The Life of the Irish Soldier in India: Representations and Self-Representations, 1857-1922

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The Irish in India present an interesting case. Arguably a colonized people, the colonies of the British Empire ironically afforded them employment and profit on a large scale. Although studies have been made of Irish administrators, it was Irish soldiers that were most numerous and it is the ‘stereotyped’ Irish soldier who represents his nation in depictions of the colonial military. This paper first summarizes the Irish military involvement in India. The reasons why men joined the army in large numbers and, in particular, why they sought service in India, are explored. The regimental culture into which they were absorbed is also examined. The representation of Irish soldiers in officers’ writings, both in fiction and popular media, is then discussed. The various aspects of the stereotype surrounding them are delineated, and the purposes of the colonial state served by their stereotypical representation are explained. Lastly, the reactions of Irish soldiers to their stereotype label are discussed. There were advantages to be gained from acting up to it, but it is argued also that soldiers found ways of rejecting bad or rebellious aspects of the stereotype and, by drawing on the ‘good’ or loyal aspects, helping to establish their own identity. Hence they manage to sustain and reconcile multiple national affiliations. Ultimately, however, the politics of Irish independence precipitates a crisis of identity which makes their position impossible. The paper concludes by considering the lives and memories of veterans of Indian service, and hence the afterlife of the Irish military identity beyond Irish independence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)769-813
Number of pages44
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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