With the anniversary of the Connaught Rangers mutiny in India approaching, we have a special guest post by local historian and author Aidan Doyle, who will examine the life of one of the mutineers, Patrick Lopeman. (Also thanks to PJ Dooley for his assistance on background details on the Lopeman family).
Patrick Lopeman was born at Riverstown on 14 February 1893. His parents Patrick senior and Letitia moved with the family between several addresses in Kildare and Birr. Patrick senior worked as a painter. In Lopeman’s youth his family suffered from economic hardship and lived in lanes around Birr like Mount Sally which were essentially slums. His 10 month older sister Agnes died of hydrocephalus in May 1904. In November 1905 his 6 month old brother James died of convulsions, 3 months later James' twin sister died of whooping cough and pneumonia. By 1911 Patrick Lopeman senior had died and the family were spread across different addresses. 18 year old Patrick was living in a boarding house at High Street Birr with his younger sisters Bridget and Catherine.
Lopeman’s family had longstanding links to the British army. His cousin, brother-in-law and brother were all in military service at the beginning of the Great War. Patrick joined the Leinster Regiment in 1915 and served in the Balkans as part of the 10th Irish Division on the Macedonian/Salonica Front where he contracted malaria. Deployed to Belgium as the war neared its completion, he reenlisted in the Connaught Rangers after the Armistice. The Rangers had been severely depleted in the early years of the war and several veterans from other regiments were recruited to bring their battalion strength up to the required numbers. On a return trip to Birr, he married Sarah Barkley who worked as a housekeeper in Birr RIC barracks.
By 1920, Lopeman and the Connaught Rangers were deployed to the Punjab of India. On 28th July, four Rangers serving at Jullundur informed their superiors that they would no longer solider in the British Army in protest at the activities of the crown forces in Ireland. When these men were placed in custody a large number of their comrades at Jullundur including Patrick Lopeman came out in solidarity with the mutineers. A standoff developed between the mutineers on one side and their officers and a large number of troops who had not joined the mutiny on the other. When word spread to a military outpost at Solon in the foothills of the Himalayas more Rangers joined the mutiny. Both groups of Mutineers asserted their rebellious streak by singing rebel songs and displaying tricolours. The Mutiny ended after a few days but not before the loss of life. While the protest at Jullundur was largely peaceful, privates Patrick Smythe and Peter Sears were shot dead when mutineers armed with bayonets attempted to capture the Solon armoury. Sears was probably an uninvolved bystander killed by a stray bullet.
61 men were convicted at the court marital which followed the mutiny and 14 were sentenced to death. All but one was reprieved. James Daly from Tyrellspass, who had led the attack on the Solon armoury was executed by firing squad at Dagshai prison on 2nd November 1920. Another prisoner John Miranda from Liverpool died while imprisoned in India.
In August 1920 Patrick Lopeman was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for his role in the munity and transferred to Woking prison in England from where he was released in early 1922. Returning to Birr he worked as a labourer on building projects and council road works. In 1932 he led a protest march of the Birr unemployed and met with the urban council to discuss the issue. A member of the ITGWU, he was elected to the town council and served for two years. His wife Sarah passed away in 1935. In the early 1940s Lopeman moved to a new house, one of a series of homes built as part of a slum clearance project in Birr.
In 1963 Lopeman was one of several mutineers interviewed by Sam Pollack for a BBC radio documentary and subsequent book ‘Mutiny for the Cause’. James Daly, Patrick Smythe and Peter Sears were disinterred and return to Ireland for burial in 1969. The remains of Liverpudlian Joseph Miranda still lay at Dagshi. Patrick Lopeman passed away in February 1971 and was buried at plot 128 in Clonoghill cemetery Birr.