Servants of the empire

The Irish in Punjab, 1881–1921

The British empire was actually an amalgam of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English empires. Punjab, 'the pride of British India', attracted the cream of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), many of the most influential of whom were Irish. Some of these men, along with Irish viceroys, were inspired by their Irish backgrounds to ensure security of tenure for the Punjabi peasant, besides developing vast irrigation schemes which resulted in the province becoming India's most affluent. This book aims to ascertain whether backgrounds of Irish public servants in Punjab, and that of Irish viceroys in dealing with Punjab affairs, engendered attitudes which were so different. The nub of the matter is whether an Irish background influenced public servants in their duties, whether or not they thought themselves primarily as British or Irish. The first part of the book deals with three Indian public services: the ICS, the Indian Medical Service (IMS) and the Indian Public Works Department (PWD). The social, religious, ethnic and educational backgrounds of Irish recruits these services and the reasons behind the remarkable increase in Irish recruitment are then discussed. British and Irish public servants influenced domestic Indian politics, especially in the admission of Indians to the very services dominated by the British. Perhaps the long-term but impermanent commitment of Irish people to the furtherance of British colonial aims merits a more apt designation, one perhaps less pejorative than 'collaborator'. Twentieth-century contemporaries made connections between north-west India and Northern Ireland by dubbing Punjab the 'Ulster of India'.

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