A Commemorative weekend was held in North Antrim on the last weekend of July to celebrate the life of Roger Casement, just before the Centenary of his execution
The first event in Ballycastle took place at Corrymeela. When I arrived I was asked at the door if I “was looking for the SDLP meeting?” “No”, I said, “the talk about Casement.” After following directions I got lost in the Corrymeela complex and asked another employee about the Casement event. “Oh, you mean the SDLP meeting, in there” he pointed. At that point I nearly went home, thinking I had made some awful mistake, but then I saw John Gray.
Gray the “former Librarian of the Linen Hall Library” described his talk as ‘Roger Casement – Realities and Illusions of Colonialism’. I wasn’t left any wiser on the second bit and the part on Casement was the standard account. One interesting thing Gray said was that whilst Casement later cited the British concentration camps in South Africa as a thing which estranged him from the Empire at the time he was fully in favour of dealing with the Boers through harsh repressive measures like blockhouses, sweeps and relocation.
Gray took it for granted that the Black Diaries were authentic – and expected the same of the audience – saying the British could not have forged them in the short time they had them in their possession. Several people in the audience disputed the validity of the Diaries, although it now seems to be an article of faith that Casement was homosexual and the diaries were genuine. People were genuinely skeptical about this.
Angus Mitchell noted the danger of creating a Gay icon of Casement in History Ireland, August 2016:
“It is now evident that the Black Diaries have enabled their own form of epistemological violence, whereby Casement’s achievement… could be marginalized by playing the ‘paedophile’ trump… Revisionist efforts to try and turn the sexualized Casement into a kind of Proustian hero, or Gay role model, do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny of the texts… Casement’s cultural construct as an urbane and playful cosmopolitan queer has little to do with the encrypted distortions evident in the sexualized version of events.”
There is little if any evidence of Casement being homosexual anywhere outside of the Black Diaries and yet there seems to be a great desire to believe such a thing, whilst taking on all the toxic baggage of the Black Diaries.
Mitchell doubts very much whether the Diaries are authentic:
“Casement… as a British Civil Servant… was aware… of the role of the archive in the production of history… Heading towards his own violent end on the scaffold is it really probable that he would have so conveniently left the ingredients for the subversion of his pioneering investigations.? In any interrogation of the Black Diaries, questions to do with motive and probability weigh heavily on the side of forgery.”
In the same issue of History Ireland Paul Hyde, in examining the history of testing the authenticity of the Black Diaries, describes the scientifically flawed nature of these investigations which has reduced them to media events. He then comprehensively demolishes the scientific validity of the Giles Report.
Hyde describes the 2002 Giles Report as “a verbal smokescreen of ambiguity, repetitions, irrelevant data, deceptions, omissions, ex catedra pronouncements and disinformation.” He notes that if the Giles Report proved anything it was that there were definitely forged parts of the Black Diaries that “actually demonstrate the falsity of its own conclusions.” And there are now 6 different versions of the discovery of the Dairies emanating from the master forger Basil Thomson of Scotland Yard that reveals “dangerous instability in the foundations of the authenticity edifice.”
Getting away from the Black Diaries I asked Gray if he had an explanation why Casement went from being an Imperialist to Insurrection against the Empire. It couldn’t just have been that he suddenly became an Irish nationalist in 1904 or felt cheated over Home Rule when the Ulster Unionists brought the gun into politics. I said that Casement’s writings, contained in The Crime Against Europe collection, are always neglected, but they provide the answer – Casement was appalled that Britain was about to launch a catastrophic war on Europe to destroy Germany as a commercial competitor.
I told the audience that I had discovered that Balfour had indicated privately to the US Ambassador around 1909 that Britain intended to have a world war because it was easier to have a war than engage in free competition. This and a mass of other evidence – such as the writings of Lord Hankey, Lord Esher and the CID records – proved Casement right.
Gray in his reply said “But of course Balfour had been out of power when the war started”. I came in: ” Balfour was the most important figure in the British State. He had founded the Committee of Imperial Defence, which planned the war on Germany and remained a member even when he was in opposition, intimately involved in continuing the planning of the war with the Liberal Imperialists in the government. He also became First Lord of the Admiralty during the war, replacing Churchill. That was the most important position in the British military system since the Royal Navy was its senior service.”
This point seemed to take the wind out of Grey and he couldn’t respond.
Some of the audience said to me afterwards that Gray had made Casement sound like a fool, but the point I made changed the perception because he was not some foolish pro-German who became disenchanted with the Germans, but had good reason to sympathise with them due to the devious plans of Britain to encircle them and launch a war.
The questioning went a bit off track at this point. One man said that Collins had come to the Glens on occasion to organise the IRB there. Someone else claimed Collins and Churchill had sat by the fire in the Antrim Arms, Ballycastle around 1910-12, discussing Home Rule! No proof was given unfortunately for this wonderful story from an old farmer. It was said that the Churchills were regular visitors to Garron Tower, which was owned by the family before it became a school.
There were 2 more events in the town over the weekend. Patrick Casement talked about Casement at the Sheskburn Leisure Centre. This was a very interesting talk about Casement’s rather chaoitic family background and the substantial Imperial connections in it, with soldiers, admirals and servants of the Empire abounding.
Patrick Casement provided much interesting information but went out of his way to argue that while the British Imperialists were quite mild in their behavior in Africa etc. others e.g. Belgians, French, Germans, were much worse. He could not explain why Casement had thrown in his lot with such a bad lot, particularly in the light of atrocities in Belgium.
This meant I had to make the same point as the previous night about Casement being an insider, and seeing that Britain wanted a world war, naturally was propelled toward sympathizing with the Germans. I suggested that Casement had become disenchanted with them partly because he was a humanitarian and the Germans couldn’t fight an effective defence based entirely on humanitarian principles. They had to have a hard edge to their campaign. Casement felt primarily let down due to the fact that Ireland was low on the German priority list in 1916.
There was a march at Murlough Bay on the Sunday to honour Casement. It was organized by Sinn Fein and there was a really impressive turnout from right across Antrim. It was addressed by Martin Ferris, the Kerry TD, who gave a rousing speech about the incompleteness of the struggle of 1916. The Irish News did not give it a mention, despite the presence of a TD and it being the only Northern event in the Commemorations.
Murlough Bay was a fitting place to be, looking out toward Rathlin and Scotland, at the place Casement had loved and always wanted to be laid to rest.