Ireland and India

By Michael Holmes

Rating: 4 stars

This book was a bit of an accidental discovery. I was on an adult education day course and talking to the lecturer during the break. He was Irish and I told him about my own Irish-Indian heritage, which reminded him that he had contributed to this book looking at connections and comparisons between Ireland and India. I was obviously intrigued and found a copy (say what you will about Amazon, between their own catalogue and their marketplace, there are few books that are impossible to find). I was a bit wary, since it’s obviously an academic tome and I’m not always great at reading that sort of work, but since I had some time over Christmas, I sat down and started reading.

The book is split into rough sections, the first looking at historical connections and later sections looking at more contemporary issues, whether that be political, economic or international and diplomatic.

The first few chapters, the more historically inclined, were amongst the easiest to read for me and it was interesting to read about Irish soldiers and their impact in India from the beginning of the East India Company right up to Indian independence. The elite political connections and the comparison of women in both independence movements and their status in both countries since were also interesting.

It was also interesting to read about the differences in both states. Obviously Ireland and India are very different in terms of size, population and economy but looking at how the two countries dealt with the trade union movement was interesting (in India, there isn’t a single overarching trade union federation (like the TUC) but almost one per party, and this fragmentation and political alignment has led to a weakening of the movement as a whole, unlike Ireland where a a single federation and things like national bargaining have led to stronger unions.

I thought that the chapter on Irish missionaries in India was probably the weakest. The author had some letters I didn’t recognise after her name and when I googled it, it looks like she was a member of a missionary order herself. This obviously gives her a particular bias and there was no mention of any negatives of missionary work in India, which I felt was a flaw (but then I’m an atheist, so I bring my own baggage as a reader)

The chapter I enjoyed the most was the one on the settlement of Indians in Ireland (a subject obviously very close to my heart) and one of the references actually led me to a whole book about Indians in Ireland and the Irish in India (The Irish Raj) which I intend to follow up on.

The chapter on women’s rights focused entirely on India. There’s no doubting the scale of the challenges there, but it would have been nice to mention some of the issues surrounding women’s rights in Ireland as well, particularly in terms of the woman’s right to choose.

The last couple of chapters were devoted international and diplomatic affairs, looking at how the two countries’ different foreign policies developed and comparing the Irish policy of neutrality with Indian non-alignment and also looking at missed opportunities for strengthening the connections between the two countries, as despite a shared history under the British empire and similar struggles for independence, bonds between Ireland and India are relatively weak. The book ends by looking at potential ways for these ties to be strengthened, as both countries have moved away from earlier policies of protectionism to more liberal economies and are more involved with international trade (although regional organisations tend to be the focus of that).

All in all, the book was really interesting, only falling occasionally into the dryness that makes some academic text almost unreadable. I would dearly love to see an updated edition, as this one is now 20 years old, and a lot has happened in both Ireland and India in that time.

Book details

ISBN: 9780861219384
Publisher: Folens
Year of publication: 1997

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