Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: roger casement

Easter 1916 Part Three

 

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 7 2016

 

Colman's Column3

Martyrdom and Separatism

Four years ago, I posted an article on Groundviews in which I explored the theme of martyrdom in the militant separatism of Irish rebels at the beginning of the 20th century and of the LTTE from the 1970s. I posted the article again on Facebook recently to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. One commenter on Facebook said that she could not see the point of the article. I told her that it had been addressed to a Sri Lankan audience and was warning of the dangers of Sri Lankan Tamils elevating Prabhakaran to the status of a martyr for the cause of Tami nationalism. She responded that my article was “intellectually flawed” because it did not deal with the “800 years of oppression” that preceded the 1916 Rising.

She presumed to know that her long-dead Irish grandfather would take pity on me for my lack of respect for those who “Fought against subjugation of brutal British rule for centuries”. Professor Liam Kennedy has coined an acronym to cover this kind of thinking – MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever). I will deal in a separate article with MOPE in relation to the Diasporas of the Irish and of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Imperial Oppression

How oppressed was Ireland in 1916? The leader of the Home Rule party in the Westminster parliament, John Redmond, in a speech of 1915, claimed that by 1900 the struggle over land was effectively won. Many historians since have claimed  conditions were improving in Ireland by 1916. The writer Sean O’Faolain, who had made bombs for the revolution, later wrote that by 1916, the historical grievances justifying armed violence, had become a “purely emotional impulse”.

An economist of today, David McWilliams, wrote recently, “sometimes we get dewy-eyed about the reality of the Irish state”. McWilliams claims that in 1913, Ireland was one of the richest countries in Europe, with income per head matching that of Sweden, Norway and Finland. 75 years after the Rising, Irish income per head was half the income of the Scandinavians. McWilliams asserts: “The Empire project enriched all of Britain and Ireland. In the later part of the 19th century both Irish and English tradesmen got richer together”. During the Famine, Irish carpenters and fitters earned about 90% of what their English counterparts did. In the decades leading up to 1913, both English and Irish tradesmen saw rapid increases in their wages. Wages of unskilled Irish workers and farm labourers rose rapidly after the Famine. The various Land Acts from 1870 to 1909 began the mass transfer of land from the Anglo-Irish aristocracy to the local farmers. The Irish stock market doubled in the late Victorian era. Large-scale sanitation and infrastructural projects were undertaken such as bringing clean water to Dublin from Roundwood Reservoir.

Although it was a hotbed of rebel activity, Cork did well out of the British Empire. Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour was a major British naval base and defence against Napoleon. Cork exported salted beef, pork and butter to the West Indies and fed the British navy. The unrivalled ability of Cork Harbour to shelter the biggest fleets assembled during the American War of Independence and, later, during the Napoleonic Wars was a major factor in the expansion of the provisions trade in Cork.

Did the Revolution Improve Social Justice?

There were undoubtedly social injustices in the Ireland of 1916. Horace Plunkett of the Cooperative movement produced statistics to show the extent of urban poverty. The death rate for Ireland in 1917 was 16.8 per 1,000 of the population compared to 14.4 for England and Wales. In Ireland there were 2.2 deaths per 1,000 from TB; in England and Wales it was 1.62.Todd Andrews, veteran Irish republican born in 1901, wrote in his autobiography Dublin Made Me about the bleak existence of those at the “bottom of the heap”. “Even those who had regular work were seldom above the poverty line and very many were below it…when I was child, every mother of young children lived in constant dread and sometimes real terror of sickness”.

Mabel Fitzgerald wrote to her former employer, George Bernard Shaw, that she was bringing up her son to speak Irish and to adopt “the sound traditional hatred of England and all her ways”. Shaw responded: “You must be a wicked devil to load a child’s innocent soul with old hatreds and rancours that Ireland is sick of”. He said she should be telling her son “that the English are far more oppressed than any folk he has ever seen in Ireland by the same forces that have oppressed Ireland in the past”.

I remember when Cork was dirt poor. Ancient black-shawled women, like one might see in Greece, Sicily or Portugal, moved like shadows in the warrens of alleyways that climbed the steep streets. Beggars sat on St Patrick’s Bridge. However, this was long after the Imperial oppressor had been ejected.

