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Casement Documents are Found in Clare
Gordon Deegan reports on the discovery of papers relating to Irish patriot Roger Casement in Clare County Council.
Personal papers relating to the Irish patriot, Roger Casement were kept under lock and key in Clare County Council’s stores since the late 1960s. The papers were presented to the council by the late Ignatius M. Houlihan in July 1969. The Ennis solicitor had received them as a gift from “a member of one of the noble families of Europe”.Roger Casement expert, Aongus Mitchell this week described as “highly significant” the contents of the original papers that archivist Roisin Berry came across while carrying out an inventory of the council’s historical documents. The papers, mainly letters, cover the last two years of Casement’s life before he was executed by the British for his role in smuggling arms into Ireland for the 1916 rising. The last letter on file is one from Casement, dated April 4, 1916, just 11 days before his departure for Ireland on a German U-boat, which landed him at Banna Strand in Co. Kerry on Good Friday, 1916.
“I came across the papers during an inventory of the council’s archives. At first, I did a double take, I wasn’t expecting something so exciting. I instantly recognised the value of them and their importance for Clare and I was anxious to make them accessible as soon as possible,” explained Ms. Berry. “They date from Casement’s arrival in Germany in 1914 to the very month he leaves Germany in 1916 on the under 19 bound for Ireland. The documents address a range of different subjects including the enlisting of Irishmen in the First World War, the appointment of an envoy from England to the Vatican, the Findlay affair, the work of Fr. Crotty in German prison camps, writing articles for the press, keeping a diary and the desire for peace. She said, “Casement’s concern for the spiritual welfare of Irish prisoners of war in Germany is reflected very clearly in this part of the collection, as is his contempt for the British government and his desire to see it undermined. In addition, moments of loneliness and paranoia are expressed, as Casement became increasingly isolated from Irish nationalists and the German Foreign Office. “His deteriorating health is also referred to. What comes across particularly strongly, however, is Casement’s inextinguishable passion and drive for the cause of Irish independence, reflected also in his writings from the period.”
Aongus Mitchell commented, “These are very significant letters. It has been suggested that Casement was mentally unstable during part of his time in Germany. These letters hardly suggest that he was in a state of mental collapse and show him to be far more in control of his faculties than many have suggested.” He added that the letters will cause him to revise his opinion about Casement’s state of mind around this time.
The collection is divided into three sections. The first addresses correspondence and receipts between 1913 and 1916 and forms one of the most interesting parts of the collection. It includes correspondence mostly between Casement and an old German friend from his days in Africa, Count Gebhard Blücher. Blücher was the great-great-grandson of Marshal Blücher, saviour of the British at Waterloo, and Casement relied on Blücher for support and also for his connections with many leading German diplomats.
Ms. Berry continued, “The correspondence reveals Casement’s
feelings on the war, as he notes in a letter to Blücher ‘The only
cheering thing is that the Irish are not enlisting. That is killed anyhow
- and the 200,000 men they had expected from Ireland to cut the German
throat will not come up to the knife’ (January 12, 1914).
Ms. Berry also stated that “a number of letters in the collection address the subject of Father Crotty including letters between Casement and Count George von Wedel, Chief of the English Department in the German Foreign Office, Richard Meyer, also of the German Foreign Office, and Countess Blücher”. She revealed, “These documents refer to issues such as funding, securing a permit to visit prisoners, finding a place of worship, and the prospect of leaving Germany. “In addition, an extract from one of Crotty’s letters copied in Casement’s own hand, is of particular interest, providing an insight into the relationship between the Dominican priest and the Irish prisoners of war. It states ‘…I should regret leaving the poor boys who assure me that Germany could do them any greater injury than to deprive them of my ministrations. They would live on bread and water and work night and day if I should be left with them to the end. The poor fellows cried like children when I announced to them the news of my recall…’ (February 4, 1916).” According to Ms. Berry, “Possibly one of the most intriguing documents in this body of material, however, is a letter from Casement to Countess Blücher, which addresses the subject of keeping a diary, ‘You know the charm of a diary is its simplicity. Its reality and the sense of daily life it conveys to the reader depends not on style, but on truth and sincerity.
