Connaught Rangers Mutiny: James Joseph Daly (1899-1920)

The Connaught Rangers (nicknamed ‘The Devil’s Own’) enjoyed a distinguished history as a British Army regiment from their formation in 1793 until their disbandment in 1922. The Connaughts served the British Empire in places ranging from the Caribbean to Africa to India.  Yet, for many Irish people, the Connaught Rangers’ greatest feat was not the battle honours they won for queen and empire but a protest they staged in India in the summer of 1920.  It was provoked by news and other reports reaching India about the effects of martial law in Ireland with reprisals by the British Army and the ‘Black and Tan’ police units.  The latter composed of former British army soldiers recruited in England arrived in Ireland in 1920 to reinforce the Royal Irish Constabulary, and were notorious for their vicious acts and the terrorising tactics of  local communities and innocent Irish citizens.
The protest has been the subject of books, radio and television programmes, plays and ballads, and the mutineers have been commemorated as Irish republican heroes.  Its ringleader was James Joseph Daly. He was born in County Galway and grew up in Tyrrellspass, Co. Westmeath, in a family with a tradition of service to the British Empire. His father and three elder brothers served in the British Army during the First World War, and the sixteen year old James briefly served in the Royal Munster Fusiliers during the war as well. In 1919 he enlisted in the Connaught Rangers; he had a reputation among his fellow soldiers of possessing not only a strong and somewhat hot headed personality but also strong republican sympathies.
In a final letter to his mother the night before his execution on 2 November 1920, he wrote: ‘it is all for Ireland and I am not afraid to die’; but he also stated ‘I wish to the Lord that I had not started on getting into this trouble at all’. He was the last man to have been executed in peace or war for a military offence.
Connaught Rangers
A Memorial in Ireland’s necropolis, Glasnevin Cemetery, was erected in 1949. The monument has an inscription ‘Mutiny in India 1920 lst Connaught Rangers Dedicated to members of the battalion who gave their lives during the mutiny and subsequently for Irish freedom’.  James Joseph Daly Executed is one of fifteen inscribed names, two shot during the mutiny, one died in prison and eleven died after release.  Among the large number of departmental records made available to researchers in recent years one was a bulky file from 1968 containing correspondence relating to the repatriation of the remains of the Connaught Rangers mutineers who had died in India in 1920.                       
It was one of eight Irish regiments raised largely in Ireland with its home depot at Renmore Barracks in Galway. It recruited mainly in the western province of Connacht. The history of the regiment and mutiny in 1920 is extensively documented, commented and still debated by historians and others. One of the most notable images is the Listed for the Connaught Rangers painted by Lady Elizabeth Butler (1846-1933) which depicts a recruiting sergeant escorting recruits to the depot against the background of a ruggedly local landscape. Its last recruit took place on 15 December 1921.   The regiment’s Latin motto was Quis Separabit (Who will separate us).
The regiment developed a reputation for both ferocity and indiscipline; it being documented that ‘drink was the besetting sin of the Connaught men’. Racial prejudice was still widespread in the early twentieth century, not least among the Connaught Rangers.  Frank Richards, who served in India with the Second Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers from 1902 to 1909 wrote ‘they had a reputation second to none for the way they handled the natives.’ The Rangers believed strongly ‘that what had been conquered by the sword must be kept by the sword; but not being issued with swords they used their boots and fists to such purpose that they were more than respected and feared by the  natives than any other British unit in India.
The regiment engaged in campaigns and battles in many countries. Some 2,500 men were killed in WWI. Their graves lie in Grangegorman Military Cemetery, Dublin, and in France, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Palestine, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel and England. In 1966 a stained glass memorial window to the Connaught Rangers was included in the new Galway Cathedral.
Rangers’ Mutiny
On 28 June 1920, a company of the Connaught Rangers stationed at Jullundur on the plains of the Punjab refused to perform the activities of the British Army in Ireland. On the following day, the mutineers sent two emissaries to a company of Connaught Rangers stationed at Solon, about twenty miles away in the foothills of the Himalayas. The soldiers there took up the protest as well and, like their counterparts at Jullundur, flew the tricolour of Ireland, wore ‘Sinn Fein’ rosettes on their British Army uniforms and sang rebel songs.
The protests were initially peaceful, but on the evening of l July around thirty members of the company at Solon, armed with bayonets, attempted to recapture their rifles from the company magazine. The soldiers on guard opened fire, killing two men and wounding another. The incident effectively brought the mutiny to an end, and the mutineers at both Jullundur and Solon were placed under armed guard. Sixty-one men were convicted for their role in the mutiny. Fourteen were sentenced to death by firing squad, but the only soldier whose capital sentence was carried out was Private James Daly.  Daly was considered the leader of the mutiny at Solon and the man responsible for the failed attack on the magazine. On the morning of 2 November 1920 he was executed in Dagshai prison in northern India.
With the exception of one man (who died in prison at Dagshai), by the middle of the following year all of the convicted mutineers had been transferred to prisons in England to serve out the remainder of their sentences. The Connaught Rangers, along with three other Irish regiments, were disbanded in June 1922.
Following negotiations between the Irish Free State and the British government, the mutineers were released from prison and returned to Ireland early in 1923. Although in many cases they received rapturous welcomes in their home town, they quickly vanished from the public eye.  Some enlisted in the National Army, others joined the newly established Garda Siochana, many struggled to make a life in post-independence Ireland.
Indo-Irish nationalist solidarity?
Indo-Irish nationalist solidarity was well developed by the time of the Connaught Rangers mutiny. In February 1920, four months prior to the mutiny, Eamon de Valera (1882-1975) spoke to a packed house of hundreds of Irish and Indian nationalist supporters in New York City. ‘Patriots of India’, de Valera declared, ‘your cause is identical to ours.
A few weeks earlier, in San Francisco, he had been presented with an Irish tricolour and a ceremonial Sikh sword by representatives of the Indian Gadhar (revolutionary) Party. In spite of this anti-imperial affinity, however, the Connaught Rangers made no effort to forge a common cause with Indian nationalists. Indeed, as soldiers of the British Empire, they feared not only retaliation from the British Army but also the prospect of a ‘native’ revolt if news of their protest leaked out to the surrounding population of Punjab.
In 1959 Eamon De Valera was inaugurated as the third President of the Republic of Ireland.
Ita Marguet, March 2016
Note:  Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in this text. It is drawn principally from History Ireland July/August 2010. It is prepared to mark the centenary year (1916-2016) commemorations in Ireland of the ‘Easter Uprising’ and Ireland’s independence.  It follows a previous text Ireland and India: Making History (2010) relating to an exhibition The Irish in India: Nabobs, Soldiers and Imperial Service (28 May – 3 October 2010), The Long Room, Trinity College Library Dublin.