The Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Sir Roger Casement

Roger David Case (later known as Sir Roger Casement) was born in Doyle’s Cottage, Lawson Terrace, Sandycove, South Dublin. His father was Captain Roger Casement of The Kings Own Regiment of Dragoons. His mother was Anne Jephson (or Jepson) who came from a Dublin Anglican family. They moved to Worthing, England where they lived in "genteel poverty." While living in England, Rogers mother travelled to Rhyl, Wales to have him re- baptised into The Roman Catholic Faith. His mother died when he was nine years of age. The family then moved back to County Antrim where Casement spent his childhood living with family. By the time Roger was thirteen years of age, his father had also died.

After his father’s death, Roger and his brother Tom and sister Nora were cared for by relatives: the Youngs of Glangorm Castle in Ballymena and the Casements of Magherintemple. They attended the Diocesan School, Ballymena, and they were later enrolled in Ballymena Academy. At sixteen years of age, he left home to travel to Liverpool to live with his Aunt Grace Bannister (his mother’s sister.)

Casement got a job as a clerk in Elder Dempster Shipping Line Company in Liverpool. He remained in this position for three years. Looking for adventure, at the age of nineteen, he set out to find work on one of the ships bound for far off countries.  The captain of a ship called "The Bonney" that was bound for the Congo employed him as a purser. With his experience as a clerk, the captain was of the opinion that Casement was well qualified for the job. A purser is responsible for all administration and supply of goods on the ship,  and frequently the cook and stewards answer to the purser as well. When this trip was completed Casement returned to Africa where he found employment with Belgium's "Congo International Association." He then became a companion to artist and explorer Herbart Ward between 1889-1890. Ward wanted someone of experience to manage his affairs while he was on a lecturing tour of United States of America.

When Casement returned to Ireland, he was offered an official post as Acting Director-General of Customs. Leading on from that, his first consular appointment came in 1895. This appointment was to take him to Delagoa Bay in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique.) At this point in his career, he was very definitely "pro-British;" very much  opposed to the Boars and the Kruger. For these services the was awarded the Queens South African Medal. By June of 1902, the Foreign Office had assigned him to "go into the interior" and send reports of mismanagement of the Congo.  He found evidence of cruelty and mutilation of the Congolese, which the Foreign Office failed to act upon. This upset him greatly. For this work he was rewarded with the Order of Saint Michael and St George.

Following on from these successes, he accepted a consular post at Santos, Brazil 1908, and was then appointed as consular-general to Rio De Janeiro. Next, his success in the field of investigation was to take him to Putumayo Basin, Peru, appointed by the Foreign Office once again to investigate atrocities. Having written up his report by 191, he was rewarded with a knighthood.

Having gained an international reputation for exposing European colonial exploitation of native peoples in Africa and South America, he was well placed to understand how imperialism had been ingrained into all corners of the Globe. For more than twenty years he followed his profession as human rights activist, whereby accolades fell on him like leafs from a tree.

Casement had by this time, however, developed an increasingly anti-imperialist opinion.  He had joined the Gaelic League in 1904, and desperately tried to learn the language. Despite all his efforts, however, he found it difficult to get his tongue around the nuances. He did, however, have a command of several other languages that he had learned in his role as a British Consular. 

Since joining the Gaelic League, he had become increasingly committed to the cause for Irish Independence. By 1913, he had retired from his role as a British Consular. He went on to form a friendship with Eoin McNeil, (who became Chief of Staff of the Volunteers) ably assisting him to co-write the Volunteers Manifesto. He also was very impressed by Arthur Griffiths' Sinn Fein Party, who wanted Home Rule by using a non-violent series of strikes and boycotts.  However, Casement still remained committed to securing armoury for the Irish Volunteers.  Now a committed Irish rebel, in 1914 he travelled to the United States to raise money on behalf of the Volunteers from the large ethnic Irish communities. Through his friendship with Bulmer Hobson (a member of both the Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood) he was able to establish connections with Clan na Gael.  This organization was a committed and large community of Irish rebels in the USA who saw the need for insurrection in Ireland. Although he was not fully trusted by Clan na Gael, he nonetheless was able to secure a huge amount of funding for the Irish Volunteers.   

