Roger Casement to his sister, Mrs Nina Newman from Pentonville Gaol 25 July 1916:
“When I landed in Ireland that morning (about 3 am) swamped and swimming ashore on an unknown strand, I was happy for the first time for over a year. Although I knew that this fate waited on me, I was for one brief spell happy and smiling once more. I cannot tell you what I felt. The sand hills were full of skylarks rising in the dawn, the first I had heard in years—the first sound I heard through the surf was their song as I waded through the breakers and they kept rising all the time up to the old rath at Currshone where I stayed and sent the others on and all round were primroses and wild violets and the singing of the skylarks in the air and I was back in Ireland again.”
It was a long strange road that brought Roger Casement to Banna Strand near Ardfert, County Kerry on April 21st 1916, that would be the preface to his trial in London for treason, espionage and sabotage and for which he was hanged in Pentonville prison on August 3rd that year.
Roger Casement was born to a Protestant father and Catholic mother in Sandycove near Dublin in 1864. He had served a long and distinguished career in the British Foreign Service which he joined in 1882 and retired from due to ill health in 1912.
During his career with the Foreign Office he became British Consul for Mozambique (1895-98), Angola (1898-1900), Congo (1901-04) and Brazil (1906-11). He also gained international recognition with his work for the British Foreign Office by highlighting exploitation of labour in the ‘Congo Free State’ by King Leopold of Belgium, the subsequent paper he published on the subject led to a restructuring of their rule in the Congo. Similar work with the Putamayo Indians in Peru led to him receiving a Knighthood in 1911. The observations of injustice, however, were to take a path that displeased the British authorities.
He joined The Irish Volunteers shortly after his retirement in 1912. When the First World War started in Europe in 1914 the cause of ‘Home Rule’ in Ireland seemed to be shelved as John Redmond the Nationalist leader of the Irish Volunteers, pledged his support for Britain in the war against Germany and urged the Irish Volunteers to join up and fight for Britain.
This led to a split in the Irish Volunteers and a group numbering around 11,000 broke away from the estimated 200,000 membership. Operating within this ‘splinter’ group were a some of the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) – they had an inner circle army council whose members included Pearse, Plunkett, MacDiarmada, Ceantt and Clarke .
The IRB had devised an ambitious plan to involve Germany as an ally in their fight for Home Rule in Ireland and to get their assistance for a guerilla campaign against Britain in Ireland. They hoped to persuade Germany into supplying arms and also military officers to train the Irish Volunteers. Another string to this bow was to form an Irish Brigade and recruit from POW’s captured by Germany.
Roger Casement, perhaps due to his profile and exceptional diplomatic abilities, was one of the key players in this plan. In October, 1914,he left for Germany via the United States where he met with leading IRB representatives and funders (All communications between Germany and those involved were passed via the States). He then travelled to Berlin where he met with high ranking German government officials. The Germans were not convinced by the overall plan and were sceptical about the groups will and ability to undertake what they intended to do in Ireland. Yet at the same time realized the potential that an uprising in Ireland would have in aiding their own conflict with Britain, opening up a possible backdoor into the Britain.
In the end Casement only succeeded in securing a token gesture from the Germans of 20,000 guns, ten machine guns and several million rounds of ammunitions, a fraction of the 200,000 requested. The arms were dispatched to County Kerry aboard the ‘Libau’ at Hamburg. Captain Karl Spindler was selected for the mission and he met in Berlin with Casement and his companions to learn the objectives of the voyage. The ‘Libau’ sailed from Hamburg to Luebeck where she was loaded with arms and disguised to the finest detail as a Norwegian merchant ship. Under cover of darkness her name was changed to ‘Aud Norge’ and ‘Bergen’ was painted on her stern as her home port – the crew were recruited from the German Navy and all sworn to secrecy.
They too were disguised as Norwegian merchant sailors.
Meanwhile Casement, and his colleagues, Robert Monteith and Sgt.Daniel Beverley (Baily) set sail on the U19, piloted by Captain Weissbach. The ‘Aud Norge’
Flying the Norwegian flag, the ‘Aud Norge’ sailed around the north of Scotland and although seen by Royal Navy warships they passed unchallenged through the blockade between the Faeroe Islands and Iceland. After a stormy voyage which saw them having to sheltering off Rockall they finally arrived and anchored off the agreed rendezvous point of Inishtooskert, near Fenit, County Kerry.
Failing to find any shore contact, Captain Spindler moved slowly into Tralee Bay and then back to Inishtooskert. They had contact with the navy auxiliary ship HMS Shatter whose Captain came aboard the ‘Aud Norge’ but their presence did not appear to raised any concern – British intelligence were said to have known of the plan in advance but the description of the ‘Aud Norge’ had not reached the patrols off Ireland, who were on the lookout for a well armed and larger ship.
The ‘Aud Norge’ had no radio and was waiting for what it signals from land. Spindler lived dangerously waiting offshore. But finally HMS Bluebell intercepted him and ordered him to follow them into Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork. En route the ‘Aud Norge’ following a pre-arranged plan was prepared for scuttling – charges were set, the crew put on their German naval uniforms, the German ensign was hoisted and the charges detonated off Daunt’s Rock. All the crew surrendered and the ‘Aud Norge’ complete with cargo went to the seabed.
Casement & U19
Meanwhile the U -19, failing to find the ‘Aud Norge’, eventually landed Casement, Monteith and Bailey by dinghy. The dinghy overturned in surf on Banna Strand, near Ardfert. Casement had been ill for some time before the journey and was far too weak to travel or run. He took refuge in ‘McKenna’s Fort’ while Bailey and Monteith tried to make contact with the local IRB. However the local Irish constabulary were alerted Casement was arrested, as were Monteith and Bailey and shortly afterwards .
Casement was taken to London were he was subsequently tried and convicted of treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown on June 29th 1916 – he appealed but it was turned down and he was hung at Pentonville Prison on August 3rd 1916.
He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.