One hundred years ago today, Roger Casement was executed at Pentonville Prison in London. In record time, Casement had gone from being a world-renowned humanitarian and a Knight in high standing to a treasonous pervert who was shunned by many of those he once called friends. He was hanged on August 3rd, 1916, for his failed attempt to bring German support and weaponry to Ireland for the Easter Rising and for other “crimes” he committed in his pursuit for Irish freedom.
Casement’s knightly betrayal embarrassed the English government and they were not content to simply kill him.They stripped him of his knighthood and thoroughly destroyed his reputation before making him face the noose. He was the only man associated with the Rising who was killed in this fashion and the only one who died on foreign soil. This was an added insult to someone who had devoted many years of his life to Ireland and its fight for independence.
The English government’s vindictive behavior continued for more than a few decades and they continually denied formal petitions to bring Casement’s body back home to Ireland. It took nearly fifty years for his remains to be released but some would still argue that the captivity continues to this day, since his body lies in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, rather than in Antrim near Murlough Bay as Roger requested. He always considered the North of Ireland to be his home and his last wish was to be buried there but when Casement’s body was repatriated to Ireland, it was with the stipulation that the remains were never to be laid to rest in the North. Harold Wilson’s government insisted that “a reburial there could provoke Catholic celebrations and Protestant reactions,” and the mandate remains in effect one hundred years after Casement’s execution.
Curiously enough, those same repatriation papers also included his title, even though his knighthood was formally stripped in 1916. Sir Roger Casement was returned to Ireland in 1965 where he received full military honors and a state funeral. Eamon De Valera, who was the last living leader of the Easter Rising, attended the service against his doctor’s orders.
Today there is a graveside wreath laying ceremony at 10AM in Glasnevin Cemetery. Later on tonight at 9PM there will be a candlelight vigil in Casement’s honor at the gates of Glasnevin, hosted by the local 1916 Societies. On this, the hundredth anniversary of his death, it should be noted that the homosexual behavior he was demonized for in 1916 was legalized by popular vote in Ireland ninety-nine years after his death. Times they are a’changin and someday, maybe his final resting place will too.