Tag Archives: Roger Casement

Casement execution anniversary ends 1916 centennial

Roger Casement, a Dublin-born British diplomat turned Irish republican rebel, was executed 100 years ago. He was hanged as a traitor on 3 August 1916 at Pentonville Prison in London, the last of 16 government executions related to the Easter Rising of four months earlier.

This anniversary ends the official 1916 centennial commemoration.

Casement was part of a failed effort to land arms from Germany for the Rising at the Kerry coast, where he was captured by the British. During my recent visit to Ireland, I viewed the excellent “Casement in Kerry, a revolutionary journey” exhibit at the County Kerry Museum. Additional stories about Casement can be found in An Phoblacht, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin newspaper, and The Irish Times.

In 1965, Casement’s remains were exhumed from the English prison yard and returned to Dublin for a state funeral. He was buried along with other Irish heroes at Glasnevin Cemetery.

Casement's grave at Glasnevin.

Casement’s grave at Glasnevin.


County Kerry Museum exhibit.

County Kerry Museum exhibit.

Rebel executions, property losses and lots of letters

Early May brings the centennial of the pivotal second act of the 1916 Easter Rising drama: the executions of 15 rebel leaders between 3 May and 12 May in Dublin. Sir Roger Casement was hanged 3 August 1916 in London.

Captain E. Gerard, a member of the British army in Ireland in 1916, described the Dublin executions two decades later, quoting an attending medical officer who “got so sick of the slaughter that [he] asked to be changed. … [Among the rebels,] three refused to have their eyes bandaged … they all died like lions. The rifles of the firing party were waving like a field of corn. All the men were cut to ribbons at a range of about 10 yards.”

The executions turned public opinion against the British and set the stage for the third act of the independence narrative, the Anglo-Irish War that began in 1919. Before that violence erupted, however, Irish men and woman, and British government officials, set about dealing with the immediate aftermath of the Rising. Many wrote letters about their experiences of Easter Week, some filed claims for property damage.

Among many Easter 1916 websites to appear online for the centennial, two are particularly compelling for their searchable access of original material.

Property Losses (Ireland) Committee, provided by the National Archives of Ireland, offers 6,567 digitized files consisting of “applications for compensation on a standard application form from individuals and businesses for damage to buildings and property, including loss of personal property sustained as a direct result of the fighting, or subsequently as a result of fire and looting. A number of applications have further correspondence and police reports attached.” The files are searchable by surname, location, business or words in the text. While most of the damage occurred in Dublin, the files trace back to property owners and other interested parties in other parts of Ireland.

Letters of 1916: A Year in the Life, is a project of Maynooth University and other supporters. It contains images and transcriptions of hundreds of searchable letters from 1 November 1915 to 31 October 1916.  As such, the letters connect “thousands of lives commenting a myriad of topics including the Easter Rising, literature and art, the Great War, politics, business, and ordinary life. Letters of 1916 adds a new perspective to the events of the period, a confidential and intimate glimpse into early 20th Century life in Ireland, as well as how Ireland was viewed abroad.” The database is searchable by word, subject category and month written.

One of my favorite examples is this 3 September 1916 letter to the sister of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, known as ‘The’ O’Rahilly,’ who died in the fighting of Easter Week. The letter writer describes a recent aviation demonstration:

The first day of the flying was a complete success. The papers represented pretty accurately what took place.  … [It] was an unexpected treat I would not have missed it for the world. I changed my mind on the subject at once. The flying machine has come to stay. The number of people, motors, carriages, was unique — never such a sight in holy Ireland before.

Many more glimpses of life in Ireland 100 years ago can be found on these two great websites. Search away!

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P1)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 1: Before the Rising & afterward

St. Patrick’s Day 1916 arrived in the second year of the Great War and a month before the Easter Rising. The Washington Post reported that President Woodrow Wilson was wearing “a bright green necktie and a little shamrock fresh from the ‘ould sod,’ a present from John Redmond, the Irish nationalist leader.”

Woodrow-Wilson_Health-Crisis_HD_768x432-16x9.jpg (768×432)

Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in November 1916.

The Post also published a short message from Redmond, datelined London: “Ireland stands united with the allies in the cause of liberty and civilization, and looks forward with confidence to the union of all her sons in the service of their common country under home rule at the termination of the war.”

The events of April 1916 made sure home rule never came to pass as the war on the continent dragged longer than Redmond and others imagined.

Whether the reporting about Wilson’s sartorial selections for St. Patrick’s Day was accurate or a bit of strategic blarney is impossible to know. But in the years following the Rising the descendant of Ulster Protestants, “deceived Irish America and ignored the execution of Roger Casement,” charges Robert Schmuhl, the author of “Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising.”

In an adaption from his book for Irish Central, Schmuhl writes:

For too long as president, Wilson refused to concentrate on the Irish question. Despite the leadership he tried to exert on the world stage and the radical changes within Ireland after the Easter Rising that deserved his attention, he kept ducking and dodging in public while fuming and fulminating in private. Over time, he appeared weak and indecisive.

Public opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere crystallized that Wilson was not inclined to do anything for Ireland. Though he blamed the American Irish for the failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and involve the United States in the League of Nations, they, in turn, blamed him for abandoning Ireland at a critical time.

More on Wilson, Irish exile John Devoy and American poet Joyce Kilmer in this 2012 piece by Schmuhl: ‘All Changed, Changed Utterly’: Easter 1916 and America.

For something less political, read about Wilson’s ancestral home near Strabane, County Tyrone.