Apart from those around James Connolly, not many of those who fomented the 1916 Rising were much concerned about social conditions. The writings of Pearse are concerned with a more spiritual Ireland. Likewise, Standish O’Grady used the legendary figure of Cuchulainn “to galvanise the weakened generations of Ireland into an awareness of their heroic masculinity”.

My father, Jeremiah O’Leary, was still in the womb of Hannah Noonan O’Leary when the rebels took over the GPO. He was born on 29 June 1916, two months after the Rising (because Easter is a movable feast, the actual date of the Rising was April 24). Economic circumstances forced him to go to England to find work when in his twenties. His younger brother joined him. My father joined the British Army when the Second World War broke out. Independence precipitated a massive flight of people from Ireland. In the 1950s, 450,000 Irish people emigrated to England alone. The Irish-born population there peaked at over 700,000 in 1971.

A Motley Crew

Many of those involved in the Easter Rising had advanced views. People ran away together to found communist communes in Donegal. The lesbianism of many key figures went unconcealed. Roger Casement was a homosexual as was Eoin O’Duffy, who went on to lead the fascist Blueshirts. Rosamond Jacobs was an enthusiast for Freud’s writing. Some were strongly Anglophobe even though many were from English stock. They were rebelling against their own heritage as much as social conditions or imperialism. Although many of these middle class revolutionaries were bent on self-transformation, the Irish revolution moved from artistic, social and sexual experimentation to repressive conservatism.

Post-Revolution

 

Kevin O’Higgins asserted in the Dáil in March 1923: “We were the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution”. De Valera wrote to Mary MacSwiney: “Every instinct of mine would indicate that I was meant to be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, or even a bishop, rather than the leader of a revolution”.

 

Countess Markievicz boldly stated “the Catholic church is one of the greatest influences for evil in the world” and found it “incomprehensible how any sane person of any intelligence could be a Catholic”. In spite of this, her revolution established a state which was dominated by the regressive and reactionary ideas of the Irish Catholic church. The economy was ruined and the state even begrudged paying pensions to those who were wounded in the fight  for freedom. Some met a worse fate and were executed by former comrades. The material questions around which republicans had organised, including trade union militancy, land seizures and the establishment of soviets, became embarrassing for the national leadership. As historian Tom Garvin put it: “whenever social protest began seriously to threaten the interest of men of substance, republicanism ostentatiously dissociated itself from agitation”.

 

Next week – more about MOPE in Ireland and Sri Lanka

 

 

 

 

Easter 1916 Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 22 2016

Colman's Column3

This  year  marks  the  centenary  of  the  Easter  Rebellion  in  Dublin.  This provides opportunity for reflection on the meaning of the event. What kind of modern nation emerged from the Rising? Although I am endlessly quoting my own adage –“the road to hell is paved with false analogies” – I will attempt to draw some parallels between Ireland and Sri Lanka.

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The Rising failed and was followed by a war of independence and a bitter civil war developed out of the ensuing treaty. The Republic of Ireland has just had a general election in March 2016 in which the two parties which developed out of the civil war reached a stalemate and Sinn Fein increased its seats. Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) was the anti-treaty party of De Valera.  Fine  Gael  was  the  pro-treaty party  of  Liam Cosgrave,  Michael Collins  and  the  Free  State  government.  Éamon De  Valera  fought  against  the  treaty because  it  left  Ireland  divided,  part  of  the  Commonwealth  and  owing  allegiance  to  the  Crown. Ireland now owes allegiance to the European Central Bank rather than the Crown and  is still divided.

 

The aim of the 1916 Rising was to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was occupied with World War I. “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Joseph Plunkett travelled to Germany in April 1915 to join Roger Casement in a bid to recruit Irish prisoners of war to the rebel cause. The two men met the German Ambassador in Washington to seek German support for Irish independence. Plunkett and Casement presented a plan which involved a German expeditionary force landing on the west coast of Ireland. That plan did not work out, although Casement brought guns into Ireland from Germany.

Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has a new book just out – The Seven. This refers to the seven men who made up the Military Council of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood. Following the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, whose purpose was to resist Home Rule for Ireland, by force if necessary, the IRB were behind the initiative which eventually led to the inauguration of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. The IRB intended to use the Volunteers to seek a republic, recruiting high-ranking Volunteers into the IRB, such as Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, and Thomas MacDonagh. These men, together with veteran Fenian Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, Eamonn Ceannt and James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, constituted the Military Committee. It was just these seven who decided to wage war on the British Empire. On the morning of Easter Sunday 1916, they met in Dublin’s Liberty Hall. By noon, they had printed and issued the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which they declared themselves to be the provisional government of an entity that claimed the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman, even though the people had not been consulted.

Patrick Pearse was a poet and playwright who founded schools to which the Gaelicist intelligentsia sent their offspring to be raised in the high tradition of mythical hero Cuchulainn and to learn the Irish language: “better is short life with honour than long life with dishonour”. Pearse developed an unhealthy obsession with blood sacrifice.  “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”.

Though not obviously a fighter, Pearse was enthused by the sight of armed Ulster loyalists and wanted to emulate them: “we might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”. He developed a messianic and sacrificial notion that his cause was, through a symbolic loss of life, comparable with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pearse expressed an ecstatic view of the energising force of the sacrifice of death in the First World War. He frequently celebrated the beauty of boys dying bravely in their prime, before the shoddy compromises of adult life corrupted them.  Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote: ““It would be frequently remarked of Pearse that he had no understanding of the mundane day-to-day concerns that precluded others from showing the same fanatical dedication to his successive causes: he lived and died for a people that did not exist.”

James Connolly was more hard-headed, a socialist and trade unionist who responded thus to an article by Pearse: “We do not think that the old heart of the earth needs to be warmed with the red wine of millions of lives. We think that anyone who does is a blithering idiot”.

Nevertheless, Connolly did sacrifice himself. The rising was planned as a “blood sacrifice” for a society that had become apathetic. There were disagreements among the rebels. Eoin McNeill, chief of staff of the Irish Volunteers, wished to proceed only on a basis of realistic hope of success rather than staking everything on a gesture of moral revivalism. He thought the blood- sacrifice option intellectually flaccid. Many, however, like 18-year-old medical student, Ernie O’Malley, who had no previous record of nationalist involvement, were strangely stirred by Pearse’s peculiar theology of insurrection. O’Malley became a key organizer and leader in the later guerrilla war as well as one of its most prominent literary chroniclers.

 

The Rising began on Easter Monday, 1916, and lasted for six days. Only about 1,600 rebels turned out in Dublin, with activity in the rest of the country limited to parading. There were isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, but the orders for a general uprising were countermanded by Eoin McNeill. He had no role in the planning of the Rising, which was carried out by IRB infiltrators. He found out that Pearse had duped him and placed a last minute news advertisement advising Volunteers not to take part. McNeill was supported by Bulmer Hobson and The O’Rahilly but O’Rahilly joined in the rebellion and was killed in action.

By the time Pearse surrendered, only 64 rebels had been killed. In the World War, 25,000 Irishmen died fighting as members of the British Army. The British Army in Dublin that Easter reported casualties of 116 dead, 368 wounded and nine missing. Sixteen policemen died, and 29 were wounded. Rebel and civilian casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. All 16 police fatalities and 22 of the British soldiers killed were Irishmen. The majority of the casualties, both killed and wounded, were civilians. British and rebels shot civilians deliberately on occasion when they refused to obey orders. There were at least two instances of British troops killing civilians out of revenge or frustration, at Portobello Barracks, where six were shot and North King Street, where 15 were killed. Most of the civilians killed were victims of indirect fire from artillery, heavy machine guns and incendiary shells. The British seem to have caused most non-combatant deaths. One Royal Irish Regiment officer recalled, “They regarded, not unreasonably, everyone they saw as an enemy, and fired at anything that moved”.

With vastly superior numbers and artillery, the British army quickly suppressed the Rising, and Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender. Most of the leaders were swiftly executed following courts-martial.

