrough attempt by the first relief column.

quinlan

Commandant Pat Quinlan, Commanding Officer ‘A’ Coy 35 Inf Bn

Commandant Quinlan told me of the ceasefire arranged on Saturday evening, a condition that the jet would be grounded and that the men would get water and hold their positions.

But the jet came over again on Sunday morning and the water was still not turned on. Commandant Quinlan protested about the jet and he was assured it would not happen again.

Delaying game

After the big breakthrough attempt at Lufira Bridge had been repulsed on Saturday — and Irish and Indians withdrew to Elizabethville — Katangans pulled back paracommando elite troops from the bridge to Jadotville for an all-out final attack on the Irish.

Gendarmeries were now infiltrating Irish positions on all sides and a big force was massed.

“My men were now utterly exhausted,” Commandant Quinlan said. On Sunday, he said, they played a delaying game, holding out for a ceasefire and hoping against hope that reinforcements would get through.

“When I finally realised there was no hope of relief and that if I continued the fight all my men would be massacred by vastly superior forces, I decided to save the lives of the men by parleying with Munongo, Minister of the Interior, who arrived in the late afternoon,” said Commandant Quinlan.

Signed terms

The terms signed by Commandant Quinlan were as follows “I, Commandant Patrick Quinlan, Officer Commanding Irish United Nations Troops in Jadotville, do hereby agree to the terms of surrender of Minister Munongo because the Irish force is here on a peaceful police role and any further action would result in the loss of African and Irish lives.

“I also wish to state that my troops fought only in self-defence having been fired on while attending Mass on the morning of 13th September 1961. It is also agreed that the Irish troops will have their arms stored.”

Thus ended the glorious stand which would otherwise have surely resulted in heavy loss of life on the Irish side.

As we left Jadotville after the short hour with the prisoners they gave us three rousing cheers and sang cheerfully, though rather wistfully, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

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CONGO 1961: PADDY WALL HAS BUSY JOB

UN helmet of the type my father brought back to London after reporting from the Congo in 1961

UN helmet of the type my father brought back to London after reporting from the Congo in 1961

Paddy has busy job   Irish Press October 9th 1961

From DESMOND FISHER  Elizabethville, by air mail.

One of the busiest Irish soldiers in the Congo is Patrick Wall of Gregg, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary. Paddy is official chauffeur to Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien, the U.N. chief political officer in Katanga.

An expert driver, Paddy came to the Congo with the 35th Irish Batt. He was soon afterwards seconded to Dr. O’Brien as chauffeur. He finds his job supremely interesting. Sometimes it is a bit dangerous too. Once he was stoned in the car by himself.  (I trust you know what my father meant by that! — MF)

There is always too, the chance that someone will take a pot-shot at Dr. O’Brien. But Paddy is not worried. “It’s all in the day’s work”, he says.

Paddy lives at Dr O’Brien’s villa, Les Roches, on a hill on the outskirts of Elizabethville. It is guarded by a platoon of Irish troops with an armoured car.

Paddy is married and has four children, Geraldine (7); Patricia (6); Patrick (5) and Kieran (4).

Desmond Fisher report in The Irish Press October 9th 1961

Desmond Fisher report in The Irish Press October 9th 1961

IRISH CHAPLAIN IN CONGO 1961

Desmond Fisher report from the Congo 10th October 1961  The Irish Press

Desmond Fisher report from the Congo 10th October 1961 The Irish Press

IRISH AID IN HORROR CAMP  Chaplain Works for Balubas 

(From Desmond Fisher)   ELIZABETHVILE  (By Air Mail) —

The 40,000 Baluba men, women and children in the rag-and-cardboard refugee city in Elizabethville are ‘my children’ to Rev. Joseph Clarke, chaplain to the 35th Irish Battalion in the Congo.

Father Clarke is the friend, counsellor and refuge of the Balubas in all the terrible afflictions which are their lot.

Every morning, immediately after his Mass at 6:30 for the soldiers, Father Clarke sets out for the refugee camp near the Irish battalion headquarters. The camp chiefs wait for him and tell him their troubles — someone shot or hacked to pieces during the night; lack of food; danger from the Jeunesse Nationale Katanga, the teddy-boy youth movement which is terrorising the camp, and so on.

The chaplain moves round the different family groups in the camp speaking to them in his fluent French. He has organised the Irish section of the camp, where there are 5,000 families, into 14 groups. Each has its own administrative organisation which Father Clarke established. This administration supervises the daily distribution of food and settles disputes as to where the families can live.

