Monday, 19 August 2013

Roger Casement remembered

John Joe McCusker, Republican Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member, speaking at the Roger Casement commemoration, Murlough, Co Antrim, August 4.

Roger Casement was born in Sandycove, Dublin 1 in September 1864.  Following the
R. Casement, 1864 - 1916
death of his parents, who had both died by the time he was thirteen, he was reared by his paternal relatives in Co Antrim and attended the Diocesan School in Ballymena.

His early employment with a shipping company brought about knowledge of the many of the main trading hubs across the Eastern hemisphere.

As a young man he joined the great explorer Stanley, who, given his vast knowledge of the African Continent, was one of many contracted to help Leopold II, King of the Belgians, establish what was ventured as an international effort to assist the indigenous peoples of the Congo (under the terms of the Berlin Agreement 1885) to develop education and commerce and general human advancement in the region.  He found that what was developing was offensive to his nature and was enslaving Congolese people.  Roger Casement did not endear himself to the ruthless business cartel which had developed into a dictatorial quasi governmental agency.   He and others made an impact by highlighting and condemning the regime and thus propelled him into the international diplomatic arena.

Following his recruitment to the British Foreign Office he was appointed Consul in the French Congo in 1901.  Given his developing knowledge of the region and the high regard that he had attained he was engaged to report on the conduct and governance of the Belgian Congo in 1903.

We here in Ireland know enough to realise the nature and conduct of colonialism.  

Roger Casement reported what he saw of the mutilations and the savage regime which was involved in the running of the many mining operations which were expanding into the African Continent at that time.  Slavery had been abolished but forced labour was still the common practice.  Those who rebelled were cruelly whipped, imprisoned and the mutilation of the body was also used to terrorise those who dared oppose the colonial interest as it existed at that time.  Casement’s report was based on what he had seen and on statements taken from those who had suffered mutilations and other torture.

Despite efforts to rubbish his report a further Independent Enquiry confirmed that Casement’s report was accurate.

In 1906 Roger Casement was sent to Brazil to Para and Santos and Rio de Janeiro.  He was commissioned to report on the rubber industry in the region of the Putumayo.  Specifically on the treatment of the Putumayo Indians by the British registered Peruvian Amazon Company.  Again torture and whipping and forced labour was the basis of fulfilling the labour needs of European Capitalists.

His report noted evidence where whole families were imprisoned for non-conforming and where children were forced to watch their parents die from the wounds received from torture. His report published on March 17, 1911 would bring about his Knighthood.  He intimated at this time to personal friends that he was not happy with the title; however his personal circumstances precluded him from refusing.

Incidentally, the first edition of ‘The Concise Oxford Dictionary’ was published in the same year, June 1911.  That dictionary describes the word ‘coerce’ thus, “Forcibly constrain or impel (person) into quiet, obedience.”   The noun of the word states,  “Controlling of voluntary agent or action by force; government by force, esp. of Ireland by suspension of ordinary liberties.”

This was the state of the occupation of  Ireland at that time and if those seeking to describe a word could arrive at no more explicit and precise explanation than to refer to the vile treatment of the Irish people then it must have been accepted , very well across the world what the meaning of the word conveyed.  Many learned men, Professors Doctors of Literature and Language, Reverend gentlemen scrutinised the Dictionary, word by word as was their bent in order to find fault with the Editor and yet throughout many decades no fault could be found with the meaning.

The actuality of the Irish occupation could hardly escape such learned people such as Roger Casement.  That the meaning of the word remained unchallenged for many decades is indeed a damning indictment of the English occupation of our Country.  It is indeed an acceptance, by the learned men who contributed to the compilation of this scholarly publication the nature and deception that England employed in the subjugation of a small Nation.  Is it any wonder that a decent and honest individual such as Roger Casement and other decent-thinking people should stand out in defence of small nations.

The proximity of Irish history and the unfolding events surrounding Irish Home Rule and the parallels with Colonial Ireland which he witnessed in the Congo and in the Putamayo region of Peru at the end of the 19th century reinforced his Irish Nationalism.

Like many from a Protestant background at that time he was a member of the Gaelic League. An organisation which he became a member from 1904.

He retired from the British Consular service in 1913.  At around this time, October 24, 1913, he first spoke in favour of Home Rule at Ballymoney, Co Antrim. In his address he stated that the exclusion of Ulster would not be a solution to the Home Rule crisis.  The Town Hall in Ballymoney was full with local Protestant people applauding what he was saying.  The meeting had much publicity and highlighted the precarious state of the Union.  Ironically the London Times dismissed Ballymoney as only ‘a small and isolated pocket of dissident Protestants’
His Gaelic League sensitivities were much offended when another organisation which he very much supported by finance and approval became embroiled on the issue of pragmatism.  Patrick Gallagher ‘Pat the Cope’ who had done great work for the people of Donegal by the introduction of the Co-Op., thereby providing money for the pockets of many people in this much disadvantaged area) stated that he had enough on his hands fighting the local storekeepers and gombeen men without having to try keep alive a dying language, too.

The incident disheartened Casement and prompted W B Yeats to write the famous lines which brings into focus the sharp realities when the needs of the heart and soul compete with the needs of the body.

What need you, being come to sense 
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone?
For men were born to pray and save,
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Roger Casement came to the view that Redmond’s Home Rule was too limited and he became more inclined to the ideals of Sinn Fein. He helped found the Irish Volunteers and recruited extensively across the Country for the movement.  He raised funding in the United States of America for the cause of Ireland’s freedom and was involved in planning the successful landing of arms at Howth, Co Dublin in 1914.

With John Devoy, Casement met with Germany’s top diplomat Count Bernstorff in New York to seek help in mounting a rebellion against English rule in Ireland and secured some positive indicators in this endeavour.  Having made attempts to recruit an Irish Brigade from the ranks of Irish POWs captured by the Germans on the battle fronts during WWI (Redmond’s Volunteers) it was felt unwise to return to Ireland and so he remained in New York and pursued the hope of securing armaments from Germany.  To this end he was funded by the Clan na Gael movement in the USA and he sailed for Germany.  

We are well aware from the words of the balladeer’s what happened  

‘Twas on Good Friday morning all in the Month of May.  (Easter Week 1916)       
A German Ship lay signalling beyond out in the Bay
I have 20,000 rifles all ready for to land 
And I aim to set my Country free from the lonely Banna Strand. 

There was no answering signal and Roger Casement landed on a small craft on the shores of Banna Strand in the hope of finding assistance for the landing of the armaments.  Two of his party headed towards Tralee to get help, alas, next day, exhausted and wet, Roger Casement was captured alone at a spot know as McKenna’s Fort  and  was conveyed to Tralee and from there he was taken to London England and  placed in the Tower of London.

Many days later when he obtained a visit he was still in the wet cloths he had been captured in. He was then removed to Pentonville Prison.  He was found guilty of Treason and sentenced to death by hanging.

Despite the efforts of many well-meaning and prominent people in England and Ireland seeking a reprieve of the death sentence he was hanged in Pentonville Prison on August 3, 1916.

F E Smith, Unionist Politician, and Attorney General at the time of the appeal hearing, was adamant that the execution would proceed.  Smith was pursuing the leadership of his Party at the time. Smith would later become Lord Birkenhead.

Ironically, some years earlier Lord Birkenhead (FE Smith)  and Captain Saunderson from the Belturbet area of Co Cavan along with the Unionist leadership in Ulster advocated  secession  from the United Kingdom and alignment with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany if there were any question of Home Rule. The Unionist doctrine was Mausers and Kaisers and any King you like.

There were no cries of Treason from the floors of the English Houses of Parliament.  No court case and no hanging.

Kaiser Wilhelm had many visits to Saunderson’s Castle in Co Cavan in the mid to late 19th Century.  It is told in our locality that on a particular day the young Wilhelm was out shooting with the young Saunderson. They were having little luck with the fowl so they decided to have some attendants throw potatoes into the air whereupon they would practice their shooting skills.  Wilhelm inquired what these strange items were, Saunderson replied, these are potatoes, these are the natives’ staple article of diet.

In 1965 the body of Roger Casement was released for reburial on the condition that he not be buried, as he requested, at Murlough Bay in Co Antrim.  This with God’s help will yet happen when our native land is eventually free from the clutches of England.

The coercion of the Irish people continues today, for if Griffith’s Sinn Fein philosophy whereby Nationalist Ireland ignores the British Sovereign’s claim and rules the land for the Irish people then there would be little that the English Government could do about it.  There does not exist within Nationalist Ireland the consensus to do so. They are impelled to be quiet to obey.  

The people in Stormont taking their orders from England and the people in Leinster House taking their orders from Brussels.  The intention to rid the 26 Counties of the Senate is all about streamlining the Governance of the 26 Counties for the European Parliament.  There will be no cumbersome stumbling-blocks to enacting European laws.  Such is the intent, for all small Nations while Germany, England and France shall maintain their dominant role. Unlike the USA where each American is equal
in Europe the old Colonial powers preserve a perverse grip on power and authority.
When I think of the sacrifice that Irishmen and Irishwomen have made in pursuit of the freedom of our Country I am reminded of the many great Protestant Irishmen and Irishwomen who have given their all over the centuries as leaders in the Irish Republican cause.  They have been truly the pure Republicans.
They could recognise the glorious consensus of a unified and free Irish people.

May the souls of all our patriot dead rest in Peace and may the dreams of their time be realised in a free and United Ireland.

An Phoblacht Abú!
Long live the Irish Republic