Sinn Féin and the Raj
Sinn Féin and the Raj
In a corner of India lies the grave of a soldier who led an Irish mutiny.


The keen eyes of Barkat Masih -- the fifty-something caretaker of Dagshai graveyard -- are reassuring. Definite, resolute lines of his face waver and settle into a stirred expression, as he hears names of Daly, Miranda, Sears and Smyth: ``Woh fauji jinhon ne baghawat ki thi (you want to know about the soldiers who rebelled)?'`

In Jalandhar in June 1920, the spectre of Easter Rebellion stalked frightened British minds in 1920.

There was ferment in the barracks as news of atrocities by British forces `Black and Tan' back home filtered through soft Irish brogues. Soldiers of Ist Battalion of Connaught Rangers, also called The Devil's Own, known for their bravery as well as obduracy, gathered in groups and mulled over the news of torture and hangings at home.

Soon, steeped in the Sinn Féin spirit, the soldiers bought lenghts of cloth from the local market and got down to stitching the Irish tricolour. On June 28, 1920, five men refused to take orders from the British officers and served a notice saying they won't serve the King until the British forces left Ireland. About two hundred soldiers joined them later. It did not take more than three days for the British to stamp out the rebellion. The mutineers were taken prisoners in inhuman condition before they were shifted to Dagshai.

Solan smouldered as the news of mutiny soon reached another detachment of Connaught Rangers stationed there. Rumours were afoot that the British had massacared all Irish soldiers in Jalandhar. Under the command of Private James Daly about 70 Rangers refused to parade and wore Sinn Féin colours in rosettes. Private Daly, 21, of Tyrrelspass, County Westmeath, acted as their spokesman. Though they gave up arms, later one night Daly reconsidered their decision and with his companions attacked a magazine. The British retaliated. Sears and Smyth were killed in firing while others were taken prisoners. Now Royal Sussex Regiment had taken command.

Daly and his companions were arrested. Finally 88 were brought to trial. Some were acquitted, most were given prison sentences up to 15 years and 14 were condemned to death. Except Daly, sentences of others were commuted to life imprisonments. Daly faced the firing squad in Dagshai prison on November 2, 1920.

Privates Sears and Smyth were buried at Solan while John Miranda, who had died in prison, and James Daly were buried in Dagshai graveyard. Remains of Sears, Smyth and Daly were taken back to Ireland in 1970.

You wade through the waist-high grass, read every epitaph that has survived, pull out grass to peek at the stones; there is no Daly, no Miranda, only fear of snakes slithering in the grass. The saga turns out to be not only a victim of history, but also of nature.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News