President Michael D Higgins unveils memorial to British army mutineers

Mutiny in India in 1920 recalled as ‘extraordinary act of defiance’

President Michael D Higgins with Mary Henry, a granddaughter of Connaught Rangers mutineer James Gorman at the new memorial in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo. Photograph: Ronan McGreevy

President Michael D Higgins with Mary Henry, a granddaughter of Connaught Rangers mutineer James Gorman at the new memorial in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo. Photograph: Ronan McGreevy

 

President Michael D Higgins has visited Tubbercurry, Co Sligo to unveil a memorial to men from the Connaught Rangers regiment involved in a mutiny against the British Empire in India 101 years ago.

Private James Daly from Westmeath, aged 20 when he was shot by a firing squad on November 2nd, 1920, was the last British soldier to be executed for mutiny. Four men from Sligo were also mutineers.

Tuesday’s visit was the first time Mr Higgins has attended a community commemoration since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year.

“I think it is wonderful to be out in the open air again talking about commemoration. I couldn’t be in a better place. This is a wonderful occasion,” Mr Higgins said.

Sixty-one men were incarcerated in Indian and British jails as a result of the mutiny which took place in June and July of 1920 as a protest against the actions of Crown Forces in Ireland. Their names are engraved on the black marble memorial which will stand in Wolfe Tone Square.

It was a poignant occasion for many relatives who attended.

Among them was Oliver Hawes, grandson of Private Joseph Hawes who was the instigator of the mutiny.

He remembered Joseph Hawes’ daughter Joan who lives in Sydney, Australia and was unable to attend.

“I’m absolutely privileged to represent my family. This is the first time the Government of Ireland has recognised the stand taken by these brave men,” he said.

Desmond Kerrigan (85) and his sister Patsy Ward (88) from Glencar, Co Leitrim were there with family members. Unlike others, their father Charlie Kerrigan, who died in 1991, spoke frequently about the mutiny afterwards and participated in a RTÉ documentary which was broadcast in 1970.

“We have his involvement in the mutiny mentioned on his headstone,” Desmond Kerrigan said. “He was very proud of his involvement.”

Joseph O’Donoghue was only 21 when he mutinied, but he had already survived Gallipoli and Salonika during the first World War, having enlisted underage when he was 16.

His son Francis O’Donoghue and daughters Catherine Punch and Maureen Webb attended. “He was just a kid. The 21-year-olds now are just starting university,” said Ms Webb, who came from Kent in England for the occasion. “They were such brave young men.”

The President described the mutiny as an “extraordinary act of defiance” which had inspired drama and song.

He made a plea not to judge those who had, like the Connaught Rangers soldiers or members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), taken up service with the Crown in the days before Irish independence.

“It is so important to try and put ourselves into the circumstances of the people with all of their contradictions,” he said.

“If you are without work, if you have few options, a life in the RIC at the time offered an opportunity and a pension. How can we not seek to understand the attempts that people made in the conditions that they had been reduced in the absence of being an independent State?

“They exercised their choices making a fist of life. We don’t abuse their experience and we don’t abuse their words or their actions”.

But it did not mean that we had to ignore the reality of the British Empire and its “terrible inability to see others as equals”, Mr Higgins added.

In a speech which received a standing ovation, he said countries in Europe which had empires abroad should acknowledge the wrongs they had done in the past.

“Look how different it would be in the world if all those great imperial empires in Europe acknowledged to the continents of Africa and Asia and Latin America about the price that was paid for imperialist madness.”