What did the Irish Ever do for Us? India/Pakistan - Part 1

An Irishman's Guide to
the History of the World
- India & Pakistan

Ireland's Seismic Impact on the Indian sub-continent
Though we Irish did not build the Taj Mahal, write the Kamasutra or can take credit for the ancient cultures of this region's medical breakthroughs in plastic surgery and dentistry, nevertheless our little island of Ireland with its minuscule population lying at the very western edge of Europe had and still continues to have a notable influence on the history and politics of the vast Indian sub-continent.
Individual Irish men/women and Ireland’s struggle for nationhood profoundly effected the Indian independence movement, its appearance onto the international stage & the forging of a pan-India identity. Our people educated many of modern India’s and Pakistan’s leadership and helped launch the indigenous women’s emancipation movement. It was an Irishman in the mid-18th century that led one of the first military campaigns to expel the British from the sub-continent. One wily Irish rogue even ousted a native prince and set himself up as a ruler of a Raj!
Furthermore, for much of the early part of the 20th century, the most famous fictional Indian literary character in the world was the son of an Irishman!
On the other side of the coin thousands of Irishmen from the 18th century onwards provided the backbone of the British army of occupation. Sorry about that! But at least we Irish dressed up in our British redcoats probably kept out of India an even nastier imperialist power, namely Tsarist Russia.

An Irish Education unites Pakistani & Indian Leaders
What has the present Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former prime ministers Shaukat Aziz and Benazir Bhutto and former president Pervez Musharraf in common?
Well they all went to Irish-themed Catholic schools.

What is probably the only thing that unites the leaders of the two main political parties of India?

Both men got their education in Irish-inspired schools!
(Photo: St. Columba's School, Delphi)

Where did the 3 most powerful women in Pakistan obtain their schooling?
Why, where else but in Irish-founded convent schools in Rawalpindi, Karachi & Murre!

Living in the shadow of Ireland's Khyber Pass
I have a personal interest in this Irish-India connection. My childhood was spent living near the foot of the ‘Khyber Pass’ in Dalkey (photo) village, County Dublin. It was a hotel located at the top of a steep narrow rock precipice, a name probably given to it by a former British officer that served on the infamous North West Frontier of colonial India. My friendly next door neighbour for many years was an archetypal retired British colonel with a bicycle handlebars moustache, living in a rambling old mansion complete with a cricket lawn, who drove around in a beautiful old Rolls Royce and jovially reminisced about the good old days of the British Raj. Later I was taught by the Catholic Patrician Brothers who opened many famous schools in India and are led today by an Indian, Brother Jerome. One of my own brothers, Peter, worked in Mumbai, modern India’s commercial hub.

Irish Teachers Bring the Torch Of Learning to the native peoples of India
The repeal of the colonial laws forbidding the majority Irish Catholic population from receiving an education led from the early 19th century to a surge of new native religious teaching orders setting up schools throughout the country followed from the 1840s onwards in their movement with missionary zeal across the territories of the British Empire. The Christian Brothers, the Brothers of St. Patrick & the Presentation Sisters from Ireland established schools that are still recognised today as some of the finest educational institutions on the sub-continent.
Yet it was a strong sense of social justice born out of centuries of oppression that probably influenced so many young Irish to travel so far from home, many never to return, to places such as India where they devoted their lives in educating the more marginalised peoples, a tradition that still resonates with the Patrician Brothers today.

Two of Pakistan’s Prime Ministers went to St. Anthony’s High School in Lahore founded by the Irish 'Patrician Brothers' including Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Muslim League.

‘Son of St. Columba’- Gandhi!
Rahul Gandhi a President of the Indian National Congress and son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi went to St. Columba’s School (see photo below) in Delhi, an Irish Christian Brothers’ institution named after one of Ireland’s most famous missionary saints.

When the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern visited the school in June 2006, he was greeted by a chorus of pupils singing the Irish National Anthem in Gaelic (Irish)!

Bhutto taught by Irish Nuns!
Benazir Bhutto was educated by Irish nuns of the Jesus & Mary congregation. She attended their kindergartan in Karachi as a young child and later became a pupil at their primary school in Murre.
After completing her primary education, she attended the congregation's high school in Karachi where she completed her O levels before going to Harvard in the USA.
In 1993 when she was the country's Prime Minister, Benazir presented Sister Eugene Glass from Dublin, & former head mistress of the Karachi high school, with an award for her outstanding services to education in Pakistan.