The Rising had no popular support. As the rebel prisoners were marched away under arrest, they were attacked by working-class women, who pelted them with rotten vegetables and emptied chamber pots over them. In his eyewitness account, The Insurrection in Dublin, James Stephens (poet, novelist and short story writer) wrote: “Most of the female opinion I heard was not alone unfavourable, but actively and viciously hostile to the rising. This was noticeable among the best-dressed classes of our population; the worst dressed, indeed the female dregs of Dublin life, expressed a like antagonism, and almost in similar language. The view expressed was ‘I hope every man of them will be shot’.”

 

Next week – how things changed.

Only Connect, Only Congest

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday January 29 2012

Forster’s Connections

“Only connect” is a commonly quoted aphorism by EM Forster.  I have never quite understood it. Forster himself was quite keen to connect with policemen, bus drivers and Egyptian labouring men but that probably is not the wisdom of the aphorism. Forster’s literary output was small. The author of works such as A Room with a View and Howards End stopped writing in 1924, after he published A Passage To India. He lived until 1970. According to Wendy Moffat, associate professor of English at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, Forster had sex with a man for the first time at the age of 38  – an injured soldier on an Egyptian beach. He met his long-term lover – a married policeman – some years later.

Only one novel, Maurice, dealt with gay issues. It was written around 1910 but was not published until after Forster’s death. Edward Morgan Forster was known to his friends as Morgan. Prepare for an elaborate punning joke. Stay awake at the back there! 1966 was the 50th anniversary of the Easter rebellion in Ireland. One of the rebels executed was Roger Casement. Over the years, the British leaked Casement’s diaries in order to smear his reputation because of his homosexuality. Also in 1966, a film was released called Morgan: a Suitable Case for Treatment, starring David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave. The satirical magazine Private Eye published a spoof film poster announcing: “Morgan: a Suitable Treat for Casement – a tale of the Easter Rising”.

SLT Cancels Christmas

Enough digressing! The phrase “Only connect” has been in my mind lately because I have been trying to connect with my sainted aunt in Ireland in order to give her our seasonal greetings. SLT won’t  let me talk to her. She is almost 92 and in poor health but sharp of mind and tongue. I started phoning  through IDD on our SLT land line long before Christmas Day. Every time I dialled the Irish number, I was interrupted by a  female  Sri Lankan voice saying “Your call cannot be connected at this time because all our circuits are busy”. This was followed by a saxophone playing what sounded like George Michael’s  Careless Whisper. (I keep getting  it mixed up with Careless Rapture by Ivor Novello, Siegfried Sassoon’s gay lover. Sorry to get back on the gay theme!) Careless Rupture would be more appropriate.

Now, at least this SLT woman sounded civil when she told me she was not allowing my call. A great improvement on the creature I call “The Congestion Woman”. That one  sounds like a bossy woman in a sari – a huge mountainous woman who wobbles when she breathes. “You call cannot be connected due to the congestion” she shouts.

Help!

I kept trying to call my aunt in Ireland until way after New Year’s day. I was trepidatious about calling an SLT help line because I usually want to take my own life after trying to get through to the call centre. I really am not a misogynist but I always pray that a man will answer. The women usually start off sounding irritated that I have disturbed them and grow increasingly impatient as I try to explain the fault. They always sound as though they think I am stupid and to blame for the lack of connection.

Black Arts

Getting connected  to the call centre at all is a major  trauma. One is given a menu to choose from. On the internet help line two of the options seem appropriate but if one chooses the wrong number all one gets is a high-pitched screech which almost pierces one’s eardrum. Then one has to wait for an average of twelve minutes before anyone answers. If one could just drift into a meditative trance while waiting patiently, it would not be too bad. SLT will not countenance this. One’s ears are filled with noise, the noise of the black arts of advertising and marketing.

“Ayabowen –our call centre officers will assist you shortly”. One is subjected to that doomy, boomy Americanised voice one hears on movie trailers. Also those annoying children’s voices which assail one on trips to the supermarket  – God rot you and blast you Tiny Tim!

“Open your home to the world of Megaline”. Why should I? “Conversations drenched in memory”. My memory is drenched in frustration s I try to connect.

“A home where you are never alone”. What kind of hell is that?

“Your world is never confined”. Well, my world is actually confined when I keep losing  my internet connection and I am prevented from speaking to my family in Ireland.

