The Connaught Rangers (‘The Devil’s Own’) was an Irish regiment of the British Army originally raised in 1793 as the 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers), which gained a reputation both for indiscipline and for its prowess as shock troops and street fighters with the bayonet while serving under the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War in Spain.
It was one of eight Irish regiments raised largely in Ireland, with its home depot in Galway. Militarily, the whole of Ireland was administered as a separate command within the United Kingdom with Command Headquarters at Parkgate (Phoenix Park) in Dublin, directly under the War Office in London. The regiment recruited mainly in the province of Connacht.
On 28 June 1920, a company of the Connaught Rangers stationed at Jullundur on the plains of the Punjab refused to perform their military duties as a protest against 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 Féin’ rosettes on their British Army uniforms and sang rebel songs.
The protests were initially peaceful, but on the evening of 1 July around 30 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 Joseph 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.
By the 1960s, the surviving Connaught Rangers, joined by republican organisations such as the National Graves Association, called for Daly’s final resting place to be moved from beside ‘the Ganges’ dark waters’ to Ireland. The return of the bodies of the Irish revolutionaries buried abroad was seen as a national imperative. As the Irish Press put it in 1954, ‘A nation possesses in the graves of its dead an assurance of its own permanence’. The return of several Irish revolutionaries buried in England, notably Sir Roger Casement, whose remains were re-interred in Glasnevin Cemetery in 1965, further spurred calls for the return of what one newspaper called ‘Ireland’s Loneliest Martyr’ from his grave in Dagshai. When Daly’s remains were returned to Ireland in 1970, along with those of the two other Connaught Rangers who had been killed at Solon, his sacrifice became connected with contemporary politics: the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
A crowd of more than 6,000 attended the return of Daly’s body to Tyrrellspass in October 1970. The ceremonies, held shortly before the 50th anniversary of his execution, elevated Daly to an equal of the greatest heroes of the republican movement. The Irish flag that draped Daly’s coffin had previously lain on the coffin of Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in October 1920. In a speech at Daly’s graveside, Old IRA representative Thomas Malone identified Daly’s sacrifice with the republican goal of a 32-county republic:
‘It was in the words of Pearse who said the seeds sown by our martyrs of all generations fructify in the hearts of future generations… The purpose for which James Daly died had not yet been achieved and much still remained to be done before the republic of Pearse, Tone, Connolly and James Daly was achieved.’
Masked members of the IRA later fired a volley in the presence of members of Daly’s family.