‘Sons of St. Patrick’- Musharraf & Prime Minister Aziz!
Just as interesting is the fact that both the former President Pervez Musharraf & the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were pupils of St. Patrick’s High School. Belonging to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi it was founded by a Jesuit Rev. J.A. Willy in 1861. Though I have yet to verify it, the fact that he named the school “St. Patrick’s” after Ireland’s patron saint and its symbol is a Shamrock, gives me the impression that Willy was probably Irish.

Fomer Head of India’s largest political party -another ‘Son of St. Patrick’! 
Lal Krishna Advani, former Indian Deputy Prime Minister and  leader of the nationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), is also a former pupil of St. Patrick’s High School in Karachi!

Can you believe it!!

Irish Nuns educate Female Pakistani Leaders
A number of leading Pakistani women were taught at the prestigious Presentation Convent in Rawalpindi founded by an Irishwoman Sister Ignatius McDermot in 1895.
The current school principal is also Irish- Sister Julie Watson from Listowel in Co. Kerry.

Pakistan’s First Female Army General
Shahida Malik who became Pakistan’s first female general in 2002 is a former pupil.

Another former student is Nilofer Bahktiar who was forced to resign as Pakistan's former Tourism Minister after a Fatwa was issued against her by the controversial Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. The clerics demanded she be punished & sacked when photographs appeared of her receiving a congratulatory hug from a male colleague, after successfully landing from a charity parachute jump in France, which they condemned as was "an illegitimate and forbidden act
Her resignation was not accepted though by the Prime Minister.

Irishman Leads Army to Oust British from India
From the mid-18th century the British started to expand out of their small coastal trading ports to take over large Indian territories. One of the earliest attempts to stop them was led by Thomas Arthur Lally whose father Gerard came from Tuam in Co. Galway. As French Commander in Chief in India he was initially successful. But he was decisively defeated at the Battle of Wandiwash (1760) which solidified British interests in India.

…But Defeated by a British Army led by an Irishman!
Strangely enough the commander of the victorious British forces, Lieutenant Colonel Eyre Coote was also an Irishman (born in Limerick)! Like many prominent members of the British Imperial military establishment, Coote came from the Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning class who came over to Ireland as British colonists from the late 16th century onwards. Coote had the distinction of being captain of the 39th regiment when it became the first British regiment to be sent to India in 1754 (hence its motto ‘Primus in Indus’). This regiment was first raised in Ireland in 1689 to defend British interests.

Fiery Irish Women Lead Indian Independence Movement

India’s First Magistrate- Irishwoman Margaret Cousins
-famed Radical Feminist, Nationalist & Hunger Striker
India’s first woman magistrate was Margaret ‘Gretta’ Cousins (née Gillespie) from Boyle, Co. Roscommon.
She was a life-time campaigner for women’s rights as well as for Irish & Indian independence. Her militant activism led to her imprisonment in Ireland, Britain and India.
So, how many judges do you know that have been thrown into prison in 3 different countries for campaigning against unjust laws!
In Ireland & England she was jailed for stoning & causing riots at the seats of Imperial government power in Britain (10 Downing Street) & Ireland (Dublin Castle) as part of the suffragette campaign to give women the vote. She supported Irish Independence and distrusted the moderate nationalist Irish Home Rule Party because of its opposition to universal female suffrage

Not a women to sit idly by, Margaret founded the 'Indian Women's Association in 1914 within a year of emigrating with her husband to India. In 1922 she was appointed India’s first woman magistrate. In 1928 she founded the first 'All-India Women Conference' which is still active today with over 1.5million members and over 500 branches. While still a magistrate, Margaret was sentenced in December 1932 to one year in prison for protesting against the introduction of emergency legislation curtailing free speech in India. While in Vellore Women's Jail she went on hunger-strike in support of Mahatma Gandhi who had also being imprisoned.
After her release in October, 1933 Margaret continued to campaign for women's rights and in 1938 was elected President of the All-India Women's Conference.
In 1949, the Indian government financially compensated Margaret for her imprisonment and activism on behalf of the cause of Indian independence.