Pump Don’t work ‘Cause the Vandals Stole the Handles

Before broadband became available in our neck of the mountains, I tried to get SLT to deal with the problems I was having with connecting to the internet. A very helpful man promised that he would get their best technical brains working on it and the problem would definitely be solved. Eventually he got bored and told me the problem was that I lived too far from the exchange. It seemed that I needed to sell my home and move somewhere else.

A couple of years later someone stole the SLT cables for the sake of the copper. I was without a phone line for two months and had to take a 36 kilometre round trip to check my e-mails. Despite these inconveniences I received a bill that was six times the normal amount.

When broadband did become available, SLT put on intense marketing pressure to sign up for it. I was persuaded. After paying the requisite fee, it took five months to actually enjoy the benefits of ADSL. Things have definitely improved and my outgoings have reduced. It is still frustrating however because the connection can be suddenly lost. When one gets through to the helpline, one is told “there has been a common service issue”. Nevertheless, I have been without an internet connection for three days at time. No sign of a refund.

Endless Buffering

I was looking forward to the joys of YouTube – salivating at the possibility of watching archive footage of my departed jazz heroes  like Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. It was not to be. The video clips keep stopping and starting because of endless “buffering”.

I looked at various internet fora on this topic – when SLT allowed me to c! I find that I am not the only one to have this problem and that it happens in Colombo as well as in my mountain retreat. One frustrated customer writes:  “I get Browsing Speed 512 kbps. But I get 47kb as Kilo Bytes. For Direct Download without IDM I get only 6 or 7kb. Same for some files that download via IDM – I got 5 or 60 before”. “Ya, ADSL is supposed to be fast, but of late, I have felt that internet has slowed down from about ten in the morning till about nine in the night”. “Yep, now I can’t stream YouTube even at six in the evening”. “From the beginning of august, my ADFSL (Home 512/128) connection got a huge slowdown in both down and uplinks. But the funny thing is torrent download speed is working same as past (normally 55kbps). Bur the direct downloads from rapidshare, medoafire, hotfile and filesonic were dropped own to 10kbps. (Before this slowdown these downloads came in at 60kbps). All the parameters in the router are the same as in the past(like attenuation, SNR margin). I called 1243 and opened a complaint. Then a guy called from SLT technical division and said there were no problems in the connection and the have NO BLACKLIST FOR HEAVY USERS.”

So, did I get to speak to my aunt in Ireland? Sort of. We phoned the SLT helpline and explained that I was not able to get through to any landline number in Ireland from my landline. This could not be simply a problem between my phone and my aunt’s phone. I asked if an operator could connect us to the Irish number. The answer was a resounding NO!

After several calls to SLT in Sinhala as well as English , the only solution they could offer was to try phoning on a cell phone. We did get through but it was difficult to have a conversation and the call was of course more expensive than a landline call. No one could explain why our landline calls were being intercepted. We learnt later that SLT’s way of following up the complaint was to ignore the time differences between Sri Lanka and Ireland and phone my aunt several times in the middle of the night to check the line. This caused her considerable anxiety.

Connect the Prose and the Passion

Forster’s ‘only connect” catchphrase comes at the epigraph to Howard’s End. Calm down! Howard’s end is a house, not an anatomical appendage. The full quotation is: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer”.

Never mind about connecting the prose and the passion. Can we just connect Badulla with County Cork?

Sir Roger Casement Part2

Irish Patriot

Although one normally thinks of Irish Nationalist Republicans as being Catholic, Casement was not the first to come from the Protestant Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmett, John Mitchel, Charles Stewart Parnell and Erskine Childers were heroes of the Nationalist pantheon who were Protestants.

In the 1970s the leader of the Provisional IRA had the impressively Gaelic name of Sean Mc Stíofáin. He was in fact an Englishman called John Stephenson.

Casement had long been interested in Irish history and believed that the Irish had a distinctive character which could not thrive within the existing constitutional framework and relationship with Britain. His interest was transformed from a hobby into a passion by his friendship with Alice Green. She was the widow of the distinguished English historian, JR Green, and built a substantial reputation as a historian in her own right. Her main thesis in her writings was that the English, far from civilizing the savage Irish, had imposed a destructive alien rule on a highly cultured community.

