Terence MacSwiney's international influence recalled as Cork hosts its first India day celebration

The Indian Ambassador to Ireland, Sandeep Kumar, paid tribute to MacSwiney in City Hall as his embassy staged a showcase of his country’s food, dance and culture to mark India’s Republic Day.

Terence MacSwiney's international influence recalled as Cork hosts its first India day celebration

The remarkable impact of the life, writings and death on hunger strike of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence McSwiney on the birth of the Indian nation was recalled at a special event in Cork to mark Indian independence.

The Indian Ambassador to Ireland, Sandeep Kumar, paid tribute to MacSwiney in City Hall as his embassy staged a showcase of his country’s food, dance and culture to mark India’s Republic Day - the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950. It was the first time the embassy has staged the Irish event outside Dublin.

Apart from the special connection between Cork and India through the 1985 Air India memorial in Ahakista, Mr Kumar said hundreds of Indians now work, study or do business in Cork.

"India's relationship with Cork is rooted in our freedom struggle - shared history, shared pain, shared peace," he said.

"We all know the direct principles of the Indian constitution are drawn from the Irish constitution.

"Even the colours of our flags are the same and in the context of Cork, we have your martyred Lord Mayor who influenced some of the Indian freedom struggle leaders who embraced the philosophy of non violence and peace."

City librarian, Liam Roynayne, recalled the international influence that MacSwiney had on Indian nationalists, including the ‘father of the nation’ Mahatma Gandhi.

Indian Ambassador to Ireland, Sandeep Kumar, Picture: Jim Coughlan
Indian Ambassador to Ireland, Sandeep Kumar, Picture: Jim Coughlan

MacSwiney was elected as an MP for mid-Cork in the general election of December 1918, and like his Sinn Féin comrades, he refused to take his seat in Westminster and pledged allegiance to Dáil Éireann.

In January 1920 he was elected to Cork Corporation. His friend and Sinn Féin colleague Tomás MacCurtain was elected the first Republican Lord Mayor, 1

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When MacCurtain was murdered in March 1920, MacSwiney was elected his successor. He was arrested in August and embarked on hunger strike, dying in Brixton Prison 74 days later on October 25, 1920.

Mr Ronayne pointed out that at that time, Ireland and India were both part of the British Empire - Ireland its oldest colony and India its largest - and that this “networks of empire” allowed what happened in one to influence what happened in another.

“Many young Indians had come to London to study and there they learned what was happening in Ireland, and there were also young Indians studying in Ireland,” he said.

“A collection of MacSwiney’s writings, Principles of Freedom, was published posthumously in 1921.

"MacSwiney's life and work had a particular impact in India.

“In Ireland as in India, there were two strands of nationalist agitation: those who pursued their goal though non-violence and those who took a different approach.

“No-one is more associated globally with the non-violent approach than Mahatma Gandhi, but there were Indian nationalists who looked to the Irish struggle and believed that armed struggle would be necessary and indeed inevitable.

Mahatma Gandhi counted MacSwiney among his influences along with Arthur Griffith, but it is perhaps true to say that it was Nehru who took most inspiration from MacSwiney’s example and writings.

“Principles of Freedom was translated into various Indian languages including Telugu.

"The revolutionary Bhagat Singh was an admirer of MacSwiney and wrote about him in his memoirs.

“When Singh’s father petitioned the British Government in India to pardon his son, Bhagat Singh quoted MacSwiney’s words: “I am confident that my death will do more to smash the British Empire than my release”."

Singh told his father to withdraw the petition. He was later executed by the British.

“Others influenced by the Irish experience included Subhas Chadra Bose, Surja Sen, and Jatin Das," Mr Ronayne said.

Today’s celebration included an Irish ballet/Indian Bollywood fusion dance performance by students of the Joan Denise Moriarty Dance School, an Indian medley dance by the Cork Indian Dance Troupe, and a buffet of Indian food.

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