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"He gave up a lot for us" - 100 years after his execution Ireland pays tribute to Roger Casement

A commemoration was held for Casement this morning in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

03/08/2016. 1916 Roger Casement Commemoration. Pic Wreaths are laid on Roger Casement's grave this morning in Glasnevin Cemetery Source: Sam Boal

TODAY MARKS THE one hundredth anniversary of the execution of Roger Casement at Pentonville Prison in London.

Casement, one of the foremost Irish humanitarians of his time, was executed following a trial for his role in the 1916 Rising, a role which ended with his capture off of a German submarine at Banna Strand, Co Kerry, in April 1916. Together with Thomas Kent he was the only one of the Rising’s leaders to be executed outside of Dublin.

The commemoration, one of the last ceremonies marking the centenary of the Rising, that was held for Casement this morning at Glasnevin Cemetery, his final resting place, was by turns sombre and uplifting.

Like most of the Rising leaders, Casement was a complex character. Born in Ireland, to an Anglo-Irish family, he was briefly brought up in England before the death of his parents saw him move to live with his uncle in Antrim.

Thereafter, he spent much of his career working for the British government, documenting humanitarian abuses by colonists in Africa and South America, before finding himself engaged by Irish nationalism in the lead up to the Rising.

His capture in Kerry stemmed from an attempt on his part to ship German arms (Germany being at war with Britain at the time) into Ireland in advance of the hostilities in Dublin, a plan that never came to fruition.

03/08/2016. 1916 Roger Casement Commemoration. Pic Source: Sam Boal

At this morning’s commemoration, transcripts of Casement’s trial were read to the large crowd gathered in a seemingly neverending drizzle by Defence Forces Commandant Tommy Martin:

“Roger Casement, how say you, do you plead guilty or not guilty to the high treason alleged in the indictment?”

Sir Roger Casement: ‘Not guilty’.

Speeches were made by Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and Fr Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Chaplaincy in London.

Flanagan described the “generosity of spirit and selflessness” which caused Casement to take a central role in the Irish independence movement.

“Casement’s life… has had a profound impact on the unfolding of history on this island over the past hundred years,” the minister said.

It is very important that we have come together to remember (him) today, to honour his memory and to reflect on his life on the centenary of his execution and to do this in the company of his family.

Flanagan then laid a wreath on Casement’s grave, together with the revolutionary’s great, great, great grand-nephew (or great, great, great grand-cousin once removed if we’re being entirely accurate) Niall Casement.

The ensuing minute’s silence and piper’s lament, not to mention the driving rain, lent a sombre and poignant air to a sad, but also hopeful, morning.

Having been executed at Pentonville, Casement was repatriated to Glasnevin in 1965. His heartfelt wish had been to be buried in Antrim – however this wasn’t deemed prudent at the time given the tensions being seen in the north.

“It’s certainly much more fitting than Pentonville,” Niall Casement said in the aftermath of the ceremony regarding Casement’s final resting place.

20160803_105214 Niall Casement Source: Cianan Brennan/TheJournal.ie

Niall described a youth spent hearing about his famous relative, “growing up discovering more about him and hearing the family talk about him”.

“He was certainly very openly talked about by the family,” he said.

Questioned about his relative’s homosexuality, a fact that was used against him to a great extent by the British Crown during his trial, Niall replied “I don’t think it really has any relevance, certainly not from his family’s point of view”.

Any divide in the family was far more to do with politics, and that has long since washed away, I don’t think his sexuality has any relevance at all now really.

Following the ceremony, Flanagan unveiled a plaque bearing Casement’s profile at the cemetery’s visitor centre, which joins those of the other Rising leaders which have already been added in this  centenary year.

20160803_105626 Ashley O'Connor Source: Cianan Brennan/TheJournal.ie

Afterwards we spoke to Flag Officer Ashley O’Connor from nearby Phibsborough, the leader of today’s Guard of Honour, a role he has spent the last three weeks preparing for.

By impressive coincidence, Ashley’s grandfather, himself a former officer in the Defence Forces, served in the guard that brought Casement to Glasnevin 51 years ago from Pentonville.

“I’m very proud to represent him at this,” he said.

He gave up a lot, they all gave up a lot for us.

A hundred years on, that’s always worth remembering.

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