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Roger Casement (1864-1916)

2016 marked the centenary of the execution of Roger Casement, the Irish revolutionary and international advocate for human rights, for his role in organising the 1916 Easter Rising. Over the course of 2016 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been involved in a range of events to commemorate Casement and his life.

Roger Casement (1864-1916)

As a teenager Casement left his home near Ballycastle, Co Antrim, to take up employment with a shipping company, eventually settling in the Congo Basin for much of his 20s. Having worked as an explorer, surveyor and lay missionary in West Africa, Casement was recruited by the British Foreign Office in 1892 to act as a consular officer. Throughout his consular career Casement served in different parts of Africa and South America including the Congo Free State, Nigeria, Mozambique, Brazil and Peru.

During this period he wrote two hugely influential reports on human rights abuses carried out by European commercial concerns against the indigenous peoples of the Congo Free State and the Putumayo basin in the upper reaches of the Amazon. Casement was knighted in 1911 by King George V for his second report. Increasingly concerned with the condition of Ireland and the negative effects of imperialism globally, Casement retired from the Foreign Office in 1913 and threw himself into the Irish revolutionary movement.

He spent much of the last three years of his life in the United States and Germany attempting to gain support for the rising which would take place in Easter 1916. Casement was arrested in the days before the rising by police near Banna Strand, Co Kerry, where he had been landed from a German U-Boat accompanying a ship carrying arms and ammunition for the Rising. He was found guilty of treason for his role in organising the Easter Rising and was hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916.

This Most Gallant Gentleman

In 1965 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (then known as the Department of External Affairs) commissioned the film “This Most Gallant Gentleman” to make a record of the State Funeral of Roger Casement. Casement’s re-interment in Glasnevin was the product of many years of diplomatic efforts to have his remains returned to Ireland.

The film was made by the pioneering Irish director Colm Ó Laoghaire and was one of the earliest films for which The Chieftans provided a soundtrack.

State Ceremonial on the centenary of Casement’s execution

Minister Charlie Flanagan and Niall Casement lay wreaths at Glasnevin Cemetery (Courtesy: Glasnevin Trust)
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan TD, represented the Government at the State Ceremonial event on 3rd August 2016 to mark the centenary of the execution of Roger Casement. This ceremony, at Casement’s graveside, was also attended by members of the Casement family.

Minister Flanagan used the occasion to say:

Roger Casement’s work to expose cruelty and abuse in Africa secured his legacy as one of the great Irish humanitarians of the early 20th century, and his commitment is reflected in Ireland’s long standing involvement with UN peacekeeping missions and our strong commitment to overseas development. I am pleased to represent the Government here today as, together with members of his family, we remember Casement’s life and idealism and reflect on his legacy.

Iveagh House Commemorative Lecture:

The Iveagh House Lectures were inaugurated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2012 as a series of commemorative lecturers which would be built around significant events and individuals in the history of Ireland, including our diaspora. Drawing on Casement’s humanitarian legacy, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, was invited to speak at Iveagh House on 21st November on the theme of “A Casement Lecture: Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge”. Further details and a recording of the lecture is available here.

Casement Day at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel

On 3rd August Irish Aid, Ireland’s overseas development programme, together with the Defence Forces, marked Roger Casement’s contribution to international human rights by taking part in a special open day at the Air Corp’s Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel. Military vehicles, vintage aircraft and rare memorabilia were on display throughout the day and a specially curated programme of exhibitions and talks on Casement, with a special focus on his legacy as an international humanitarian, took place throughout the day.

Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Joe McHugh TD, attended the event and said:

Many events have already taken place to commemorate Roger Casement, both in Ireland and across the globe facilitated by our Embassy network. The interest displayed in remembering Casement’s life and legacy is testament to the impact he had in fighting for the human rights of those forgotten and marginalised by the powers that be… The Government’s Irish Aid programme has its roots in Ireland’s missionary tradition and for many decades Irish Aid has provided help to the most vulnerable in the world.