Roger Casement, the forgotten hero

The Story of Roger Casement, Part I

One man recanted what he wrote about Casement years later

Roger Casement is best known for his ‘Black Diaries’ which in my opinion have overshadowed the history of his  previous life in the British government as a humanitarian.   A man respected and loved by family and friends, he was not abandoned at his trial as the media and history books would have us believe.

In fact one man recanted what he wrote about Casement years later. Unfortunately, it came too late and Casement was executed. The real Casement story takes place years before the Easter Rising. He deserves more notoriety showing his contributions to his country and to society.Roger Casement

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Guns to fuel a Fishing Boat?

Guns aboard the boat that started it all, the Asgard!

In June of 1914, 900 guns, specifically Mauser riffles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition were purchased from Germany and shipped to Ireland. The guns were supposed  to be used to protect Home Rule but in 1916 they would be used for an all-out rebellion against England. Several women were at the heart of this mission: Alice Stopford Green, Molly Childers, (wife of Erskine Childers who also was involved) and Mary Spring Rice.

rebellion

Mary Spring Rice as a child

Mary Spring Rice grew up in a wealthy Anglo-Irish household whose compassion and free-thinking atmosphere encouraged independent thinking and a love for Irish culture. The family spoke Irish fluently. When she was selling Irish lace in London she met Erskine and Molly Childers, Alice Stopford Green and eventually Roger Casement who were part of an Anglo Irish Committee. Motivated by the Ulster Volunteers ability to smuggle guns into Larne and march all over Belfast, the group was determined to find a way to arm the Irish Volunteers as well. But how?

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Irish Boy Scouts Foreshadowed the IRA

Fianna EireannanIrish Boy Scouts Foreshadowed the IRA

Na Fianna Eireann, the Irish boy scouts was founded in 1909 by Constance Markievicz.  When she first began the organization it was with the purpose of teaching the boys basic survival techniques, Ireland’s history and a sense of national pride, something that she felt had been missing for way too long in the schools of Ireland. Since the beginning of Colonization, only British  history was taught and everything Irish suppressed. Not only  history but  Irish music,  native sports,  Irish dress, and worst of all the Irish tongue. At the time of the Fianna a great wave of nationalism was in the air. Fostering the native language was at the top of the Gaelic League’s list. Some thought this could be accomplished while still remaining in the United Kingdom but others like Constance Markievicz, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and others became increasingly convinced that breaking away from England was the only way to save Ireland. The Fianna would be a key players in that dream. A dream that had nothing to do with playing soldier for they were in fact real soldiers.  In the words of Constance Markievicz It will take the best and the noblest of Ireland’s children to win Freedom.   Irish boy scouts

Under the discipline of their own peers, the Fianna members grew from boys to men, learning everything from camp-life and knot tying to signalling, marching in formation, and how to use a  rife properly.  They formed pipe bands and hurling teams all over the country. They also learned basic first-aid.

In 1913,the Fianna  trained the newly formed military group, the Irish Volunteers. At this time in Europe, Ireland was one of the most poverty stricken countries in all of Europe. The infant mortality rate soared, and many Dublin Irish lived in one room run-down tenements.  Wages were low; employment conditions unfair, and when the Irish formed  the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, Dublin businesses locked out their employees.  People were barely living on their wages as it was. Now they were starving. The Fianna and others set up a Soup Kitchen in Liberty Hall and fed soup and sandwiches to over 3000 people a day.

In 1914, Fianna soldiers marched with the older Irish Volunteers from Dublin, bringing with them bicycles and a trek cart  to intercept German guns being smuggled in the Howth Harbor on the ship, Asgard. When the British realized what was going on a great collision began between volunteers and the British. The guns were hidden in the Scout’s cart and whisked away under British noses.  According to an unknown eye witness The Scouts were even pluckier than the volunteers. every one of them held onto his rifle as he would hold his own life.

Fianna boys at Howth gun running By 1916 the country was in open rebellion against the British, beginning with the taking over of the General Post Office in Dublin and declaring Ireland a Republic. The Fianna soldiers were in the thick of the fighting. This is what they trained for. With the quickness of youth, they cycled from one point to another, passing dispatches or signals by  means of a heliograph or fighting and some lost their lives. By 1919 Ireland was in a Civil War and the Fianna were older. Some had already joined the Irish Volunteers or the  Irish Republican Brotherhood. This later became known as  the IRA.Fianna boys at Constance's graveside

In 1909 Constance decided to make a commune for her Fianna boys North of the city in Belcamp Park. She felt it would get them away from the unhealthy atmosphere of city life, they would learn about farming and continue their military training. Lots of hungry scouts arrived but it was not a great success.   The commune was to be run by Constance, Bulmer Hobson and Helena Molony but Hobson thought it women’s work and was never around. . Rumors spread that Hobson was sharing his bed with both women and people refused to do business with them.  The large rooms were difficult to heat,  food was not delivered as ordered, the garden only produced weeds, and soon they ran out of money. The house also appeared to be haunted and food disappeared. When Casimir, Constance husband,  returned  from the Ukraine, he first made appearances at his favorite pubs where he was told that his wife had moved and how.

