Sunday Business Post

**Read this closely

...but was he an Irish patriot?

15/08/04 00:00
By Tom McGurk

Even by the standards of the new rapprochement that Ireland and Britain enjoy since the Good Friday Agreement, it is difficult to understand the bizarre ceremony that occurred last week in a Mayo churchyard.

It was a military commemoration attended by Michael Smith, the Minister for Defence, plus the Irish Army, plus the British Ambassador and the Connaught Ranger re-enactors, to honour Sergeant-Major Cornelius Coughlan VC.

Coughlan was awarded the VC in 1857, when in the Indian Army (the British Army in India), for leading a rescue operation under heavy fire to rescue a colleague who was badly wounded.

This event occurred during the Indian Mutiny, when the majority section of the Indian Army, who were Indians, rebelled against the colonial power.

The schoolbooks tell us that a rumour spread among the Muslim troops in the Indian Army that animal fats were being used for the lubrication of their new cartridges. In reality, this rumour was the last in a long litany of grievances the native Indian troops had in relation to their conditions, promotions, pay and so forth.

Within weeks, large sections of the Indian Army had mutinied, and the minority portion, which was recruited from Britain and Ireland, was sent in to restore the Pax Britannia.

Perhaps a better understanding of what actually happened may be gleaned from the fact that the Indian history books refer to this period not as the `mutiny', but as `the first struggle for independence'.

By any standards, the methods by which Sergeant-Major Coughlan's comrades dealt with the Indian mutiny would, I think, deserve comparison with the Third Reich's Waffen SS.

A few historical cameos might illustrate. A mass meeting of thousands at the Crystal Palace in London in 1856 led by Anglican clergy set the tone for what was to follow.

The preacher on the day, Charles Spurgeon, said: ``The Indian government never ought to tolerate the religion of the Hindus at all. If my religion consisted of bestiality, infanticide and murder, I should have no religion unless I was prepared to be hanged.''

Next day the Times took up the hanging cry, and thundered: ``Every Tree and Gable End in the place should have its burden in the shape of a mutineer's carcass.''

The Indian Army took note. At one stage it was recorded that the last 15 miles on the road to Peshawar had thousands of carcasses hanging from the trees.

One lieutenant, Kendall Coughil, wrote in his diary: ``We burnt every village and hanged all the villagers who had treated our fugitives badly, until every tree was covered with scoundrels hanging from every branch.''

In the centre of Cawnpore, Brigadier General Neil forced captured mutineers to crawl on the streets and lick the blood of their white victims, before he executed them. At Peshawar groups of 40 at a time were strapped to the barrels of cannon and then blown apart, in the traditional punishment for mutiny.

In the wake of the relief of the besieged Lucknow it was recorded that a young boy supporting a tottering old man begged one British senior officer for help. The officer fired three times at the boy's head - each time the cap refusing to explode - until finally on the fourth occasion he managed to blow the child's head off.

History records how, all across India, in the very same year and month that Sergeant-Major Coughlan VC was earning his medal, unknown hundreds of thousands of Indians of all ages and religions and both sexes were mass-murdered.

Such savagery was perhaps not shown until 50 years later in 1919 at Amritsar, when (again thanks to the Indian Army) an unarmed crowd of 20,000 protestors were herded into an enclosed area and machine-gunned until 400 were dead and 1,400 wounded.

By any standards the methods used by the Indian Army in maintaining imperial control in India rivalled those of the Third Reich in occupied Europe during World War II.

Behind all the clowning in the cemetery in Mayo lurks the awful truth that Sergeant-Major Coughlan belonged to a military force that was prepared to perpetrate genocidal war crimes when called upon.

Whether Coughlan himself was a war criminal we don't know. We only know that, perhaps fortunately for him, the facts of history have closed over his personal deeds and left the VC version to elevate him into the `gallant soldier' whom our government, on our behalf, honoured last week.

And it seems that Sergeant-Major Coughlan was not alone. He was only one of the new gallant Irish heroes that we have now discovered.

According to the twaddle that Minister Smith spoke at the graveside: ``In fairness to Coughlan and the 60 other brave Irishmen who were awarded the VC during the military campaign that followed the Indian Mutiny, we should consider his actions in the light of the time in which he was living, rather than seek to judge him through the steely eye of complacent retrospection.''

I would hate to be complacent, but where else, and to what other gallant Irish soldiers of the Empire, might Minister Smith next take us?

It seems that we are about to embark on an imperial journey to select out of the genocide and mass murderers those gallant Irish heroes - because, as Minister Smith reminded us, ``Coughlan is every bit as much an Irishman as Lance-Corporal Malone [who died in Iraq], and those who fought for Ireland's independence, and those who fought against each other in our country's civil war.''

You think, dear reader, I'm making this stuff up; I'm not. So there you are. Shall we call it the Blue Peter - or is it the Green Paddy? - theory of history as expounded by Minister Smith?

Apparently, it doesn't matter what they did, or what they fought for; they're all equal because they were Irish. I wonder has Minister Smith taken his new theory off in search of new business?

Perhaps he might drop around to the German or Japanese ambassadors in Dublin, who might well have need of his extraordinary new commemoration caper.

It seems that a former Irish captain, Donald Buckley, lobbied for this bizarre commemoration and, of course, the entire pantomime, including Connaught Rangers re-enactors, complete with Connaught Ranger uniforms and muskets, was presided over by the British Ambassador, Stewart Eldon.

I gather, however, that the Connaught Ranger re-enactors are very selective with their re-enactments - though I'll bet they and Minister Smith could flog lots of tickets were they to try out Peshawar or Amritsar re-enactments.

Perhaps, in the spirit of the new times we live in, Minister Smith would ask the Indian Embassy to supply some Re-Enactment Mass Murdered? Wouldn't it be great gas all the same? Think of the tourists, the television rights, etc!

Have we just become gobs****s now, or were we always gobs****s?

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?