Jalandhar, capital of a free Ireland

The following was published in an Indian journal, The Tribune written by Varinder Singh:
When Irish govt-in-exile was formed
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service
Despite having kept one of the biggest and sensational historical facts under wraps for over 80 years, hardly anyone knows today that Jalandhar Cantonment was once declared a seat of the “Free Irish government-in-exile” and was a place where a rebellion, by 1000-odd unsung Irish soldiers-turned-freedom fighters, who were inspired by the ongoing Indian freedom struggle, turned out to be one of two mutinies” after the famous naval mutiny” faced by the British armed forces.
What created yet another leaf of history after a long gap of time was the fact that perhaps no Irish envoy or Irish representative had visited the place after 1950 till a curious Mr Phillip McDonagh, the Irish Ambassador to India, paid a visit recently to the barracks, where the ‘mutineers” had enacted the high-tension drama to attain freedom for their brethren back home and where one of world’s unparalleled and unheard-of peace efforts was made by one Jim Daley, leader of a group of Irish soldiers, who was shot dead by a British firing squad in November, 1920, after the Britishers cornered the “mutineers” after making them starve for a few months.
A landmark in history and yet the lesser known incident took place in the summer of 1920 when the winds of freedom, sweeping across India as well as Ireland, were fuelled after news of cruelty being inflicted upon the Irish by the British, particularly that of a brother of a soldier having been hanged in Ireland, creeped into Jalandhar Cantonment, where about 1000 Irish soldiers were deployed as part of the British armed forces.

Irked over the shocking developments back home and moved by their sense of affection towards their motherland, the Irish soldiers belonging to the Connaught Rangers, captured some British soldiers, the armoury, and a large part of the Jalandhar Cantonment, which was, subsequently, declared to be the capital of the “Free Irish government-in-exile” just within a period of a few days. So much so that after attaining full control of Jalandhar Cantonment, the Irish soldiers who were driven by a feeling that they were just lodging their “protest” against injustice being meted out to the Irish people and were not fighting for any territory in India, started negotiations with the British for freedom of Ireland in exchange of British soldiers and the Jalandhar Cantonment. Though a group of them wanted to retain the cantonment as this could strengthen their position against the Britishers, another group led by Jim Daley thought that since violence was not the ‘way out’, the best solution to the vexed problem was possible only through peace and dialogue, for which a long letter to the King was also shot off.
On the other hand having been caught unawares, the ‘crafty’ British authorities, feigning to be participating in the dialogue, pushed eight white regiments from the entire northern part of the country to cordon off Jalandhar Cantonment and to clamp the supplies to the Irish soldiers. Though the Irish tricolour flew on the regiment quarter and atop most of the barracks, Irish soldiers started falling prey to death, due to dwindling foodstock and water and for an outbreak of malaria, which, however, failed to spoil their high spirits till they got divided into small groups, having their own plans and ideas amid increasing pressure by the British authorities, who were keeping the entire episode under a tight lid under the pretext that some exercise was going on in the area. Even amid such a situation and after death of a number of his colleagues, Jim Daley kept pacifying his comrades and arguing with the British authorities for ˜giving peace a chance”.
But sensing the weakening of the soldiers, the British authorities overpowered them by breaking them into small groups and with a plea that a train would be arranged for them and that they would be kept in different buildings till arrangements were made for their journey back home. All of about 800 soldiers were sent to Shimla in August 1920 and courtmartial proceedings were initiated against them with sentences ranging from death to 10-20 years of imprisonment. Later, the sentences were reviewed, the Connaught Rangers was disbanded, and rangers were packed off to England for serving their sentences. It was Jim Daley alone who was shot dead by a firing squad in Jalandhar Cantonment in November under a tight security cover.

One thought on “Jalandhar, capital of a free Ireland

  1. Manjit Singh

    Thanks for sharing this interesting fact. I grew up in various parts of Punjab including Jalandhar and had never even heard of this incident. I recently read “Rise to Rebellion” about American Revolution, and it had a chapter about Benjamin Franklin’s visit to Ireland in 1700s and covers some of the conditions of Irish slavery by the British. It was just shocking.


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