It has been said, that Sir Roger Casement was the central figure in developing the rebels' relations with Germany. Travelling to Germany under the guise of working for the Irish Parliament in 1914, he established links with the German Government.

With no love lost between Germany and Britain, the German Government agreed to allow Casement to recruit Irish prisoners of war for transportation to Ireland in its insurrection against British Rule.  However, despite all his efforts, recruitment was poor, as he was perceived as a traitor by many of these men.

Immersing himself at the forefront of the Republican movement in all its varying parts, Casement never quite succeeding in being trusted sufficiently to be granted access to the plans for the Easter Rising. Along with Roger Monteith, Casement was soon back into the role of negotiating terms with the German Authorities. This time Joseph Mary Plunkett had been sent to join him in the negotiations, as the leaders of the inner sanctum of the Irish Military Brotherhood had wanted one of their own there.  They succeeded in a promise of at least one consignment of armoury Armoury.This was said to be 25,000 Russian Rifles and  one million rounds of bullets. This consignment was ispatched on the 9th April, 1916, on board "The Aud." At this point, Casement considered this one consignment to be totally inadequate, and believed that the Rising would be doomed if it went ahead with insufficient armoury..[Joseph Mary Plunkett was jubilant  that they had succeeded]  

Casement believed that the German government was toying with him by only allowing the Irish Leaders one consignment. He thought that the Germans were not fully supporting the Irish cause for Independence. Back in Ireland, the inner sanctum of men( James Connelly, Patrick Pearse, Joseph Mary Plunkett et al.) were of the same opinion. By this time, Casement had used all his guile of diplomacy to persuade the German government to transport him back to Ireland in a submarine.

What the Leaders of the Rising did not know was that, by this time, British Intelligence had been able to intercept messages between the Leaders of the Rising and the German Embassy in New York. They were, therefore, anticipating both the arrival of "The Aud" and the submarine which had Casement on board. Before leaving Germany, Casement confided his personal papers to Dr. Charles Curry, with whom he had stayed at Riederau, on the Ammersee, Zungerbecken Lake in Upper Bavaria.

Some historical documents have Casement arrested on the shore at Banna Strand, Tralee, County Kerry immediately on setting foot on the strand.  Other historical records have him holed up with his two companions who were with him on the submarine: Roger Monteith and John McGoey (an Irish America who had recently joined the republican  movement.) In this version of events, Casement was too weak to travel, and was discovered at McKenna's Fort (an ancient ring fort now called "Casements Fort" in Rathoneen, Ardfert) and was subsequently arrested.

 He had trusted McGoey with being the "runner" to Eon MacNeill in Dublin to convey the news that, in his opinion, the Rising should be called off due to insufficient armoury. . McGoey disappeared, not to be heard of until 1964 when he died in the USA. Casement did eventually manage to get his information to Eoin MacNeill.  

History now records that due to inept planning by the rebel leaders and a navigational error by the ships pilot of The Aud, local Irish Volunteers Forces had not been expecting it to land when it did.  It had failed to appear at what they though was their rendezvous point.

What had started as a full operational, equipped Irish Army of Volunteers to take on the might of the British Establishment, had now descended into a fiasco. Both submarine and gunship were captured and Casement was arrested on the 21st April 1916. Fearing leaks, the full knowledge of such sensitive information was not communicated to the authorities in Dublin by the Royal Navy. Therefore, Dublin Castle remained in ignorance of the plans for a Rising.

The Kerry Brigade of the Irish Volunteers might have tried to rescue Casement over the next three days when he was holed up, but was ordered by its leadership in Dublin to "do nothing".

Casement was charged with treason, sabotage ,and espionage against the Crown. He was taken straight to the Tower of London, where he was imprisoned. His Knighthood was duly stripped from him.

At his very highly published trial, the prosecution had trouble arguing its case; the 1351 medieval Treason Act seemed to apply only to activities carried out on English soil. The Casement Family of Antrim who had helped raise him until he was sixteen years of age; helped fund his trial and appeal.    

