On this day in 1916, Sir Roger Casement, an English Knight and Irish patriot was hanged for treason against the crown. He was executed in an English jail, despite his demand to be tried in Ireland, the land of his birth and his heart.
“They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace” – Patrick Pearse
This passionate call to arms and declaration of war was delivered by Patrick Pearse at the graveside of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. It is one of the most famous speeches in Irish history and O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral was a show of military might, a genius stroke of propaganda created by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and one of the catalysts that led to the Easter Rising in 1916. It took place on this day in 102 years ago.
Ireland has many tragic love stories in its history and one of them is the tale of Kitty Kiernan and Michael Collins. Kitty was desperately in love with Collins and more than eager to marry him. They planned a double wedding with Kitty’s sister and her groom, but fate intervened and Collins was assassinated before the wedding could take place. A few months later on what would have been her wedding day, Kitty arrived at her sister’s celebration wearing black from head to toe. Collins’s death would affect Miss Kiernan for the rest of her life.
Piaras Béaslaí may have been born in England, but that didn’t stop him from being profoundly Irish. His Irish Catholic parents emigrated to Liverpool before Piaras was born but he grew up with a strong love for his heritage. By the time he was a teenager he was fluent in Irish and obsessed with Ireland’s struggle for independence. He wrote fiery newspaper articles and rebellious poetry that highlighted the Irish Republican cause and eventually led him into the Gaelic League and the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood. He developed close friendships and worked side by side with many prominent revolutionaries like Ned Daly, Thomas Ashe, and Michael Collins, just to name a few.
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.
On this day 102 years ago, a large shipment of arms landed in Howth, destined for the Irish Volunteers. Many of these guns were used two years later during the Easter Rising of 1916 and without them, the Rising may never have happened at all. When the Asgard came to shore it was met by the Fianna Éireann and other Volunteers who were quick to unload the weapons and begin carting them off. They hoped to avoid the attention of the police, but their mission did not pass unnoticed. The authorities who were watching did not engage the large crowd but they did call for backup. As the Volunteers left the area they were met by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, a regiment of the British Army. A tussle ensued but in the end, the soldiers were only able to confiscate a mere nineteen of the nine hundred guns brought into Ireland that day.
News spread quickly of the successful smuggling operation and the military’s failure to seize most of the weapons so by the time the Borderers were marching back into Dublin, crowds had already gathered to celebrate and to mock them. They antagonized the soldiers, taunting them and throwing rubbish and fruit at the column (which magically became stones in the official reports). They shouted insults and openly laughed at the troops and their failed mission. Soldiers and police officers never tolerate this kind of behavior for long (as they continue to prove to this day) and by the time they marched onto Bachelors Walk they had had enough of the hostile crowd. The soldiers turned to face the people and seconds later shots were fired directly into the busy street, hitting those who had been following them and innocent civilians alike. They followed the volley of bullets with a bayonet charge. The collective lack of self control from the army resulted in four casualties and nearly forty others were injured.
I haven’t written much about my month-long journey through Ireland culminating with the Centenary because to be frank, I am left speechless by most of it. I have no words to convey how much it changed me and how blessed I was to connect with so many amazing people. Many of the greatest moments of my life happened on this trip, including being one of the Constance Markievicz 1916 Societies standard bearers near the forefront of the centenary parade(s). I still can’t believe that happened and I owe the honor to a couple of incredible women named Anna Harvey and Emma Radford.