The 3rd of August will mark the centenary of the death of Roger Casement, last of the leaders of the Easter Rising to be executed.
Born in Sandycove, Co. Dublin in 1864 to an Anglo-Irish family, Casement was largely raised by an uncle in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim. (Both of his parents died before he was ten.)
At age twenty, Casement travelled to the Congo, working first for the African International Association. He later joined the British Colonial Service, and in 1891 became a British Consul. In 1905, The Casement Report was released, detailing his investigations into the horrific conditions faced by workers on the rubber plantations in Africa. He later travelled to Peru, where he found that the natives there were facing nearly identical brutality, also at the hands of the barons of the rubber industry; his exposure of these conditions earned him a knighthood in 1911.
After twenty years as a consul, Casement retired to Ireland in 1913 with a drastically altered view of imperialism. He now viewed his native land as one oppressed by the very government he had spent the better part of his life serving. He became involved in the Republican movement, joining the Irish Volunteers, and traveling to the United States in order to raise funds for the cause. As the plans for the Easter Rising began to take form, Casement sailed to Germany via Norway, where he obtained a supply of rifles and machine guns. The Germans provided a trawler (the Aud) to transport the arms to Ireland, with Casement following by submarine.
The Aud was intercepted by the HMS Bluebell in Tralee harbor and scuttled. Casement was set ashore and captured by the British on Banna Strand, 21 April 1916, and charged with treason, sabotage and espionage.
During his imprisonment and trial, there was a widespread effort to appeal for clemency on behalf of Casement. The British government successfully routed this effort by photographing and distributing what were purported to be pages from Casement’s diary. These pages described in detail Casement’s secret life as a homosexual, which eroded support for him both in Ireland and the United States. Casement’s journals became known as The Black Diaries, and have been the subject of debate amongst forensic document examiners, academics and historians even to this day.
He was sentenced to death and hanged on 3 August, 1916, at Pentonville Prison, London England, where his body was buried in quicklime. Efforts to have his remains repatriated to Ireland continued for decades. Finally, in 1965, Casement’s remains were returned to Dublin. After laying in state for five days at Arbor Hill, he was given a burial with full military honors at the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.
“If there be no right of rebellion against the state of things that no savage tribe would endure without resistance, then I am sure that it is better for men to fight and die without rights than to live in such a state of right as this. Where all your rights become an accumulated wrong, where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to gather the fruits of their labour, and even while they beg, to see things inexorably withdrawn from them–then, surely, it is a braver, a saner and truer thing to be a rebel, in act and deed, against such circumstances as these than to tamely accept it, as the natural law of men.”
—Roger Casement, in his speech from the dock.