India’s First International Female Celebrity
Hindu Nun ‘Sister Nivedita’ (Nationalist & Women’s Rights Campaigner) was born ‘Margaret Elizabeth Noble’ in County Tyrone, Ireland!
Highly revered today in her adopted homeland, this charismatic lady changed her name from Margaret Noble to Sister Nivedita when she was initiated into Hindu monastic life in Bengal.
This Irish woman successfully took on the role of promoting a revival in ancient Indian art, literature, religion and culture in her new homeland. In Europe and America where she undertook lecture tours, she helped to dispel the notion of India as just being a place of poverty, superstition and backwardness and that it had rich and glorious culture that had been undermined by foreign conquest and domination. The fact that she was a strong-willed white European woman made her Western audiences more receptive to her message.
But her real benefit to India was in raising the morale of native women and teaching them of their importance in a new emerging free India.
When she meet her mentor Swami Vivekananda, Margaret Noble was already a well-known educationalist, public speaker, journalist and progressive political activist.
The Swami saw her destiny lay in empowering the women of India and said to her “India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations. Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination, and above all, the Celtic blood, make you just the woman India needs.”
It was for him her ‘Celtic Irishness’ that help mark her out as an instrument for liberation (we Irish have an ingrained rebellious streak!)
Though looked on as a saint by some, Nivedita also associated with more militant nationalist revolutionaries such as Aurobindo Ghose.

First Flag of India -Designed by an Irishwoman
Irishwoman Sister Nivedita designed the first Flag of India in 1904. It was a red flag with a yellow inset depicting a thunderbolt and a white lotus

Indian National Congress- Led by an Irishman!
The struggle for Indian self-determination has always been associated with the Indian National Congress (INC), the party of Gandhi, Nehru and Bose. Founded in 1885, it continued to be the primary political party once independence was achieved in 1947 and today forms the main bloc in India’s present government.
Yet nine years after its foundation, the Irish nationalist and MP (Westminster) for Waterford Alfred Webb became its President. A Quaker, Alfred was at the time of his election to the INC known as a committed anti-racist and anti-caste campaigner in Britain.

Close Bonds between Indian & Irish Nationalism
In fact Webb’s involvement with INC was not an aberration. For there was an understandable commonality between Ireland & India. Both countries had rich vibrant traditional cultures going back millennia who now found themselves occupied by the same Imperial power that treated subjugated races with a deep racial scorn and bigotry.
Many perceptive Irish nationalists saw the need to form alliances with other oppressed African & Asian peoples living under British colonial rule.
This was evident even before the birth of the INC.
The Irish Home Rule party at Westminster was a prime contributor to parliamentary debates on India. According to author Michael Silvestri, one of the Irish MPs F.H. O’Donnell set up a short lived ‘Home Rule for India’ movement in 1875 known as the Constitutional Society of India that consisted of Irish politicians and Indian students living in London. Silvestri even states that there was a failed attempt in 1883 to get Indian nationalist leader Dadabhai Naoroji to stand for Westminster parliament as an Irish Home Rule candidate. (He was though elected for the Liberal Party in Finsbury London at the 1892 election to become in the process Britain’s first Asian MP)

India First Independence Political Party modeled on Irish Republican Movement
The Indian National Congress(INC) was originally a debating society which met only once a year. The first full-time all-Indian political party All India Home Rule League was co-founded by Annie Besant (née Wood) in September 1916 modeled on Sinn Féin and the demands of the Irish armed rebels of the unsuccessful Easter Rising of earlier that year. It established local branches across the country which organised political demonstrations and meetings. Annie’s clarion call of ‘England’s Need is India’s Opportunity’ echoed the Irish revolutionary ‘England’s Difficulty is Ireland’s Opportunity’ as both tried to take advantage of Britain’s war (WW1) with Germany and its allies. Though born in England Annie came from an Irish family (mother Irish & father half-Irish), was extremely proud of her Irish roots and was an avid supporter of Irish self-rule all her life. When she emigrated to India, she continued her active opposition to Imperial domination and women’s rights.
Interned by the British in 1917, Annie’s ceaseless demands for self-rule led to the unification of Muslims and Hindus into one political independence party. A nationwide popular campaign led to her release and she was elected INC President (the second ‘Irish’ person to be given such an honour) which she transformed into a proper political movement.

