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Sir Roger Casement 

Human Rights Activist, Statesman and Irish Patriot

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Roger Casement, Human Rights Activist, Statesman and Irish Patriot
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    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 Free State, and for similar work amongst the Putumayo Indians in Peru.

    Irish revolutionary

    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 Aud 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 V, 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.

    Casement's sexuality

    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.

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