British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Manus Nunan
Northern Nigeria was slow to accept political change. The result was that the Colonial Service lingered on well after independence in 1960. One of the personalities of that part of Africa was Major O'Driscoll. The family were said to be eminent in the upper reaches of the Knights of Malta. Those heights were strictly confined to those of eminent Roman Catholic families who could prove beyond doubt both their nobility and their devotion to the Church over many generations. O'Driscoll had taken a medical degree at Trinity College, Dublin. He had never practised. His connections included friendship with the Marquess of Sligo whose daughter was married to the Governor of Bengal. Immediately after graduation O'Driscoll sailed for India, obtained a commission in the Indian Army and was appointed ADC to the Governor of Bengal. The Governor had four ADCs and lived in a style which is now beyond imagination. The Prince of Wales (who was later to become Edward VIII) on a trip to India stayed with the Governor and during the course of dinner said that he now knew how it felt to live like a king! O'Driscoll attained the rank of Major in India and on Indian independence was appointed to the medical department in Nigeria on the administrative side. He retained his military title and never allowed himself to be referred to as 'Doctor' which he considered to be associated with nasty, sick, unhealthy things.

Major O'Driscoll
Pope Pius XII
On his first leave from Nigeria he called on Pope Pius XII. O'Driscoll never had difficulties with introductions. The Pope greeted him with the words: "This is most strange. Here is an Irishman from the Indian Army serving in Nigeria. What a wonderful country is this England of ours". He served in Kaduna the capital of Northern Nigeria while I was there. As a man he was out of the ordinary. He was a bachelor, bright and cheerful and a good talker with a strong southern Irish accent. He would have been the life and soul of a party if there had been a party. The trouble was that outside his office he lived in total seclusion. The only invitations he accepted were to Government House. The invitations of the Governor as the Queen's representative were in the nature of Royal Commands. I had the distinct impression that this jovial Irishman secretly regarded all of us as his social inferiors. He was, I suppose, quite right, but to ignore us all in that way was a bit extreme. There was also the question of his wealth, which set him apart. He was immensely wealthy and it was a mystery to everyone why he bothered to work at all. He possessed two modern Rolls Royce motor cars. When he drove around Kaduna everyone thought it was the Governor approaching and got out of the way. The only times I met him were at Government House drinks parties. My wife at the time was French and he took to her immediately and chatted to her in perfect and fluent French. To me he seemed delightful company. On one occasion at Government House he was with a circle of officials including myself, and was being particularly charming. The influence of alcohol made me brave and I invited him to come back with my wife and myself to supper. When I issued the invitation you could hear a pin drop. Everyone present knew of his unwillingness to accept invitations to private houses and most of them shared my suspicion why. There was a pause, a distinct pause, before he refused. People often mentioned the pause and my own social standing gained greatly from such gracious hesitation. A few years later when we had all left Nigeria and he had a residence in Monte Carlo I met him in Grafton Street in Dublin. He enquired about my wife and I told him that we were no longer together and that she was now an undergraduate at Liverpool University. He looked at me with total incredulity. The idea of one of his friends attending a provincial university seemed difficult for him to take in. He then started to laugh uncontrollably. My last memory of him is waving his arms and shaking with mirth as he made his way towards College Green.

Colonial Map
1955 Map of Kaduna Region
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 101: April 2011


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe