On this day in 1916, Roger Casement (once Sir Roger Casement) was convicted by the British crown for high treason. Roger Casement was an anomaly. He was a foreign office diplomat who could never quite get what he was after. He was knighted for his humanitarianism but was trying to broker arms deals. He believed in Irish Republicanism but some of his comrades believed he was too moderate while others believed he was too extreme. He was a rumored sex tourist who traveled to hide and indulge in his homosexuality. And despite having no foreknowledge of the upcoming Easter Rising – being that he was NOT a member of the IRB and they did not fully trust him – he was still convicted of high treason and some of the charges that led to his death were that he helped to plan the rebellion.
It was surprising that he heard of it at all. Casement had been out of the country and then was in the north and kept in the dark by the Republican Brotherhood. He was arrested 3 days before the Rising began – after failing to get Germany to agree to send reinforcements into Ireland to fight the British – and after a whole shipment of German arms heading into Ireland was intercepted. His case was difficult because he was in Germany when such ‘crimes’ happened, but they were relentless in his prosecution.
His supporters at trial were the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W.B.Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps the revolutionaries weren’t sure about him, but the popular writers of the day sure seemed to be. On June 29th, 1916, he was stripped of knighthood upon his conviction and sentenced to a death by hanging.
His appeals failed. By the time he was hanged, he had converted from Protestant to Catholic and his priest thought he should be considered a saint. He was buried in quicklime at the prison after his death. In 1965, he was repatriated to Ireland and laid to rest with full honors and a state funeral in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery. However, Casement’s last wish was to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast and it has yet to be fulfilled. The government released his remains only on condition that they not be brought into Northern Ireland. Oddly enough, the 1965 British Cabinet record of the decision still refers to him as Sir Roger Casement.
Perhaps someday he will get his wish.