Ordained in 1938, Father Clarke is an ‘old hand’ in Africa. He spent four years in Nigeria after his ordination before joining the Army as a chaplain. To him the African is a child, who will trust the European implicitly and will depend on him absolutely. This is fine until the African meets a white man who treats him badly or lets him down. Then he loses faith in all white men.

Katanga problem

In Katanga, there are more white men than in most parts of Africa; therefore the chances that the African will come up against a “bad white” are greater. Fot that reason, Father Clarke thinks, the African in Katanga has become a different sort of person. He is no longer simply a bush native, and yet a few years in a white-dominated city do not turn him into a civilised, democratically-minded person in our sense.

“You cannot take a native out of the bush, educate him for a few years and expect him to be like yourself”, says the chaplain.

As regards “his” refugee camp, Father Clarke says that the sooner it closes down the better. It is becoming a hiding-place for criminals, and a breeding place of violence and murder. Almost every night someone is killed in the camp and some horrible atrocities have come to light.

The least revolting of them is the killing of a Katangese native, the servant of a gendarme officer, whom the Balubas caught as he was passing their camp. He was found dead next morning with his hands and feet cut off: he had bled to death. The camp has also attracted the 5,000 unemployed Balubas in Elizabethville who have come in for free food and accommodation, such as it is.

Father Clarke fears two things. One is that the rains which are due shortly will wash away the flimsy shelters of the refugees and force them to break into the nearby villas vacated by white people. His other fear is that the Jeunesse youths will become the pawns of Communist-type agitators, who will use them to stir up trouble.

But, despite the dangers, Father Clarke continues to give most of his time and energies to helping the 40,000 Baluba people to whom he is “father”.      Oct 10 1961

DESMOND FISHER (9)

Desmond Fisher  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Desmond Fisher Photo: © Michael Fisher

Irish Times Obituary Saturday 10th January 2015 p.12

Lifelong journalist known for integrity and encouragement to colleagues

Desmond Fisher  Born: September 9th 1920  Died: December 30th 2014

Desmond Fisher, who has died aged 94, was a journalist whose working life in Ireland and abroad was marked by a consistently high dedication to professional standards in a career that spanned almost seven decades.

Born in Derry in 1920, he got his first job — after a brief detour into a seminary — with the Nationalist and Leinster Times in Carlow, to which he had been recruited by its legendary editor Liam Begin.

Bergin’s talent-spotting was later to include such figures as Jim Downey, Olivia O’Leary, Michael Finlan, Des Cahill and Micheline McCormack — among many others who went on to higher things.

In 1948 Fisher joined the Irish Press and worked there (and, from 1949, on the Sunday Press) until 1952, when he was (also) recruited to the Irish News Agency.

Just a year later , he was appointed by Jim McGuinness, then editor of the Irish Press, as London editor of the Irish Press group, and he served there until 1962. From this base he covered a wide range of foreign assignments, including Ireland’s UN involvement in what was then the Belgian Congo, and the initial application by Seán Lemass’s government to join the European Economic Community in 1961.

On that occasion Lemass gave Fisher a personal interview in which he predicted that membership of the community would probably mean that Ireland would have to give up neutrality and legalise contraception and divorce and that some of the more positive aspects of Irish culture would be lost as a result of growing prosperity.

Tempestuous

In 1962 he accepted an invitation to edit the Catholic Herald in London. It was a tempestuous time, not only for Catholicism generally, but for English Catholicism in particular. Fisher was unaware at the time of his appointment that his predecessor, Michael de la Bédoyère, had been squeezed out of the paper because of his openness to change.

He was to discover in time that the wheels of change in British Catholicism still moved extremely slowly. His evident sympathy for the aggiornamento launched by Pope John XXIII was not widely shared within either the British or Irish hierarchies, and his friendship with the controversial British theologian Charles Davis (who stayed in his house in Wimbledon while the storm about his departure from the priesthood raged) helped to bring matters to a head.

In 1964 he resigned “over policy differences with the Board”, as he later, rather temperately, expressed it.

For the following four years he worked only as a freelance in both print and broadcast journalism: he had been the Irish correspondent for the British economic publication The Statist for many years, and also developed strong relationships with newspapers like the National Catholic Reporter in the USA, the Anglican Church Times in Britain, and later, The Economist.

Eventually, however, he was headhunted by Jim McGuinness, now RTÉ head of news, to be his deputy, and he returned to Dublin to take up that post in 1968.

