June - July 2007
India and Ireland: Growing profitably together
Lord Diljit Rana looks at the historic relationship between India and Ireland
The recent inauguration by Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, of the
Eamon de Valera Marg, a new road in New Delhi’s diplomatic district,
named after the former President of Ireland, celebrated the historic links
between the republics of India and Ireland.
This important event, which I had the privilege of attending on March 17- St
Patrick’s Day after Ireland’s patron saint - helped to highlight
the close relationship that now exists between the two nations in politics,
business, education and culture. It’s a relationship that stretches back
over 400 years.
Ties in business and trade were also strengthened in January 2006 during a
major mission to India led by Bertie Ahern, Ireland’s Prime Minister,
an initiative that included companies from Northern Ireland. India was the
second biggest business investor in Northern Ireland in 2005/6 (after the US),
following investments by HCL Enterprises, New Delhi, ICICI Bank, Mumbai, and
Polaris Software Lab, Chennai.
As well as Indian companies investing in both parts of Ireland, Irish technology
companies in particular are now setting up in India in ever increasing numbers.
Universities in India and Ireland are also working on joint research projects.
In Ireland, the small but growing Indian community – around 6,000 people
- the roots of which can be traced back to the 1920s, is now fully integrated
in all aspects of life and well respected. Many settlers in Ireland were Hindus
from the Punjab who emigrated before and following partition in 1947. Ireland,
in fact, shares with India the trauma of partition.
Links between India and Ireland stretch back to long before the days of the
East India Company. In the 1600s the company bought and leased lands in Ireland
for timber for the construction of its ships. The company, which also bought
land in the north of Ireland, was eventually to be chaired by Laurence Sullivan,
an Irishman from Cork. Clipper ships that traded between India and Britain
were built in Belfast, then Ireland’s second city, in the 1850s, when
it was emerging as a global shipbuilding centre. Warships for the Indian Navy
and freighters for the Hindustan Shipping Company were built in Belfast.
Research has also suggested that there are common threads between the languages
and social customs of the Old Irish and Celtic, and the Sanskrit worlds. The
Romany gypsies who came to Ireland around the 15th century were thought to
have fled from persecution in northern India in the 10th century AD,
India and Ireland, furthermore, share a colonial legacy, which includes the
English language and the legal, governmental and administrative systems, as
well as partition.
Indeed, Irish men and women played significant roles during colonial times
in shaping India’s civil service, the armed forces, education and its
commercial life. Distinguished Irish-born soldiers included Eyre Coote, from
Limerick, who contributed hugely to the defeat of the French in India.
Among those who helped to shape India’s administration were northern
Irishmen George Macartney, the governor of Madras in 1780; Hugh Boyd, Macartney’s
secretary; and Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy of India in 1888 – Lady Dufferin
founded a string of hospitals including the Dufferin Hospital for Women at
A substantial contribution to social, education and religious life was also
made by Irish missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, from the 19th century.
They included Fathers John Fennelly and Daniel Murphy who set up schools and
hospitals in Madras and Hyderabad. Loreto nuns, from Dublin, worked in India
from 1841, setting up schools around Calcutta and influencing Mother Teresa.
Care for leprosy victims was pioneered by Wellesley Bailey, from Dublin, in
the 1870s and inspired ‘The Leprosy Mission’ organisation.
Irish influence on India’s march to independence was just as significant.
The thoughts and actions of Indian independence leaders were shaped by Ireland’s
experiences. Ireland gained independence from Britain more than two decades
before India, which remained within the British Commonwealth: Ireland has not
joined the Commonwealth.
Pandit Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, developed a close friendship
with Eamon de Valera. Both were imprisoned by the British, and Nehru’s
letters from prison to his daughter Indira, in the early 1930s, contained several
chapters on the Irish independence struggle, with a particular focus on de
Valera’s role. Nehru subsequently visited Ireland as India’s first
The Irish feminist and pacifist, Annie Besant, was elected president of the
Indian National Congress in 1918. She also founded the first Hindu university
and, along with another Irishwoman, Margaret Cousins, who was educated in Londonderry,
was involved in the creation of the All India Women’s Association in
1917. Cousins founded the National Girls’ School in Mangalore in 1919.
With Gandhi’s support, she also formed the All India Women’s Conference
in 1926. The conference succeeded in bringing many reforms in women’s
Besant was to share a platform with Gandhi. Amy Carmichael, born in northern
Ireland in 1867, led the campaign that produced laws against the sale of children
The early Indian nationalist movement ‘Young Bengal’ was inspired
directly by the ‘Young Ireland’ organisation of the 1840s. Later,
the Irish Parliamentary Party sent one of its members, Alfred Webb, to attend
the 10th Indian National Congress in Madras in 1894 to share views on the common
goals of self-government and land reform.
The framers of the Indian Constitution in due course drew clear lessons from
the Irish constitutional model.
Gandhi commented frequently about the similarities between India and Ireland
under British rule. While he supported Ireland’s struggle for independence
he also warned about the dangers of violence and bloodshed, writing that India’s
success would depend upon the ability “to control all the violent and
fanatical forces in our midst”.
Cultural links between Ireland and India have blossomed over the years. Ireland’s
modern writers, poets and musicians have drawn artistic inspiration from Indian
sources. Poems and plays of W.B. Yeats reflect his interest in Indian
philosophy and mythology. Yeats, himself a Nobel Prize winner, became
a close friend with the Indian Nobel Laureate, Rabindra Nath Tagore, and assisted
him in translating and publishing his works. Nehru was another influenced
by Irish literary figures such as Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. He visited
Ireland twice, 1949 and 1956, as Prime Minister of India.
Diplomatic links between Ireland and India were first established
in 1947. The Mission in Dublin was opened in 1951. The Irish Embassy in Delhi
was established in 1964 and an Honorary Consulate was opened in Bombay in 1976.
The first Indian Community Centre and Hindu Temple in Ireland was established
in 1986; a Hare Krishna Centre and temple had been set up 10 years before.
In the 1970s a Hare Krishna Centre had been opened in Dublin. The first Sikh
Temples were formed, in Dublin and Londonderry, a decade later. Indian festivals
are now regularly celebrated throughout Ireland and are enjoyed by Irish people
Today trade and investment between India and Ireland, north and south, is growing
rapidly. Tourism exchanges are also growing from the work of Tourism Ireland
in India and the Indian Tourism’s imaginative ‘Incredible India’ campaign.
Both Enterprise Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland now organise regular trade
missions to India in which companies across a broad range of industries, including
information and communications technology and engineering, have won significant
Indian technology and biotech companies and higher education institutes are
increasingly teaming up with their counterparts in Ireland to develop innovative
products and services for world markets. Both offer companies pools of well-educated,
easily motivated and computer-literate young people.
Furthermore, both India and Ireland value education as a route to growth and
greater wealth. Education has been the bedrock of Ireland’s economic
transformation into a knowledge society able to meet the challenges and grasp
the opportunities of a dynamic and globalising world.
Ties of affinity, culture, aspiration and global vision bind Ireland
and India…and have done for many generations…and will continue
to do so in the future.
Lord Diljit Rana, Honorary Consul for India in Northern Ireland, was born
in the Punjab and is now one of Northern Ireland’s leading businessmen.
He owns one of the country’s biggest hotel chains.
More Political News
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