Jadotville commander Pat Quinlan and writer Hanna Greally.

New Athlone estates to be named after local heroes

On Monday, Leo Quinlan was surprised and delighted to learn that a new estate in Athlone is to be named after his father, who led the Irish troops during the Siege of Jadotville 60 years ago.

"That's lovely. I wasn't aware! That's very kind and thoughtful," he said, when told that a new 10-house estate being developed by the council in the Cornamagh area would be called 'Quinlan Park' in honour of the late Commandant (later Colonel) Pat Quinlan.

Asked how his father would have reacted if he had known a housing estate was to be named after him, Leo laughed and replied: "He would probably say, 'I don't deserve anything like that!' That's the kind of man he was.

"As far as the Quinlan family are concerned, we feel very honoured by this. It's a lovely gesture toward my father."

In addition, it was confirmed this week that a new 24-unit social housing development in Arcadia is being called Greally Park in memory of Hanna Greally, an Athlone native who wrote a memorable book about the 18 years she spent incarcerated in St Loman's psychiatric hospital in Mullingar.

A Westmeath County Council naming committee decided on the names for the two estates. One of the committee members, local historian Gearoid O'Brien, described Pat Quinlan and Hanna Greally as two 'heroes' of his.

He said Ms Greally was "a remarkable woman" whose bestselling book, 'Bird's Nest Soup', was still being reissued 50 years after its initial publication in 1971. The book made a significant and lasting impression and resulted in the author appearing on The Late Late Show.

"Hanna Greally was a gentle soul and a talented writer who endured a horrific experience at the hands of our mental health services," said Gearoid.

"I think that, as an inspirational woman and someone who overcame her mental health issues, she richly deserves to be honoured in her native town."

Ms Greally had been born in the Pearse Street building which is currently home to The Bailey bar (previously Higgins'). After spending two years training as a nurse in the UK, she entered St Loman's for 'a rest' but remained there against her will for almost two decades.

Her book first appeared as a serial in an English newspaper, and proceeds from this helped her to buy ‘Sunny Acre’, a cottage in Roscommon where she lived during the later years of her life. She died in 1987, aged 62.

'Greally Park' is the second phase of Westmeath County Council's social housing development in Arcadia, following last year's completion of 33 units at Esker Park.

It will be located adjacent to Esker Park and Ashdale, and is due to consist of eleven two-bedroom houses and a two/three storey block which would contain nine apartments and four two-bedroom duplexes.

In addition, the council has now gone to tender for the construction of Quinlan Park, which will have ten houses and will be located adjacent to McCormack Park at the Two Mile Road in Athlone.

A decision on the awarding of the construction contract is set to be made by early April.

Cllr Frankie Keena was delighted the new development was being named after the late Comdt Quinlan, a Kerry native who lived in Beech Park, Athlone, for many years and commanded 'A' Company, 35th Battalion, during the Siege of Jadotville in 1961.

"The bravery and heroism of the 150-strong Irish UN battalion during the Siege of Jadotville was unbelievable," said Cllr Keena.

"This year is the 60th anniversary and, even though we are in these pandemic times, it will be marked accordingly as the actions of these brave men will never be forgotten.

"The naming of this new housing development as Quinlan Park will be one of the many ways of always rekindling memories of the heroism of 'A' Company, 35th Battalion."

Cllr Keena said it was intended that the construction of the Quinlan Park development would start this year and be completed in 2022.

"This will be welcome news for people on the housing list," he commented.

When he was contacted by the Westmeath Independent on Monday, Leo Quinlan spoke about the special bond that existed between his father and the soldiers he led during their ordeal in the Congo.

"For years after Jadotville, in Athlone, the relationship between my father and the soldiers of Jadotville was quite amazing. That is not unusual; it happens in many Armies when people have been in action together.

"He was 42 at the time of the Siege of Jadotville, and was particularly close to the soldiers who would have been in Jadotville and were similar to him in age.

"For many years they used to cut turf with him, and bring the turf home to his garage, and my mother would have tea and a dinner ready for them. It was that kind of relationship. He absolutely revered his men," he commented.