 Casmir Markievicz was the husband of Constance and quite a character. He was away in Poland when his wife was working with her scouts. His biography is interesting. In The Polish Irishman by Patrick Quigley, Casimir relates in his Polish theatrical way, the story of how he returned to his new home after visiting his family abroad …

“I have great trouble to find this house in the dark. Finally I find it and I  knock and I knock but not a sound. I go around the back and I call out ‘Constance! After a while a window goes up and a dirty little ragamuffin puts out his head and say, ‘Who da?..’I say I am Count Markievicz and I want to see Constance Markievicz.” I hear much scuffling and running and a voice saying ‘there is some big fella out there who says he is your husband, at last the door opens.  In 1924 Casimir wrote a series of essays in the Polish Press depicting scenes like this, entitled Letters from Ireland. He called the boys ‘Sprouts’ for they popped up everywhere, under beds, under chairs and, out of cupboards consuming all the rashers and eggs, smoking his tobacco and drinking his whiskey. One night he stayed up late to confront the ghost to find the maid had been keeping an unofficial boarder, a milkman who was also an army deserter.

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Unlikely Anglo Irish Heroes

Most Anglo Irish throughout history, have a cruel heartless reputation with historians. The native Irish, who were thought by the English to be barbaric imbeciles unable to govern themselves, were dispossessed of what remaining lands they owned, not already occupied by foreigners,  and replaced by English  settlers under Queen Elizabeth I . Thus began the legacy of the Anglo-Irish landlords. What followed was heartbreaking. A legacy of religious persecution,  forced emigration and evictions, famine and ruin of the native Irish by their neighbors, the Anglo Irish or landed gentry.Eviction

Not every Anglo Irish landlord was  heartless and cruel though it may have been the norm and easy to see how the stereotype difficult to dismiss over all Anglo Irish gentry. One  family dared to defy their peers. They were the Gore-Booths of Lissadell in County Sligo. Their ancestry  goes all the way back to  those first colonists given land by Elizabeth I.

Born in London the most famous of the Gore-Booths was Constance, who would later be called The Rebel Countess, or Lady Markievicz.  She grew up with governesses,  spoke multiple languages,  was a poet, a painter, and skilled horsewoman. Fearless and a philanthropist even in childhood, she often missed meals and lessons for she was a frequent visitor of the houses of the poor. She would later be best known for her part in the 1916 Easter Rising.                                                                                                             001-constance_with_dogBecause Constance was a Patriot and one of the few women known for her part in the War for Irish independence, there is much written about her. In fact most of my facts come from a very thorough biography ‘The Rebel Countess’ by Anne Marreco. What strikes me about Constance most is not her combativeness, which is what  most history books will talk about but her devotion to the poor of Dublin. She gave everything she owned to them, carried bags of coal up multiple flights when she was ill herself, and opened a soup kitchen at Liberty Hall when a city-wide lockout deprived thousands of men and women of a way to feed their families. One only has to look at the funeral procession to see how many people mourned her when she died, many of them the lowest of Ireland’s social class at the time.

Funeral-of-Countess-Markievicz

But Constance would not have become  strong-spirited, fierce in her convictions, generous and independent, if not for her father, Henry, and her grandfather, Sir Robert Gore-Booth. Both men were rich landlords.

Sir Robert Gore-Booth is best remembered by the local Irish in two very different shades of light. Both  stories show the power of the landlord.

Lissadell Estate, Home of the Gore-Booths

Lissadell Estate, Home of the Gore-Booths

In 1833 Sir Robert bought land called the Seven Cartrons, a township inhabited by fishermen and small landholdings. In the mood of the time, Sir Henry began to make clearances of his property. His choice of an agent fell on a man called Dodswell, famous for his ruthless evictions.  It  may have been the single worst decision Sir Robert ever made in his life, perhaps one he never stopped trying to correct. Dodswell  offered the hapless tenants plots elsewhere but the land was so poor that they took the alternative offer of compensation and passage money to America instead. (it is stated that the compensation was generous for the time, no doubt a stipulation by Sir Robert). Now we come to a sad misrepresentation of what happened to those passengers.

A story circulated that the passengers  drowned soon after leaving a port in Sligo; the ship was called the Ponoma.This was not the ship carrying Lissadell’s tenants (its possible there were 2 ships by that name or likely was  assumed they were Gore-Booth tenants) and people loving a good story and eager to believe the worst, the inaccurate tale circulated and stuck. In fact, the ship carrying Gore-Booth tenants sailed ten years earlier. It has been proved Sir Robert had no connection whatsoever and would be known to be a benevolent landowner who spent thousands of pounds on food for his people in the Famine. For more information on this story read this post from Lissadell House.

In 1881 the London Times stated Sir Robert spent 40,000 pounds on relief for the starving Irish. In 1903 he was one of the first to sell a large part of his estate to his tenants. He died in 1876.

In 1879 was another potato failure and terrifying since many still remembered the Great Hunger of the 40s.  At Lissadell, the Gore-Booth family stored food in their house, doling it out to the poor from morning to night. (an event unique at that time in Ireland.) The new Baronet, Sir Henry became known as the good landlord. He reduced rents by as much as 18-40% or forgave them completely. He allowed his tenants to cut thorn  from his property for fencing and granted turf cutting rights.  He was also remarkably unprejudiced towards Catholics. One night when Sir Henry was visiting a neighbor, he heard a great clatter outside. When he looked out the door he saw hundreds of people from the surrounding countryside, torch lights in their hands, lead by a local Temperance Band. As he stood in the door cheer after cheer went up for Sir Henry Gore-Booth.

Sadly, the Gore-Booths were not typical of Anglo-Irish families  but were it not for those of their social class, Ireland might not have won her freedom at all for from this Anglo Irish family sprung the most well-known heroic woman of them all, Constance Markievicz,  lover of the poor and devoted patriot.

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