“He was to discover in time that the wheels of change in British Catholicism still moved extremely slowly” 

It was a torrid time at RTÉ, not least because of the escalating Northern crisis. In October 1973 he was appointed head of current affairs at the station. This forced marriage of news and current affairs had been decided on by the RTÉ Authority at least in part because of criticism by the government of the independently-minded programming emanating from the latter department.

Doomed fusion

The unwilling — and under-financed fusion of journalists and producers from different trade unions was probably doomed from the start. Fisher later became involved in a three-cornered political fracas involving the producer Eoghan Harris, RTÉ itself, and the then minister for posts and telegraphs, Conor Cruise O’Brien, centring on a programme about Northern Ireland.

Subsequently, after the authority had rejected his request for an appropriate role, budget and staff for the current affairs grouping, he resigned from these responsibilities in 1975 and the grouping was disbanded. He later served as director of TV development and chaired the RTÉ2 planning group, as well as launching the Irish Broadcasting Review, which ran from 1978 until shortly before his retirement from RTÉ in 1983.

After an interval of 36 years, he returned to the Nationalist and Leinster Times in Carlow as editor and managing director, following Liam Bergin’s retirement. He retired from this position in 1989, but continued to write for a wide range of publications — including on occasion The Irish Times — until shortly before his death. His final work — an annotated translation of the Stabat Mater — is due for publication this year.  DSC_0941 (800x421)

Independent spirit

Des Fisher was never — nor would he have wanted to be considered — a celebrity journalist. But his career was marked by a deep Catholicism, independence of spirit, intellectual integrity, an insistence on accuracy and fairness, and by his practical encouragement and training of many younger journalists.

These attributes marked him out as a substantial practitioner of his chosen profession in a period when journalism itself was undergoing seismic changes.

He is survived by his wife, Peggy (nee Smyth), and their children, Michael, Carolyn, Hugh and John.

  

DESMOND FISHER (7)

image

Lives Remembered: The Irish News Saturday 10th January
Desmond Fisher 1920-2014

My father was one of two Derrymen heading RTÉ News on the day of the banned Civil Rights march in the city on October 5 1968. The other was his former Irish Press boss Jim McGuinness, who had been instrumental in bringing him back to Dublin in 1967. That was eighteen months after my father’s resignation on a matter of principle as Editor of the Catholic Herald over his coverage of Vatican II. His articles from Rome, although acclaimed internationally, were regarded as too progressive by members of the English and Irish hierarchy, including Bishop Farren of Derry, his former headmaster at St Columb’s College.

Jim McGuinness, according to my father, “made the cogent argument that posterity would never forgive RTÉ if it failed to cover, as well as the BBC did, the historic developments in the North, which we claimed to be part of our own country”. Thus it was that news cameraman Gay O’Brien obtained remarkable footage of the Derry demonstration including protestors being hit with batons by the RUC.  The film was offered by RTÉ to other television stations via the Eurovision news exchange. Those scenes put the North’s problems on the international agenda.

In August 1969 my father was the senior RTÉ executive on duty when Taoiseach Jack Lynch arrived to address the nation, following the outbreak of serious rioting in Derry. He arranged for the annotated script to be typed out. For the record Mr Lynch said: “It is clear…that the Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse” (not using the word ‘idly’). Many years later my father recalled how Mr Lynch had privately asked him what he thought would happen if he ordered the (Irish) army to go into the North, as some had advised. Des told Lynch he thought the army would get some 20 miles across the border into Derry or Co. Down before suffering heavy casualties in a fight with the British. Mr Lynch told him he had come to the same conclusion.

My father’s parents lived in West End Park, Derry, and moved to Dublin with their three children when he was 11. He won an all-Ireland scholarship for Good Counsel College in New Ross. He took the education, but decided the Augustinian priesthood was “not for me”. He began and ended his active career with the Carlow Nationalist. His knowledge of Irish, Greek and Latin was exceptional. At 94, he had just completed a book, typed by himself, containing a new translation of the Stabat Mater.

DESMOND FISHER who died in Dublin on December 30 is survived by his wife Peggy and four children: Michael, Carolyn, Hugh and John.

DESMOND FISHER (6)

Desmond Fisher  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Desmond Fisher Photo: © Michael Fisher

Desmond Fisher 1920-2014

An appreciation (in The Irish Catholicic-logo

Michael Fisher

It was, my father said, the best news he heard in 50 years. Days before his death, I read him Pope Francis’ address to the Curia, outlining 15 diseases they suffered. He had a progressive view of the Catholic Church, inspired by the time he reported from Rome on Vatican II, where he made many friends including Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens and theologian Fr Karl Rahner.

