Most people are familiar with the notorious Indian army rebellion of 1857 – less well known is a more recent mutiny, this one by Irish soldiers, members of the Connaught Rangers regiment, in India in 1920.
It began in June of that year in Jullundur barracks in the Punjab when a number of Irish soldiers refused to perform their duties while Ireland was governed by martial law and subject to the ravages of the Black and Tans. The soldiers had been getting reports of atrocities being committed by this new RIC force, largely recruited, ironically, from demobilized Great War veterans like the many of the Rangers themselves.
The mutiny quickly spread to other Rangers’ units. The protest escalated when a number of soldiers, led by James Daly, whose brother William was also a Connaught Ranger, stormed the armoury in their barracks at Solan near the Tibetan border. The attempt to seize the weaponry failed, and two of the mutineers, Patrick Smyth from Drogheda and Peter Sears from Mayo, were killed.
In a highly symbolic gesture, on 28 June the union jack was lowered in the garrison at Jullundur and replaced by the tricolor. The rebellion, however, only lasted three days before the mutineers were outnumbered and overpowered. Eighty-eight of those who surrendered were court-martialled. Nineteen were sentenced to death, but only James Daly actually faced a firing squad. The lessons of the 1916 rising had been well learned. The 21 year old from Tyrellspass, Co.Westmeath was the last British solider to be executed for mutiny.
In 1922, after the creation of the Irish Free State the Connaught Rangers regiment, whose origins went back to 1793, was disbanded. The imprisoned mutineers were amnestied. Many of the regiment’s former members went on to join the Free State Army.
In the 1936 the government of Eamon de Valera offered pensions to the surviving mutineers, thus equating them with soldiers of the War of Independence.
On the 50th anniversary of the mutiny, in 1970 the bodies of Daly, Smyth and Sears were repatriated to Ireland and a memorial to the mutineers was erected in Glasnevin cemetery. A stained glass window in Galway cathedral also commemorates the event.
Private James Daly, mutineer and Connaught Ranger, was executed by firing squad 93 years ago, on this day.