Ireland – an imperial past?
Sir, – Regarding Irish involvement in colonial atrocities, it is not just the officer class that is guilty (Jane Ohlemeyer, “Ireland yet to come to terms with imperial past”, Opinion & Analysis, December 29th).
The 1st Madras Fusiliers were sent to Bengal at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny and worked their way westward from Calcutta to the relief of the besieged Cawnpore and Lucknow. On the way, the regiment earned a fearsome reputation for extra-judicial killing, burning, and looting, so much so that its advance was slowed because the native population, who were expected to provide transport, were afraid to come forward to offer their services.
News of these atrocities reached Cawnpore well ahead of the regiment and may have been a cause of the massacre of about 200 European women and children held prisoner there. The Cawnpore Massacre inflamed public opinion and became the justification for further atrocities by the whole British army. There were at least 50 Limerick men serving in the 1st Madras Fusiliers at that time. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Jane Ohlmeyer notes that “Ireland” has yet to come to terms with its “imperial past”; citing, inter alia, the instance of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Tipperary-born governor of the Punjab at the time of the Amritsar Massacre.
Any such perception of the necessity for a post hoc national accommodation with O’Dwyer’s actions tends to derive from an assumed conflation of national identity with approved middle-class and upper-class individual historical narratives.
In O’Dwyer’s case, any such perception is particularly forced, for both legal and cultural reasons.
Legally, by the time Michael O’Dwyer was attending Wren’s crammer school in London in the early 1880s, “Ireland”, as a political entity with any real agency, had long since ceased to exist. It is difficult to ascribe a constitutional nexus between the actions of an Irish-born British imperialist and an inchoate country which, at the relevant time, had no meaningful existence.
Culturally, O’Dwyer and his ilk were alienated from, and un-representative of, the ordinary people beside whom they resided. In 1882, his Irish nationalist neighbours attacked his family home. In 1923, shortly before the anti-Treaty IRA’s ceasefire, it had been considering assassinating him in retribution for Amritsar.– Yours, etc,