Library Exhibition on the Irish in India, ‘Nabobs, Soldiers & Imperial Service: the Irish in India’

Posted on: 01 June 2010

An exhibition on the Irish presence in India, ‘Nabobs, Soldiers & Imperial Service: the Irish in India’ was opened in the Long Room, Trinity College Library on  May 27th last,  by his Excellency P.S. Raghavan, Ambassador of India to Ireland.

The Irish have a long-standing connection with India as part of the British presence there, living and working in the subcontinent as soldiers, administrators and missionaries. Most supported the British regime; a few strove to undermine it. These links are explained in the exhibition by looking at various aspects of the Irish presence in India up to 1947.

On the occasion of the opening, the Ambassador of India to Ireland said the exhibition showcased some of the historical connections between Trinity College and India and illustrated the extraordinary links the two countries developed over the centuries.

“The exhibition serves the important purpose of raising awareness of India in Ireland and I hope it can travel to India, so that it can help to raise awareness of Ireland in India”, said the Ambassador. “It is by bridging the awareness gap that the two countries can better exploit the potential for closer cooperation in today’s circumstances”.

“We need to build on these traditional bonds to grasp new opportunities for cooperation. Education, in particular, is one area in which there are opportunities.”

The exhibition  details the links between Trinity, Ireland, Britain and Europe with India, concentrating on the wealth of printed books and other related material from the 19th and early 20th century that is held in the Library. Themes covered include the East India Company; trade and territorial expansion; the Indian Mutiny; Christian missionaries, including the Dublin University mission; the Indian Civil Service; big game hunting; and the road to Independence.

Military and political history is reflected in R. Orme, A history of the military transactions of the British nation in Hindoostan, London, 1778, with a plan of the siege of Fort St. George at Madras by French forces under Franco-Irish general Thomas Lally. The French threat was ended with the defeat of Lally’s forces by a British army commanded by Co. Limerick-born Sir Eyre Coote.

Irishmen such as Dublin-born John Nicholson and the brothers Henry and John Lawrence were important figures in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The events of the mutiny were graphically portrayed for British readers in the Illustrated London News.

The road to independence is shown in reports of the Indian National Congress, in Annie Besant, India: a nation, London, 1916 and A searchlight on Gandhi, London, 1931. An item of Irish interest is Éamon De Valera, India and Ireland, New York, 1920.

The important contributions of two Trinity graduates are Sir George Abraham Grierson, Bihar peasant life, Calcutta, 1885, a linguistic exploration of that province and a precursor of the massive Linguistic survey of India which he worked on from 1898 to 1928, and Whitley Stokes, Anglo-Indian codes, Oxford, 1887-1891, a hugely impressive codification of laws.

There are also letters from Irish people stationed in India, describing their personal circumstance.

As no exhibition on the British occupation of India would be complete without the caustic view of Rudyard Kipling, the second edition of his early work Departmental Ditties, Calcutta, 1886.

Finally a few sporting memoirs are contained in the beautifully illustrated Tiger-shooting in India, London, 1857, by William Rice and the slightly self-mocking recounting of pig-sticking in the Records of the Meerut Tent Club, Bombay, 1911.

It is hoped that the exhibition will both entertain and stimulate investigation of Ireland’s links with India.

Trinity College Dublin is rapidly expanding its South Asia Studies programmes aimed at developing research in Ireland into the history, literature and culture of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Trinity College Library is keen to strengthen its research holdings and would like to add further materials such as correspondence or family records. College Librarian, Robin Adams explained: “The variety and richness of the items in the exhibition demonstrate the close link between Ireland and India over the past two centuries and we would be delighted to hear from anyone whose family records reveal connections with India, such as those who had relatives working in the Civil Service.”

The exhibition will run until October 23rd next.