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Response to Review of Ireland and India: Nationalism, Empire and Memory

First, my thanks to James Lees for his comprehensive and generous review. In this response I wish to comment briefly on an issue of historiography which he raises. Lees observes that ‘a significant Irish contribution to the functioning of the British Empire is well established’.  Rather, I would contend that while references to Irish engagement with the British Empire now appear frequently in works of history, the nature and scope of Irish contributions to empire have been more often asserted than demonstrated. Scholars have certainly devoted increased attention to the relationship of Ireland to the British Empire in recent years, and the contours of Irish anti-imperial activity, notably Irish relationships with Indian nationalists, have been well mapped.(1) Yet clearly much work remains to be done. Essays in seminal volumes on Ireland and the British Empire edited by Keith Jeffery and Kevin Kenny outlined important areas of future research, but often relied on Victorian-era scholarship to document the lives and actions of Irish imperial servants.(2) A recent survey of historiography notes the ‘reluctance’ of scholars for many decades to grapple with the Irish engagement with empire, and that ‘surprisingly little’ has been written on the subject, concluding that ‘Ireland’s role in facilitating British imperial expansion in the east has yet to be sufficiently considered by historians’.(3)

Not only the varieties of Irish engagement with empire but the sense of Irish identity held by Irish imperial proconsuls, administrators, military officers and soldiers took diverse forms. As Lees notes, the sense of ‘Irishness’ among imperial servants is one of the topics in need of further investigation. A range of Irish imperial identities existed, even among Protestant servants of the empire. As I discuss in Ireland and India, the ‘Mutiny hero’ John Nicholson identified himself as an Irishman but also as an Ulster Protestant, and his evangelical Christian faith made him bond most strongly with English colleagues in the East India Company who held similar beliefs.

I am gratified that Lees found my analysis of historical memory, commemoration and nationalism to contribute to the field of Ireland empire studies. The recent and forthcoming work of scholars on areas such as imperial and anti-imperial networks, religion and the press have deepened and will deepen further our understanding of this important component of Ireland’s global history.


  1. K. O’Malley, Ireland, India and Empire: Indo-Irish Radical Connections, 1919–1964Manchester, 2008).Back to (1)
  2. An Irish Empire? Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire, ed. K. Jeffery (Manchester, 1996); and Ireland and the British Empire, ed. K. Kenny (Oxford, 2004).Back to (2)
  3. B. Crosbie, ‘Networks of empire: linkage and reciprocity in nineteenth-century Irish and Indian history’ History Compass, 7 (2009), 994–5.Back to (3)