Roger Casement Letters on Display

Clare Champion, Friday, April 29, 2005

By Joe O’Muircheartaigh

It may have been relatively quiet on the western front where Clare and the Easter Rising was concerned, but the county can finally lay claim to something significant when it comes to this famous period in Irish history. It’s all to do with Roger Casement. He may have been close to the Clare coast as the Aud sped past the Loophead peninsula on the way to Banna Strand in April 1916 – nearly 90 years on pieces of Casement history are in the county for all time. All because a collection of letters written by Casement as he was involved in planning Ireland’s revolution has finally gone on display in Clare County Museum, over 35 years after they were donated to Clare County Council by noted Clare solicitor Ignatius Houlihan. The letters were described as“very significant”, by Casement historian Martin Manseragh as he launched the exhibition. “They are of considerable importance and add another dimension to the study of Roger Casement,” he said.

The collection of 50 letters was given to Ignatius Houlihan over 50 years ago by Count Blucher – a friend of Casement and great-great grandson by Marshal Blucher who helped defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. Blucher became an industrialist in Shannon on the encouragement of Ignatius Houlihan. As a show of the friendship between the two men, Blucher wanted to donate Napoleon’s carriage that passed through the Blucher generations to Houlihan. Houlihan declined this gift, but instead accepted the Casement letters and kept them safely for years before donating them to Clare County Council in 1969.

“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 County Archivist Roisin Berry. “To historians involved in Casement studies, the correspondence is a small jewel,” New York-based Casement historian Angus Mitchell has claimed. “What comes across most strongly is Casement’s inextinguishable passion and drive for the cause of Irish independence, reflected also in his writings from the period,” he added. “He had the foresight not to burn them or ship them off somewhere else - I know that he would be very proud of seeing them here in Ennis,” Ignatius Houlihan’s daughter, Deirdre, said of Count Blucher at the exhibition launch.

The letters date from Casement’s arrival in Germany in 1914 to the very month he leaves Germany in 1916 on the number 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 Finlay affair , the work of Fr. Crotty in German prison camps, writing articles for the press, keeping a diary and the desire for peace.

“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 nationlists and the German Foreign Office,” said Roisin Berry. “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. “The correspondence reveals Casement’s feelings on the war, as he notes in a letter to Blucher ‘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’,” she added.

Poignantly the last letter in the collection is dated on April 4, 1916 – this was just eleven days before Casement left Germany for Ireland on a German U-Boat that landed him on Banna Strand on Good Friday with a consignment of arms for the Easter Rising.

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