The Vatican II version of the Church, he pointed out, is a “communion” of members sharing a common task, rather than a pyramid structure. As Editor of The Catholic Herald, his authoritative coverage of Pope John XXIII’s initiative for change was widely praised in the English-speaking Catholic world. However, it annoyed Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin who found his articles “very objectionable”.

The conservative English hierarchy, led by Cardinal John Heenan, complained to the newspaper’s directors, who recalled him to London. His archive notes describe this as one of the bitterest blows of his life. It was, he said, a consolation that history seemed to have supported his version of Vatican II rather than the Cardinal’s.

He resigned from the paper and freelanced for a year. One of his tasks was to handle the copious media enquiries he received regarding Charles Davis. In December 1966 Fr Davis, then the best-known Catholic theologian in Britain, announced he was leaving the Church.

My father was proud of his roots in Derry, where he was born in 1920. His parents (a mixed marriage) moved to Dublin and aged 11, he won an all-Ireland scholarship for secondary schooling at Good Counsel College in New Ross, run by the Augustinians. He took the education, but decided the priesthood was “not for me”.

Translation

His knowledge of Irish, Greek and Latin was exceptional, and at 94 he had just completed a book, typed by himself on his laptop, containing a new translation of the Stabat Mater. It is due to be published by Gracewing later this month. With a BA from UCD, his first job, at age 25, was assistant to the editor of The Nationalist and Leinster Times, Liam Bergin, who became a lifelong friend. In 2011 he stepped down as Vice-Chairman of the same paper.

My first memories of my father are from the time he was London Editor of the Irish Press in Fleet Street. He acted as the Group’s Diplomatic Correspondent, and in 1960 spent three months covering the UN when Frank Aiken chaired the General Assembly. The same year he reported from the Congo on Irish soldiers on UN duty being held prisoner in Jadotville.

Desmond Fisher returned to Ireland in 1967 as RTÉ’s Deputy Head of News, joining fellow Derryman Jim McGuinness.

He later became Head of Current Affairs in RTÉ and after a second resignation on a point of principle was appointed Director of Broadcasting Development. He became involved in the birth of Raidió na Gaeltachta and later RTÉ2.

On retirement from RTÉ in 1983 he returned to Carlow as Editor and Managing Editor of The Nationalist until 1989. He was author of The Church in Transition, a book on the Vatican Council, Broadcasting in Ireland, The Right to Communicate and several pamphlets.

Michael Fisher is a journalist.

DESMOND FISHER (4)

My father Des Fisher was Editor of the Catholic Herald when Arthur Jones worked there. Their paths crossed again when Dad was guest Editor of the National Catholic Reporter in Kansas City MO in 1980. Arthur kept in touch over the years and recently sent my father a copy of his new book on the history of NCR, which he read with interest.

In September 2011 Arthur Jones visited Desmond Fisher in Dublin. He then travelled to Belfast to meet me and he gave an interview to the BBC Radio Ulster ‘Sunday Sequence’ programme presented by William Crawley. He wrote to me before departing from Baltimore, Maryland, on the trip:

ARTHUR JONES:

Liverpool-born journalist Arthur Jones entered Catholic journalism in America in 1962 on the Catholic Star Herald in New Jersey, before the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council began. The Ruskin College, Oxford-educated Jones was soon covering the “social gospel” issues: poverty, racism, traveling with the migrant farmworkers. At the highest levels he covered the first meetings between the US and Latin American hierarchies. In 1963 he used his British passport to report from Cuba on the suppression of the church under Castro. The following year he wrote the first extensive coverage of the Pius XII and the Jews drama. In 1965 he was on Fleet Street writing for the Catholic Herald where Irish journalist Desmond Fisher, later RTÉ Head of Current Affairs, was editor. Forty five years later, “we’re still fighting with one another, trying to outdo each other’s stories and jibes.” They lunched together in Dublin last Saturday (September 3rd **2011**): combined ages 166.

In 1975 he became editor of the independent National Catholic Reporter and expanded the newspaper’s range and investigative reporting in Central and Latin America, Rome and, most particularly, the United States. After serving also as the paper’s publisher and president of the company, in 1980 he stepped aside to return to reporting as editor-at-large, covering the globe, acting periodically as Washington correspondent, moving back to national and by the mid-1980s,  building the case regarding clerical sexual abuse.

in June 1985, seventeen years before the first secular U.S. national coverage, Jones broke wide open the American sexual abuse crisis in the National Catholic Reporter…Jones is the author of a dozen books, and has a separate career world as an economic and financial writer. He’s a former New York associate editor and European bureau chief of Forbes Magazine, a business magazine, a former FT correspondent, and, he says, “more besides.” He has worked for the National Catholic Reporter for 35 years, beginning as editor and after serving as editor-and-publisher, slowly worked his way down the ladder to become a reporter again.

