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Gamini Iriyagolla : an appreciation

By Professor Nalin de Silva

Mr. Gamini Iriyagolla was one of the educated Sinhala people who did not betray the cause of the Sinhalas. The knowledge he had gained as a lawyer and as a historian was utilised to argue the case of the Sinhala people at seminars, conferences and in the newspapers. He had researched into the history of Sinhale, and was thorough with his facts. His history of the country was consistent and did not change with the recent history of the country that saw the SLFP and the UNP betraying the Sinhala people in turn. Though his father had been a minister of a UNP government, Mr. Gamini Iriyagolla did not interpret history to suit the leaders of that party.

Born as the eldest son of Mr.& Mrs. I. M. R. A. Iriyagolla, Gamini Abhaya Iriyagolla who was named after the king Dutugemunu, the hero of Mahavanasa and the Sinhala nation, lived up to the expectations of the parents. Having had a brilliant career at school and at the University, he joined the elite civil service and served as a public servant in many parts of the country. However, later he resigned the civil service and practiced as a lawyer. As a lawyer he was free to express his views without being constrained by the AR and the FR and had the time for his research in the history of the Sinhale. It was he who exposed the myth of the infamous Cleghorn minute that was used by the Tamil racists to claim a Tamil kingdom extending from Chillaw in the NWP to Panama in the eastern province.

He played a very important role at the round table conference convened by the President J. R. Jayawardhane. Mr. Iriyagolla convinced the President Jayawardhane that the Sinhalas had to be represented at the round table conference. At the conference he gave his well researched lectures in history to Amirthalingam and others who represented the Tamils. Amirthalingam who had assumed that Thesavalamai law was a Tamil law had to be told by Mr. Iriyagolla that it was not so. Mr. Iriyagolla came out with the startling fact that Thesavalamai law had been with the Muslims in the Choramandel coast and was not a law of Tamil Hindus. The Dutch in 1707 had codified the Thesavalamai Law in order to encourage the Tamils who were brought to Sri Lanka to permanently settle in the northern peninsula of the country.

It is difficult to describe the work done by Mr. Gamini Iriyagolla to the cause of the Sinhala people in a short appreciation. If not for his failing health he would have done much more for the Sinhala people and the Sinhalas are the poorer by his demise at this crucial juncture in the history of the country. His wife Indrani was a tower of strength to him in his life dedicated for the Sinhala people. As his sister Pushpamala Dharmasena wished in her funeral oration let him be born in Sinhale and serve the Rata, Deya, Samaya again before he attains the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

Nalin de Silva.

(08/02/03 go2lanka.com)