The Reinterment of Roger Casement

The Reinterment of Roger Casement

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Production 24/02/1965


01min 20sec





black and white


Funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland under the Archiving Scheme 2


Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Department for Communities, ITV, UTV

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49 years after his execution in Pentonville Prison in England, the body of Roger Casement was returned to Ireland for burial in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery. Here we see the funeral cortege as his body is brought to lie in state in Dublin before the burial on 1st March. Casement had wanted to be buried at Murlough Bay near Ballycastle but the British government refused, fearing this might cause trouble. 

A memorial service takes place at the edge of the Bay every year. 


ROGER DAVID CASEMENT: Born 1 September 1864, executed 3 August 1916 aged 51; buried Pentonville Prison, reburied Glasnevin cemetery 1 March 1965. Significant companions: Millar Gordon born Larne 1890, from 1907 to 1914; and Adler Christensen born Norway 1890, from 1909 to 1915, died Fresnes Prison, Paris December 1935. 


Casement’s private diaries were handed in to Scotland Yard after his arrest in April 1916. They cover only the years of his Congo and Peruvian Amazon investigations in 1903, 1910 and in 1911 a diary and a cash ledger. That Casement wrote so ceaselessly suggests there must have been  many other diaries which were destroyed. They are the most concentrated and frank, if terse, exposition of a gay male lifestyle put on paper before the 1920s. As such, they are social documents of great interest particularly to other gay men who come into the world without a history. The only record of gay lives before then was the criminal record. The ledger reveals an interest in male bodies from his early teenage years in Ballymena. Their authenticity remains contested. The definitive evidence of Casement being a homosexual comes mostly from the diaries. London had only become aware of Casement’s sexual orientation in 1914 when his companion Adler Christensen betrayed him in Norway (and again in 1916 in the US). They had first met in South America and by chance later in New York.  There is no suggestion Casement was heterosexual nor any documentary evidence of the diaries being manufactured, a task that would have required much time and research into Africa, South America and illegal gay life, given the thousands of events and people they cover and describe. 

BIOGRAPHY: Roger Casement was born in Sandycove near Dublin, the youngest of four children, the son of Captain Roger Casement of the 3rd Light Dragoons. His father served in the 1st Afghan War, and was for three years, until 1858, a Captain in the North Antrim Militia. Captain Casement was from Belfast, his own father, Hugh, having a shipping business in the city until it failed in 1842 when he emigrated to Australia.  The boy's mother, Anne Jephson, was a Dublin Protestant, a member of the Church of Ireland. Her own mother was progressive and for many years ran a Ladies Seminary in the north of the city. Anne converted to Roman Catholicism and had her three boys secretly baptised as such in north Wales in 1868. Roger's upbringing however was Anglican. His early years were spent largely in London. Anne died of liver disease in Worthing when he was 9 and the boy was an orphan by age 12 when his father, who had returned to live in Ballymena, and relied on his relatives financially, died of TB in the Adair Arms Hotel.  After apparently no formal education in London, Roger, at age 12, started at the Diocesan School in the town (later Ballymena Academy) being cared for by a number of relatives, including the Youngs of Wellington Street and in Galgorm Castle. His uncle, John Casement, in Ballycastle was his formal guardian. He lived in a house named Magherintemple or Churchfield which the family still inhabits. It was that town which Roger saw as his home and inspiration. 

No money was found to educate him further despite his education level being probably the equivalent of a degree today. He was sent at the age of 15 to Liverpool to the home of his mother's sister, Grace. Her husband, Edward Bannister, worked for a shipping company, and was a merchant and later a British consul in Angola and the Congo. He arranged a job for Roger in another firm. The nephew followed almost exactly in Bannister’s footsteps, becoming a purser with Elder Dempster, an African line; working in the Congo initially for King Leopold, then the Sanford Exploring Expedition where he came into contact with Joseph Conrad, and even on a Baptist Mission, and as a consul in Brazil. In 1892, he joined the staff of the Survey Department at Old Calabar and became assistant Director of Customs in the Niger Coast (Oil Rivers) Protectorate, then acting vice-consul, his first such employment. From 1895 onwards, he held various consular appointments in east and west Africa and took part in the Boer War. His last African posting was to the Congo Free State when, in 1903, London commissioned him to investigate and report on the controversial management of what was the Belgian monarch’s personal fiefdom. That 1904 report on the Congo abuses led to Belgium taking over the state in 1908. His 1912 Putumayo report on the near genocide of Amazonian peoples in Peru, earned him a knighthood and an international reputation as a humanitarian. 

On his return to Ireland from 1904, his outlook changed from that of a perhaps grudging British imperialist. The Irish nationalism he had adopted in his teenage years returned to predominate in his thinking. He was also influenced by notable individuals like the Belfast antiquarian solicitor, FJ Bigger, and the Irish historian, Alice Stopford Green.  

Casement became increasingly involved in separatist politics where he mentored several key figures like Bulmer Hobson, Cathal O’Byrne and Denis McCullough. A strong cultural nationalist, he was a member of the Gaelic League, organiser of the Glens Feis and a frequent contributor to the nationalist press. He was greatly attracted to the values of ‘Irish Ireland’ and learned Irish by attending summer schools in Donegal and Galway with his cousins Gertrude and Elizabeth Bannister and other upper-class female friends from Co Antrim. One, Ada McNeill from Cushendun, developed a romantic interest in him which had to be repelled. 

After early retirement on health grounds in 1912, Casement became the Treasurer of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and enabled the Howth gun-running in July 1914. He argued in Ulster against Carson and Unionism but found no traction outside liberal Ballymoney. When the 1st World War broke out in August 1914 Casement was in the United States fund-raising for the Irish Volunteers. A year earlier he had written an article entitled ‘Ireland, Germany and the Next War’, identifying Germany as a potential ally. By now he was highly pro-German idealising Germany’s muscular imperialism as a counter balance to England, a country he hated.  

Casement arrived in Berlin in October 1914 and put three requests to the German government a declaration of recognition of Irish independence, the formation of an Irish Brigade consisting of Irish POWs Germany, and arms and German officers to lead an insurrection in Ireland. The Irish Brigade did not attract recruits. However within three weeks of his arrival in Germany, he had effected the greatest of diplomatic advances – diplomatic recognition in Berlin by a declaration calling for Ireland’s “national freedom”. 

On learning that an insurrection was planned for Easter 1916, Casement determined to return to Ireland to prevent it because he believed it was doomed to failure without substantial arms and German support. In this respect he was at one with Bulmer Hobson and Eoin MacNeill. He was arrested on Banna Strand in County Kerry on Good Friday 1916, having been put ashore by a German submarine. The ship transporting the German rifles, was intercepted and scuttled. Casement was taken to the Tower of London to be tried at the Old Bailey in July for high treason and convicted. 

London had become aware of Casement’s homosexuality in 1914 when Adler Christensen so indicated at the British Legation in Oslo. However only with the discovery of the diaries were pages circulated to key influencers in London and America, detailing his extensive sexual activity. The intention was to discredit him, silence the demand for clemency and ensure he did not achieve the status of martyrdom (which his speech from the dock reveals he clearly sought). Many Irish nationalists believed that the diaries were forgeries, and still do. Before his execution, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church.  Casement remains one of the most significant figures in the Irish revolution while the controversy about his sexuality has never abated.

This account is based on Roger Casement: The Black Diaries – with a Study of his Background, Sexuality, and Irish Political Life by Jeffrey Dudgeon, 802pp. (3rd edition 2019); the erotically-charged 1911 diary being published here for the first time, alongside the other three.


An Ulster Television Production.

Biography written by Jeffrey Dudgeon




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