During the trial and the appeal that took place shortly after, he had been condemned to death. The British Government had found his journals (known as The Black Diaries), and had circulated excerpts from them. Notables of the day who may well have intervened on his behalf, left him floundering for support when these diaries became widely distributed. His homosexuality had sealed his fate. In the fact of socially excepted norms and the illegality of homosexuality in this era, he was a doomed man.

Casement read out a statement at his trial which referred to the statute under which he was charged:

”When this statute was passed, in 1351, what was the state of men's minds on the question of a far higher allegiance - that of man to God and His Kingdom; and “ I was not tried by my peers."

On the day of his execution, as an adult he was received and baptised into the Catholic Faith. He was attended to  by Dean Ring and Father Carey. Father Carey called him a "saint."

Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison on August 3, 1916, aged 51 years. Sir Roger Casement  was buried in quicklime: the British Authorities' way of showing their contempt for him.

Since his death, then there has been speculation, debate; forgery theories, and even forensic testing to determine if the handwriting in The Black Diaries was Casement's.

His sister Nora and cousin Gertrude Bannister went to their graves always adamant that while the handwriting may be his, the contents were accounts of the foul conduct he investigated at Putumayo, Peru. They both insist that the British government got the diaries and forged them to make it look like it was his own experiences he had written about.  

Casement's bones were repatriated to Ireland 1965.  His bones lay in state at Arbour Hill for five days. More than three million people filed past his coffin.  He was given a state funeral and was buried with full military honours in the Republican section with the other heroes in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

The carriage on which Sir Roger Casement was laid in Ireland

The President of Ireland, Eamon De Valera was the only living Rising leader at this time. At over 80 years of age, he attended Casement's funeral against all medical advice, along with all the other dignitaries of the Government of Ireland and over 30,000 people.   

In death as in life, Casement has remained a controversial figure. His bones (or lack off)  have been the subject of yet more discussion and debate between England and Ireland; as late as 1998 the Sinn Féin newspaper An Phoblacht claimed that the coffin was full of stone. This was immediately contradicted by the historian Proinsias Mac Aonghusa .  


More from this series:

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Éamonn Ceannt

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Cornelius Colbert

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Cathal Brugha

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Seán Heuston

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Seán Mac Diarmada

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Tomás Séamus Ó Cléirigh

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Liam Mac Piarais

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Edward 'Ned' Daly

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Tomás Mac Donnchadha

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Michael O'Hanrahan

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Sean Connolly

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Michael Mallin

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: James Connolly

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Patrick Pearse

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Joseph Mary Plunkett

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Éamon de Valera

The Link Between the Capuchin Friars and the Leaders of the 1916 Ea...

Mary Thorpe is the author of "That's Just How it Was," available on Amazon, Kindle, Gardner's Wholesale Books UK, Bertems, and Inghams.

Now available to order from Waterstones USA /England / Ireland 


Views: 1644

Tags: 1916, Antrim, Dublin, Easter Rising, Irish Freedom Struggle

Comment by M.J. Neary on April 10, 2015 at 9:02am

Mary, have you read Geoffrey Dudgeon's book on Casement?

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on April 13, 2015 at 8:20am

M.J No I have not read it ; I would like to read ; must put it on my list of books to read .

Comment by M.J. Neary on April 14, 2015 at 7:51am

It's limited edition, and very, very heavy.  Here it is:

I paid a fortune for it, but it was worth it.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on April 16, 2015 at 12:48pm

Have I thanked you already MJ ; if not thank you very much ; I appriciate the thought 

Comment by M.J. Neary on April 17, 2015 at 8:15am

I  have to warn you that the book - and the persona of the author - are both rather controversial.


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on April 17, 2015 at 3:01pm

I like controversial !!!! Thank MJ 

Comment by M.J. Neary on April 17, 2015 at 3:16pm

I do too.  But that book ruffled a few feathers.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on April 19, 2015 at 7:53am

Noted ; Thanks 


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