It should tell of things - but still more of the writer and his (or her) outlook on those things. . . I kept one for the first three months or so of my stay in this country, and then I gave it up because I became too personal! I found myself writing things best left unwritten - even unthought - and since I could not tell the truth, even to myself, I dropped the [fun] - a year ago!”’(February 1, 1916).
The two other sections deal with printed materials and
essays by Casement. She added, “Casement continues to be an enigmatic
figure in Irish history, particularly in light of the heated debates surrounding
the authenticity of the ‘Black Diaries’ which continue even after the
forensic testing of the documents.
Ms. Berry recollected, “On leaving school, Casement was employed by the Elder Dempster shipping company in Liverpool until 1883 when he experienced his first taste of Africa, working as a purser on board an African trading vessel. Casement secured other positions in Africa during the 1880s and in 1892, was recruited by the British Foreign Office to serve in the Oil Rivers Protectorate at Old Calabar. Casement’s consular work took him to Mozambique, Angola, the Congo Free State and Brazil, and he gained international respect for his reports exposing the atrocities inflicted on native workers in the Congo and the Amazon, by European traders. Casement’s humanitarian work was rewarded in 1911 with a knighthood. He resigned from the Foreign Office in 1913 due to ill health and returned home to Ireland. She continued, “With his arrival in Ireland, Casement turned his attention towards matters closer to home, renewing friendships with nationalists and considering the issue of Irish independence. A man of strong nationalist sympathies, Casement helped to form the Irish Volunteers in 1913.
“By late September, Casement was in talks with the German military about the formation of an Irish Brigade made up of Irish prisoners of war held in German war camps. Casement left the United States in October and began his journey to Berlin, Germany. His mission was supported financially by a sum of $3000 in gold, provided by Clan na Gael. “As Casement engaged in discussions with the German Foreign Office, he began to put his plans in place for an Irish Brigade, assembling Irishmen from different prison camps at Limburg, a special camp in the Lahn Valley. Casement recognised the need for priests to provide for the spiritual care of the prisoners, requesting an Irish priest if possible. Three priests were located, Fr. John Thomas Crotty, a Dominican, Fr. John Thomas Nicholson from Philadelphia, and Fr. Canice O’Gorman who came through Clan na Gael. It was Fr. Crotty who was to become an invaluable source of help and support for Casement. Casement began to call for volunteers from the Irish prisoners of war to join an Irish Brigade and fight for Irish independence, however, the results were not positive, and often hostile. Casement was also concerned with locating more suitable military officers and even turned to the United States in his quest, however, only one man got through, Robert Monteith. Relations between Casement and the men continued to deteriorate in 1915. His relationship with the German Foreign Office was also considerably cooler as Casement’s efforts to build an Irish combat unit yielded little results. Casement realised that the Germans had little interest in Ireland or her liberation.
By 1916, it was clear that the Germans were only willing to send a small consignment of arms to Ireland as a feeble gesture to keep their Irish-American friends happy, and to perhaps cause a military diversion. Only one ship, the Aud, would be sent to Tralee, carrying a cargo of 20,000 rifles captured from the enemy instead of the requested 100,000. Casement became increasingly concerned about the prospect of an armed rising without sufficient military cover. Greatly opposed to the plan, Casement now focused on how to reach Ireland before the rising scheduled to take place on Easter Sunday to call off the rebellion. Casement eventually persuaded the Germans to allow him to travel to Ireland by submarine prior to the sailing of the Aud and the planned rising. The U-19 carrying Casement, Monteith and Irish Brigadier, Daniel Bailey, arrived at Tralee Bay on April 16, 1916. Roger Casement was captured and subsequently sentenced to death by the British authorities. He died in Pentonville prison on August 3, 1916.