“Had it not been for her and her enthusiasm, one could not have seen Mr. Gandhi leading the cause of Indian freedom today. It was Mrs. Besant who laid the foundation of modern India – Dr. Besant was a combination of Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.”
Dr. Raj Kumar (Indian National Congress website)

De Valera –Hero to Indian nationalists
The Irish War of Independence inspired leaders of subjugated peoples across Asia and Africa. Eamon De Valera, Michael Collins and Dan Breen became international heroes for decades to come, admired and imitiated.
During DeValera’s 1919/1920 tour to the USA to gain support for the Irish rebellion, he addressed the Friends of Freedom in India in New York and talked of solidarity between occupied nations: “We of Ireland and you of India must each of us endeavour, both as separate peoples and in combination to rid ourselves of the vampire that is fattening on our blood and we must never allow ourselves to forget what weapon it was by which (George) Washington rid his country of the same vampire. Our cause is a common cause.”
De Valera quickly became a hero to many Indian nationalists and his words were used time and time again in their writings and speeches. However it has to be said that Gandhi himself had little time for the physical force methods of Sinn Féin and the IRA (unlike Subhas Chandra Bose and others who we will read about in the next episode).

New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Become Platform for Free India!
Since the 19th century New York has hosted the largest St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) Parade in the world (in fact this celebration of Irishness orginated there in the 18th century). It has traditionally being used as a political expression of Irish nationhood.
As DeValera watched from the review stand, the 1920 Parade was transformed into a mass demonstration for Indian as well as Irish independence. Indian republicans carried large banners emblazoned with messages such as
'Up the Republic of India'
'315,000,000 of India with Ireland to the Last'
'President De Valera's Message to India: Our cause is a common caus
Indians also participated in other Irish freedom marches in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the United States.

But cooperation between American Indian and Irish republicans went back to the pre-WW1 period. By 1915, prominent Irish-Americans were actively involved in a failed German-Indian attempt to smuggle American weapons to India for use against the British. The main protagonist in this plot was the Indian revolutionary ‘Ghadar’ (rebellion) Party founded in 1913 and headquartered at San Francisco. The founder Lala Har Dayal had close friendships with many in the Irish and Irish-American community.

‘Hindu Sinn Féiners’
Just how much Indian and Irish nationalists in the United States already saw themselves in a common struggle against British Rule can be seen in a Ghadar article written by Ram Chandra in 1916 “…India has her Sinn Feiners. . . . the Hindu Sinn Feiners today are as influential as the Irish were in the days of Robert Emmett…”

Was the Indian Flag Inspired by the Irish Tricolour?

It was in 1921 that Gandhi and designer Pingali Venkayya created a tricolour of green, white and red as the flag of India.
It was remarked at the time that it bore a strong resemblance to the ‘Irish Flag’ and the symbol then most associated with resistance to British colonial rule.
But it was not the first time that a tricolour flag appeared in the hands of an Indian nationalist. In July 1919 De Valera visited the Indian Ghadar HQ in San Francisco. He was presented with a Green-White-Orange(saffron) tricolour by Gopal Singh one of the convicted Indo-Irish-German (1915) conspirators who had been released from prison. It was in 1931 that these 3 same colours formed the official flag of India.

* Check out the Second Installment of the
The Irish Contribution to India & Pakistan *
here. Topics include- The Irish Raj-the 'gaelic-speaking' British Army in India led by Irish Generals; 'Kim'; IRA assassination of India's last Viceroy; Chandra Bose's visit to Ireland...Don't Forget to also read the previous article in this series entitled
'What did the Irish Ever do for Us? Part 1 - Austria'


Sanket said...

Great post. The literary influence of Yeats on Tagore and vice-versa is also pertinent.

Speedie's Blog said...

Thanks for that information Sanket! It is one that I was not aware of.
I will add it to my second episode in the India/Pakistan-Irish series

Anonymous said...

I hope you will discuss Bose's close ties with Ireland, both political and ideological... DeValera and Bose had great mutual regard and DeValera proclaimed his support for Bose's Azad Hind Government....

Speedie's Blog said...

Don't worry Chandrachur, I will do so in my next post in this series.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brendan,

Thanks for this immensely informative post. With present days hectic life, mostly we lost our sense of shared history and culture.I will be eagerly waiting for your second post.


KVR said...

Immensely informative and revealing too. Hmm - that one about all the leaders and epitome of Hinduism and Islam studying in catholic schools should leave some red faces!!! Did someone say that politics is the refuge of scoundrels? :))

Anonymous said...

