Kieran’s Our City, Our Town,
Cork Independent, 30 June 2016
Remembering 1916, The Verdict for Roger Casement
Continuing to explore the conversations in Cork post Easter 1916, this day, 100 years ago, the trial of Dublin born Sir Roger Casement (1864-1916), ended its process of interrogation. Between the afternoon of 20 April and the afternoon of 21 April 1916 he attempted to land 20,000 guns and ammunition at Banna Strand, County Kerry through a vessel called SS Libau but adapting the name of a real neutral merchant Norwegian ship called the SS Aud. The ship on being escorted into Cork Harbour by the British Navy was scuttled by its German Naval Officer Captain Karl Spindler.
On 30 June 1916 Sir Roger Casement was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death (on 3 August) in Pentonville Prison. The newspapers of the day including the Cork Examiner all wrote about the tense silence when each of the three judges finished their questioning. It was nearly three o’clock in the afternoon when the jury retired. In a few moments they sent out for the ‘original’ code, and for a copy of the indictment. These were supplied to them, but the Lord Chief Justice refused to send them a copy of the evidence, which they also asked for. At this time the court was crowded, barristers in wig and gown standing all over the floor of the court, the public, including many ladies in the smartest of summer dress, being packed in the galleries. Casement had disappeared from the dock. Then followed the long wait of close upon an hour whilst the judges had left the bench.
At ten minutes to four the judges returned. The jury soon followed, and Roger Casement again entered the dock. Here was a man who had spent 20 years in sub-Saharan Africa, including over a decade working for the British Foreign Office and was a consular official in Brazil for seven years. The names of the jury having been called over, they were asked if they were agreed upon a verdict. The foreman said they found the prisoner guilty. Casement was asked by the Crown if he has anything to say why sentence of death should not pass upon him according to law. All eyes were on the prisoner, but he remained perfectly clam, and read a long statement, which he had prepared twenty days previously – the main gist of which was that he objected to the jurisdiction of the court. He was then sentenced to death by hanging.
Sir Roger Casement was in the British Consular service for 18 years, and was appointed British Commissioner to investigate the methods of the rubber collection and treatment of the primitive Indian tribes in the region known as Putumayo, on the Upper Amazon, a region dominated by the Peruvian Amazon Company. The publication of his report in July, 1912, which revealed the systemic perpetration of appalling atrocities committed by the Peruvian agents of the company occasioned profound indignation throughout the civilised world. He relinquished the Consul-Generalship at Rio de Janeiro in 1913.
The O’Brien Press 16 Lives series (2016) commemorates the 16 men executed after the Easter Rising. The author Angus Mitchell of 16 Lives, Roger Casement outlines that Casement took an active part in the Home Rule controversy in Ireland on behalf of the Nationalist cause. He became a member of the Gaelic League in 1904. He was a skilled and determined networker in the lead-up to the Easter Rising, counting committed republicans Alice Milligan and Bulmer Hobson as close friends. His acquaintance with the historian Alice Stopford Green introduced him to the medieval scholar Eoin McNeil, the German Philologist Kuno Meyer, and a busy circle of nationalist intellectuals in London. He regularly visited the house Gaelic League Organisers, Robert and Sylvia Lynd, in Hampstead.
As the Home Rule crisis escalated, Casement resigned from the Foreign Office and he devoted his energies openly to Irish independence. After the founding of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, Casement spoke at recruitment rallies across the country and accompanied Pádraig Pearse, Tomás MacDonagh and Eoin MacNeill in building up the movement. In late July 1914, by then in the US, he heard about the successful landing at Howth by Erskine Childers and Mary Spring-Rice. His significant role in the planning of this venture gave him access to the inner circle of Clan na Gael, and in November 1914, with the support of the IRB executive, he arrived in Berlin to promote and explain the Irish struggle, both politically and intellectually. His efforts to recruit and train an Irish Brigade, from among the Irish born British army prisoners of war in Germany, failed. In April 1916, returning to Ireland, Casement was captured at an old Ringfort near Banna Strand and stood trial for high treason.
On 3 August 1916, Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison. His body was returned to Ireland in 1965 and despite his wishes to be buried in his ancestral home in Antrim, he was buried in Glasnevin, Dublin. As for the Aud, it now lies in 36 metres of water in Cork Harbour and is very broken up. There are a number of boilers to be seen as well as well as thousands of bullets strewn on the sea floor. Two of its fully restored anchors are now located at Tralee’s Brandon Conference Centre.
850a. Roger Casement, 1864-1916 (source: Cork City Library)
850b. Photograph of The Aud, c.1916 (source: Cork City Museum)