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.
He resigned from colonial service in 1912 and joined the Irish Volunteers the following year. When war broke out in 1914, he attempted to secure German aid for Irish independence, sailing for Germany via the USA. The Germans were however sceptical, 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. Whilst in Germany, he tried to enlist Irish prisoners of war at the prison camp of Limburg an der Lahn in an Irish Brigade.
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.
In 1916 Roger Casement was captured in Ireland, having been put ashore from a German submarine, the U-19. Too weak to travel (he was ill), he was subsequently arrested, summarily tried and hung 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.
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. Casement is now generally accepted to have been homosexual. Whereas in the early and mid twentieth century, many nationalists thought it unthinkable that an Irish patriot could have been gay, few have any problems with that idea now, particularly as similar claims have been made about other leaders of the Irish independence movement, including Patrick Pearse and General Eoin O’Duffy.
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 are examined using DNA from other descendants of the Casement family. DNA profiling was not available in the 1960s.