Vatican II reporter Desmond Fisher dies at age 94

With the death on Dec. 30 of the noted Irish Catholic writer Desmond Fisher at age 94, the legion of writers who covered the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), has thinned practically to vanishing point.
Desmond Fisher  Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Desmond Fisher Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Fisher, as editor of The Catholic Herald on London’s Fleet Street, was in Rome in 1962 before the council opened to set up the Herald’s coverage. (His anecdote of Pope John XXIII from that time appeared in NCR’s 2012 Vatican II anniversary special. Fisher was also NCR guest editor for three weeks in 1980 and an occasional contributor.)

Fisher himself covered the 1963 and 1964 sessions of the council for the Herald and the Irish Press Group. Vienna’s Cardinal Franz König said in a note to Fisher that he learned “more of what is going on at the council from your superb reports” than he heard “while on the spot.”

In equal measure, Fisher’s council coverage offended some cardinals, not least Cardinal John Heenan of Westminster, England. The Catholic Herald’s owners — whether pressured by Heenan or not — recalled Fisher to London.

When Fisher resigned in 1966, an anonymous article in Herder Correspondence described the backdrop. Many bishops in England and Scotland, plus Dublin’s over-bearing Archbishop John McQuaid, had strongly opposed Fisher’s interpretation of council events — McQuaid called it “very objectionable.” When Fisher resigned, dozens of other bishop-attendees wrote to say quite the opposite.

Desmond Fisher in NCR Newsroom 1980  Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Desmond Fisher in NCR Newsroom 1980 Photo: NCR/Pam Bauer

Fisher was born Derry, Ireland, on Sept. 9, 1920. Ireland was still a united land: This was prior to the “partition” that created Northern Ireland.

His father, who worked for a firm of wholesale wine and tea shippers — which explains in part Fisher’s own fondness for and knowledge of wine — moved to Dublin to establish an office there.

At age 11, Fisher won the all-Ireland scholarship that provided five years of secondary education at a school run by a religious order. He took the education, but not religious orders. His Irish, Greek and Latin were exceptional, and at 91 he completed a new translation of the Stabat Mater.

With a bachelor’s degree from University College Dublin, his first job, at age 25, was assistant to the editor of The Nationalist and Leinster Times. He became an experienced copy editor and reporter. His first editorial said, “True peace cannot be based on fear. For true peace transcends the bounds of policy and diplomacy. … It must be founded on freedom and justice, on the recognition that man is a spiritual being created for an eternal destiny and not a pawn in the game of power politics.”

Sixty-five years later, Fisher remarked, “It was a bit full-blown for an Irish provincial newspaper. But I would change very little. Pope John XXIII said much the same 18 months later in Pacem in Terris.”

Fisher and his wife, Margaret (Peggy), wed in 1948 and marked their 65th wedding anniversary in (September) 2013.

For four years, Fisher was with the Irish Press, and in 1952 became its London editor and daily columnist. He became the Press political correspondent and traveled widely overseas in the early 1960s. That began with a three-month United Nations Fellowship. He was present at the U.N. General Assembly during the famous scene when Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the desk.

In 1962, in his first Catholic Herald editorial, he wrote that a lay-owned and independent Catholic paper had “a freedom that is journalistically necessary if it is to carry out what it conceives to be its function and which relieves the hierarchy and the clergy generally of any responsibility for opinions expressed in its columns.”

Recruited by RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) as deputy head of news, by 1973 Fisher was head of current affairs. There, after several years of bureaucratic infighting over an unhonored agreement to make current affairs its own division, Fisher was promoted sideways to director of TV development.

For 14 years, he was also Ireland correspondent for The Economist. He left RTÉ on “early” retirement and returned to his origins, as editor and managing director of The Nationalist and Leinster Times, where his career had begun.

The Fishers lived in Dublin. Survivors include Peggy, four children and four grandchildren. Desmond Fisher had outlived practically all his journalistic contemporaries.

[Arthur Jones, NCR editor from 1975 to 1980, worked for Fisher at The Catholic Herald from 1964 to 1966.]