Casement connected his Congo experiences with his analysis of the colonization of Ireland by the English. The English had not only parcelled Irish  land out as property, they had distributed it among themselves and appropriated most of its produce. The population of Ireland had been drastically reduced by undernourishment, disease or emigration. This was particularly devastating in the 1840s when the failure of the monoculture crop caused by recurrent potato blight led to widespread famine compounded by doctrinaire economic policies based on ‘free’ trade.

A commission of inquiry investigating the financial relationship between England and Ireland concluded that, since the Act of Union of 1800, the Irish had actually been overtaxed relative to the English. Even the fiercely loyalist Ulster unionist leader, Colonel Saunderson, said, “When Englishmen set to work to wipe the tear out of Ireland’s eye, they always buy the pocket handkerchief at Ireland’s expense.”

It was easy to see the parallels with Leopold’s ‘system’ in the Congo. In 1904, Casement was not anti-English and continued to be employed by the British crown. However, his passion for Ireland led him to start learning the Irish language in that year and he met the Irish nationalist writer, Stephen Gwynn at the Festival of the Glens. He contributed financially to Irish cultural causes. Gwynn described him thus: “What remains in my mind is chiefly the impression of his personal charm and beauty…Figure and face he seemed to me to be one of the finest-looking creatures I had ever seen; and his countenance had charm, distinction, and a high chivalry. Knight-errant he was; clear-sighted, cool-headed, knowing as well as any that ever lived how to strengthen his case by temperate statement, yet always charged with passion.”

Casement resigned from the consular service in 1912. The following year, he helped form the Irish Volunteers. He worked hard to raise funds for the Irish independence movement but was distrusted by some because of his background serving the Crown and because he was too moderate. However, the extreme Clann na Gael leader, McGarrity was devoted to him. A gunrunning enterprise in late July 1914 which he had helped to organise and finance further improved Casement’s reputation.

In September 1914, Casement met the German Ambassador to the US in New York and attempted to secure German aid for Irish independence. In November 1914, Casement negotiated a declaration by Germany which stated, “The Imperial Government formally declares that under no circumstances would Germany invade Ireland with a view to its conquest or the overthrow of any native institutions in that country. Should the fortune of this great war, that was not of Germany’s seeking,  ever bring in its course German troops to the shores of Ireland, they would land there not as an army of invaders to pillage and destroy but as the forces of a Government that is inspired by goodwill towards a country and people for whom Germany desires only national prosperity and national freedom.” Casement  travelled to Germany and negotiated with Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann and with the Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg.

The main purpose of his visit to Germany was to talk to Irishmen who were prisoners of war. The plan failed because all Irishmen fighting in the British army did so voluntarily. The Germans, who were skeptical about  Casement but nonetheless were aware of the military advantage they could gain from an Irish rebellion against England They  offered the Irish 20,000 rifles and ten machine guns with accompanying ammunition. This was a mere fraction of what Casement had hoped for.

Casement did not get much thanks from the Irish Republican Brotherhood for his efforts. They deliberately kept him in the dark and even tried to replace him. He did not learn about the 1916 Easter Rising until the plan was fully developed. The German weapons were never landed in Ireland. The British  had intercepted German communications out of Washington and knew there was going to be an attempt to land arms even if the Royal Navy was not precisely aware of where. The arms ship under was apprehended by HMS Bluebell on the late afternoon of Good Friday. About to be escorted into Queenstown (present day Cobh, birthplace of my father) in County Cork on the morning of Saturday 22 April, after surrendering, the ship was scuttled by pre-set explosive charges. Her crew became prisoners-of-war. Casement was put ashore at Banna Strand in County Kerry on 21 April, 1916, three days before the Easter Rising began. He was too weak to travel and was soon arrested on charges of treason, espionage and sabotage and taken straight to London.

Trial and Execution

The trial was something of an embarrassment to the British government. The Treason Act seemed to apply only to treasonous activities conducted on British soil and Casement’s crimes had been committed in Germany. The court decided that a comma be read into the text allowing a broader interpretation.

In his speech from the dock, Casement said that he was being tried by a foreign power which exerted its rights over him and his countrymen by conquest.

