Many similarities between Ireland’s troubled history and brutal British Empire

Posted By: May 04, 2019

Letter to Editor. Irish News. Belfast. Friday, May 3, 2019
Frank Glynn.Cricklewood, London

Punjabi communities in India and throughout the world have been commemorating the unjustified massacre of between 500 and 900 innocent men, women and children on the 13th of April 1919 by the colonial power better known as the British Empire. The people of Amritsar and its surrounding villages had gathered in defiance of the British who had imposed martial law. This gathering coincided with a religious and cultural festival called ‘Baisakhi’ and a large number of pilgrims were present. The empire’s lieutenant governor of the Punjab region was Sir Michael Francis O’Dwyer who hailed from Barronstown, Co Tipperary.

When O’Dwyer was informed that his orders of not to congregate were being ignored, he ordered troops under the command of brigadier general Reginald Dyer to Amritsar. Dyer, who also had Irish connections, was educated at Middleton College, Co Cork 1875-1881 before completing his education at Sandhurst.

The innocent victims had gathered in a walled garden of around six acres, known as the ‘Jallianwala Bagh’. Dyer and his regiment arrived unexpectedly, blocked all the small entry points with their vehicles, then assembled at the large main gate. Dyer gave orders to fire at chest height and to continue until all their ammunition was spent. A total of 1,650 rounds were fired, there was mass panic and many children were trampled on, the final death count was somewhere between 500 to 900 victims. Dyer continued to surround the garden and prevented the injured from getting help. Afterward, Dyer boosted that barely a bullet was wasted.

News of Dyer’s barbarism was suppressed by the British for six months. The Hunter Commission found him guilty of grave error and he was relieved of his command and censured by the House of Commons, but promptly exonerated by the House of Lords, some describing him as the man who saved India. Returning to London in 1920 he suffered bad health and after several strokes died in 1927. Better known as ‘the butcher of Amritsar’, Dyer, in 1886 had seen action in Belfast where he was sent by the army to batter rioting nationalists.

Dyer’s superior, the hated Sir Michael Francis O’Dwyer was also relieved of his position and retired to London in 1920, where he enjoyed all the trimmings of the empire’s ill-gotten gains.

Udham Singh, a young man who had survived the massacre held O’Dwyer responsible for this heinous act. He swore that one day he would avenge the slaughter of Amritsar.

On March 13, 1940, Singh caught up with O’Dwyer at a colonial event held in Caxton Hall, Westminster and killed him. Udham Singh, the hero of Punjab, was hanged at Pentonville Prison on July 31, 1940.

So many similarities to Ireland’s troubled history with the brutal British Empire.