Sir Roger David Casement
(September 1, 1864 - August 3, 1916)
was a British diplomat by profession and a poet, Irish revolutionary and
nationalist by inclination.
Exposing Belgian brutality in the Congo
Casement joined the British consular service in 1892 where he gained an
international reputation and was knighted in 1911 for his report highlighting
the appalling horrors of European rule in the Congo
, and for similar work amongst the Putumayo
He resigned from colonial service in 1912
and joined the Irish Volunteers the following year, becoming a close friend
of the Volunteer's chief of staff Eoin MacNeill. When war broke out in
1914, he attempted to secure German aid for Irish independence, sailing
for Germany via the USA. He viewed himself as a self-appointed ambassador
of the Irish nation. While the journey was his idea, he managed to persuade
the exiled Irish nationalists in the Clan na Gael to finance the expedition.
Many members of the Clan na Gael never trusted him completely, as he was
not a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and held views considered
by many to be too moderate. Casement was able to draft a "treaty" with
Germany, which stated their support for an independent Ireland, however
he spent much of his time in Germany in a fruitless attempt to recruit
an "Irish Brigade" consisting of Irish prisoners-of-war in the prison camp
of Limburg an der Lahn, who would be trained to fight against England.
The effort proved unsuccessful, and was abandoned after much time and money
was wasted. The Germans were sceptical of Casement, but nonetheless aware
of the military advantage which an uprising in Ireland would give them,
granted the Irish 20,000 guns, 10 machine guns and accompanying ammunition,
a fraction of the amount of weaponry which Casement was after.
Casement didn't learn about the Easter
Rising until after the plan were fully developed. The IRB puposefully
kept him in the dark, and even tried to replace him. Casment may never
have learned that it was not the Volunteers who were planning the rising,
but IRB members such as Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke who were pulling
the strings behind the scenes.
The weapons never reached Ireland. The ship in which they were travelling,
a German cargo vessel, the Libau
, was intercepted, even though it
had been thoroughly disguised as a Norwegian vessel, Aud Norge
All the crew were German sailors, but their clothes and effects, even the
charts and books on the bridge, were all Norwegian. The British, however,
had intercepted German communications and knew the true identity and exact
destination of the Aud
. After it was intercepted, the ship's captain
scuttled the ship.
Casement left Germany in a submarine, the U-19, shortly after the
sailed. Believing that the Germans were toying with him from the start,
and purposefully providing inadequate aid that would doom a rising to failure,
he decided he had to reach Ireland before the shipment of arms, and convince
MacNeill (who he believed was still in charge) to cancel the rising. In
the early hours of April 21, 1916, two days before the rising was scheduled
to begin, Casement was put ashore at Banna Strand in County Kerry. Too
weak to travel (he was ill), he was discovered and subsequently arrested.
Following a highly publicized trial he was hanged at Pentonville Prison
in London for treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown on the
3rd of August 1916, after his appeal was overturned.
The Black Diaries
Prior to his execution, pages of a diary which the Crown claimed belonged
to Casement were circulated to those urging the commuting of his death
sentence. These pages, supplied to among others King George
, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others in Britain, Ireland and
the United States, suggested that Casement had engaged in homosexual activity,
which was a crime in most countries at the time. The effect of what became
known as the Black Diary
killed off support for Casement's case.
The Irish state insisted that the diaries were forgeries. However a recent
study, which compared his White Diaries
(ordinary diaries of the
time) with the Black Diaries
, which allegedly date from the same
time-span, judged on the basis of detailed handwriting analysis, that the
Black Diaries were indeed genuine, and had been written by Casement. This
study is rejected by many people however as it consisted only of comparative
handwriting analysis,and did not constitute a full forensic analysis of
the diaries. There have been many cases where competent forgers have produced
documents which passed a simple handwriting comparison. The issue of Casement's
sexuality remains controversial.
State funeral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery
In the mid 1960s Casement's body was repatriated and after a state funeral,
was buried with full military honours in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin
Cemetery in Dublin. The President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, who in his
mid eighties was the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, defied
the advice of his doctors to attend the ceremony.
Are the remains in Glasnevin really Casement's?
In the 1990s, doubts were cast as to whether the skeleton buried in Glasnevin
actually was Casement's. It was suggested that when his prison grave was
opened, it proved impossible to distinguish his bones from those of other
prisoners. As a result a skeleton was assembled from bones found and described
as Casement's. Whether it is or isn't will not be known unless the remains
in Glasnevin Cemetery were examined using DNA from other descendants of
the Casement family. DNA profiling was not available in the 1960s.