“It is a rule derived not from right, but from conquest. Conquest, my lord, gives no title, and if it exists over the body, it fails over the mind. It can exert no empire over men’s reason and judgment and affections; and it is from this law of conquest without title to the reason, judgment, and affection of my own country men that I appeal. I would add that the generous expressions of sympathy extended me from many quarters, particularly from America, have touched me very much. In that country, as in my own, I am sure my motives are understood and not misjudged,  for the achievement of their liberties has been an abiding inspiration to Irishmen and to all men elsewhere rightly struggling to be free in like cause.

We are told that if Irishmen go by the thousand to die, not for Ireland, but for Flanders, for Belgium, for a patch of sand on the deserts of Mesopotamia, or a rocky trench on the heights of Gallipoli, they are winning self-government for Ireland. But if they dare to lay down their lives on their native soil, if they dare to dream even that freedom can be won only at home by men resolved to fight for it there, then they are traitors to their country, and their dream and their deaths alike are phases of a dishonorable phantasy.

If it be treason to fight against such an unnatural fate as this, then I am proud to be a rebel, and shall cling to my “rebellion” with the last drop of my blood. If there be no right of rebellion against a state of things that no savage tribe would endure without resistance, then I am sure that it is better for man to fight and die without right than to live in such a state of right as this.

Where all your rights become only 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 garner the fruits of their own labours—and even while they beg, to see things inexorably withdrawn from them—then surely it is a braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men.’

In spite of pleas for clemency from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, WB Yeats, and GB Shaw, Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 3 August 1916 at the age of 51. Casement converted to Catholicism just before his execution. After his execution, Casement’s body was buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery.

In 1965, his remains were repatriated to Ireland. Half a million people filed past his coffin as it lay in state for five days. Thirty thousand Irish citizens, including the frail 85-year-old president, Eamon de Valera, the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, attended a state funeral with full military honors. Casement’s remains were buried in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Casement’s Homosexuality

Even before his execution, a smear campaign was underway with copies of the so-called ‘black diaries’ being circulated. The documents show Casement to have been a promiscuous homosexual with a penchant for boys and young men. There was always a strong lobby arguing that these were forgeries.

In August 1916, the English poet Alfred Noyes (I remember being subjected to his greatest hit, “The Highwayman” at primary school – it was voted England’s 15th favourite poem in 1995),  was working in the News Department of the Foreign Office.

He wrote: “I have seen and read them and they touch the lowest depths that human degradation has ever touched. Page after page of his diary would be an insult to a pig’s trough to let the foul record touch it.”

Later Noyes  was  in Philadelphia to give a lecture on English poets, but before he could utter a word he was confronted by Sir Roger’s sister, Nina. “A  lady of distinguished bearing rose in the audience and asked if she might say a few words… to my horror and that of the audience, she announced that she had come for the express purpose of exposing the speaker of the evening as a ‘blackguardly scoundrel’. ‘Your countrymen,’ she cried, ‘hanged my brother Roger Casement.’ “

He admitted he might have been mistaken and his admission was seized upon by Casement sympathisers. Twenty years later, Yeats named Noyes in a withering attack: “Come, Alfred Noyes, come all the troop That cried it far and wide Come from the forger and his desk Desert the perjurer’s side”.

In 1957, Noyes tried to make amends  when he published The Accusing Ghost or Justice for Casement in which he argued that Casement had indeed been the victim of a British Intelligence plot.

His conversion, and Yeats’s  protest in verse, cemented the idea that the diaries were forgeries. However, an independent forensic  team published the following verdict:

“The unequivocal and confident conclusion which the Giles Document Laboratory has reached is that each of the five documents collectively known as the Black Diaries is exclusively the work of Roger Casement’s hand, without any reason to suspect either forgery or interpolation by any other hand. The Diaries are genuine throughout and in each instance.”

Jeffrey Dudgeon’s (Dudgeon himself was instrumental in getting homosexual acts decriminalized in Northern Ireland in 1982) annotated 2002 edition of the diaries, accompanied by a perceptive and empathetic biographical treatment, went a long way towards integrating Casement’s nationalist, humanitarian and gay lives.

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