Roger Casement and ‘Kingstown’ in 1916

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Roger Casement was born on September 1, 1864 in Doyle’s Cottage, located on what is now Sandycove Road and then known as Lawson Terrace.

Casement wore numerous hats over the years; British diplomat, humanitarian, Irish nationalist and poet – prompting him to been hailed as the Father of 20th century human rights.

Sir Roger was hung for treason in London’s Pentoville Prison by British executioner John Ellis exactly one hundred years ago next Wednesday, August 3. There will be a wreath laying ceremony in Sandycove at 7pm on Tuesday, August 2 to mark the centenary of his death.

Casement was knighted for his contributions to human rights in the Congo and Peru in 1911. Despite receiving this honour, he became increasingly disillusioned with the colonialism of the British Empire. Sir Casement retired from consular service in 1913 and became a founding member of the Irish Volunteers.

During the World War I, he campaigned for Irish nationalism and travelled to Germany  to seek support and arms. He was arrested for treason in April 1916 on an intercepted German submarine in Cobh, Co. Cork.

Casement was stripped of his knighthood and stood on trial. His homosexuality was also used against him, which contributed to him being airbrushed out of Irish history for many years. His sexual orientation seemingly still stirs controversy, as a dance show at an arts festival in Banna Strand, Co. Kerry has drawn criticism for being “highly sexualized” according to this story from The Irish Examiner.

Next week, he will be honoured in both Sandycove and Connemara, as he also wrote about the devastating poverty he witnessed in the West of Ireland. Thankfully, the result of last year’s marriage equality referendum is a fitting tribute to both Casement and Oscar Wilde, who both suffered horrifically for their sexual persuasions.

Casement seems to command more respect abroad than at home, so we should grasp this chance to remember a great man who fought tirelessly for our rights for those all over the world. American alt-rock band …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead released a fantastic instrumental tracks entitled ‘The Betrayal of Roger Casement and the Irish Brigade’ in 2008, which you can listen to below.

Casement’s centenary also coincides with two free walks of Dún Laoghaire town during  the next few weeks on Wednesday and Thursday evenings that starts from the steps of the Town Hall on Marine Road from 7pm.

Victorian Dun Laoghaire: A Town Divided by Tom Conlon was published in May by the History Press Ltd. and is flying out of local bookstores. Tom is leading a free tour of Dún Laoghaire town from 7pm on Wednesdays, which offers a fascinating glimpse of the social conditions around the time of the Rising.

Even if you’re experiencing a slight level of 1916 fatigue, Conlon’s compelling tour brings the era to life and does not delve into the well-documented events of Easter Week. As the historian, author and member of the fantastic Come Here to Me team, Donal Fallon, pointed out to me, Irish history has all too often been preoccupied with personalities rather than social conditions and ordinary people.

The reason history has come alive in recent years with hugely popular radio programmes, books, blogs, tours and events is due to an emerging trend of people reclaiming history for themselves. Take for example the focus on women and children during the recent 1916 century. During the 50th anniversary in 1966, there was a much more stale and reverential approach.

Some Dún Laoghaire residents infamously gave British reinforcements arriving at the harbour during Easter week a hero’s welcome, but this paints a very incomplete picture. Over 170 people from the area fought in the Rising, and as Conlon’s tour explores, the town was a very mixed community with huge disparities in wealth and living standards.

On Thursday evenings, Michael O’Flaherty of the Dún Laoghaire Historical Society leads a tour of Dún Laoghaire also commencing at the Town Hall at 7pm. You can discover the Forty Foot Road, learn about a shopkeeper knighted by a King, and stroll down Stable Lane where the ‘Robin Hoods’ dined in 1916, plus much, much more.

In another 1916 commemoration, An Post’s GPO Witness History project produced this video of Company Sergeant Major Lomas showing young British soldiers how to fire their rifles on Dún Laoghaire’s East Pier. Also, Gavin Friday has done an installation and musical piece called The Casement Sonatra in the Hugh Lane Gallery which is on view until August 21.

While most of the commemorations for the centenary of the Rising took place over Easter, there are still plenty of opportunities to learn more about the events of 1916 and how they impacted on our community, and also honour one of the greatest activists for human rights our country has ever known.

I’ll leave you with this image of a fantastic mural near the Boynan Centre in Dún Laoghaire commemorating the centenary of our revolution, and finally, The Ghost of Roger Casement by W.B. Yeats.

 

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1916 Century mural beside the Boynan Centre
The Ghost Of Roger Casement
by William Butler Yeats
 O what has made that sudden noise?
What on the threshold stands?
It never crossed the sea because
John Bull and the sea are friends;
But this is not the old sea
Nor this the old seashore.
What gave that roar of mockery,
That roar in the sea’s roar?The ghost of Roger Casement
Is beating on the door.John Bull has stood for Parliament,
A dog must have his day,
The country thinks no end of him,
For he knows how to say,
At a beanfeast or a banquet,
That all must hang their trust
Upon the British Empire,
Upon the Church of Christ.The ghost of Roger Casement
Is beating on the door.

John Bull has gone to India
And all must pay him heed,
For histories are there to prove
That none of another breed
Has had a like inheritance,
Or sucked such milk as he,
And there’s no luck about a house
If it lack honesty.

The ghost of Roger Casement
Is beating on the door.

I poked about a village church
And found his family tomb
And copied out what I could read
In that religious gloom;
Found many a famous man there;
But fame and virtue rot.
Draw round, beloved and bitter men,
Draw round and raise a shout;

The ghost of Roger Casement
Is beating on the door.

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