Just been to Boyle and delighted to see a commemorative plaque on the wall of the house margaret cousins nee gillespie was born in

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe but, I read somewhere that people of northern India migrated towards Europe, several thousands of years ago, populating that region. Irish may be descendents of Indians. Even now you can see similarities in some Irish names & music.
First large scale universities of the world were in India. The greatness of India started to decline about 800-1000 years ago, when Muslims started to invade it. There after British ran it down from one of the wealthiest nations to a poor one. Now Hindu majority is back in drivers seat, once again India is on the rise. Ireland too was in the grips of English for a long time.

steven said...

very intresting info ... thanks

OR Melling said...

Fascinating post, thank you. The brother of Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghose, revolutionary turned guru)was great friends with Oscar Wilde. That was during the time the two Ghose brothers were being educated in London and Oxford. There's also a much older linguistic link between India and Ireland, i.e. Old Irish and Sanskrit share key words such as rí for "king", part of the Indo-European connection mentioned above.

Speedie's Blog said...

Thanks for that comment Mr. Melling.
Your point of linguistic connections between Sanskrit & Irish is valid. Actually I came across words in Kurdish, Arabic and Persian that have similar meanings in the Celtic languages

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Anonymous said...

preI am Indian and lived in Cork for a few years, I understood that there were a few similarities but this article is a real eye opener. All of this is really good to know.

Interestingly o'briens sandwich bars that had opened in India few years ago have all closed down.

-F F

davidos-thelastingfragrance said...

Just had a quick scan of this, looking on the net for Irish Indian connections for my own research, What a goldmine! thank you.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention Jennifer Musa who became a Member of Parliament in Pakistan and whose son became, inter alia , Pakistani Ambassador to the UN.

Majorsri said...

thanks a ton sir, It was really helpful. and now to take this association even further i think irish people can even think of coming down to india and may be, just may be look into the option of tying the knot with us indians.. what say!!

Unknown said...

Thank you for mentioning Jennifer Musa. She is my grand aunt. My grandmother was her sister & I'm very proud of Jennifer (Bridie). My gran was also an amazing woman, her husband died when she was young too.

Unknown said...

Thank you for mentioning Jennifer (Bridie). She was my grand aunt, my Grandmother's sister. I am very proud of her. My Gran was a very inspirational woman too. She lost her husband at a young age aswell & was every bit as strong willed as Jennifer!

Anonymous said...

From Wikpedia

On 28 June 1920, five men from C Company of the 1st Battalion at Wellington Barracks, Jalandhar, Punjab decided to protest against the effects of martial law in Ireland by refusing to soldier. They were soon joined in their protest by other Rangers (the protesters included at least one Englishman, John Miranda, from Liverpool)[9] declaring they would not return to duty until British forces left Ireland. Led by Private James Daly (whose brother William took part in the protest at Jalandhar), the protest spread to the Connaught Ranger company at Solon however the Connaught Ranger company at Jutogh hill-station remained loyal to the British crown. A party of men led by Daly made an attempt to recover their arms, storming the armoury. The loyal British guard successfully defended it, and two of Daly's party, Privates Patrick Smythe and Peter Sears, were killed in the firefight.
Within days, both garrisons were occupied by loyal British troops; Daly and his followers surrendered and were taken prisoner. Eighty-eight mutineers were court martialed: nineteen men were sentenced to death (eighteen later had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment), 59 were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, and ten were acquitted. The 21-year-old Daly was shot by a firing squad in Dagshai Prison on 2 November 1920. He was the last member of the British Armed Forces to be executed for mutiny. Pte Sears and Pte Smyth were buried at Solan, while Daly and Miranda (who later died in prison) were buried at the Dagshai graveyard until 1970 (see below). Among those who received life in prison were Val Delaney, J.J. Buckley, and Eugene Egan all from Claremorris, Ireland.[10]

Shivangi said...

Thank you for sharing this. May we always remember the past and be grateful to those who changed the course of history.

Oxford College Faisalabad said...

Very nice sharing, keep it up sir.

Geraldine O'CALLAGHAN said...

Hi Brendan,
How do I get in touch with you. I'm producing a documentary about Ireland - India

Anonymous said...

It is really a good info

Anonymous said...

Good post.

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Anonymous said...


I am originally not too far from the original Khyber pass in KPK, Pakistan. I went to an Irish convent (Presentation Convent High School in Risalpur). Came to Ireland, studied at TCD. And spent over 12 wonderful years in Dublin and the west of Ireland.