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Saturday 23 August 2014

Newly-released private papers show human side of Irish hero Roger Casement

Nicola Anderson

Published 21/12/2012 | 05:00

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HE was knighted for his services to the British Empire for exposing atrocities in the Congo and Peru – but subsequently executed for treason after gun- running for Irish rebels.

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Now a cache of newly released letters written by patriot Roger Casement has been released online by the National Library of Ireland (NLI) that show the human side of one the most intriguing characters in Irish history.

In his final letter to his family, written on the eve of his execution in August 1916, Casement (51) outlines his final wishes including his hopes of freedom for Ireland.

"God will surely give freedom to Ireland. Irishmen live unselfishly and die faithfully and fearlessly for Ireland, as the men of 1916 have done, and no power of man, or superior can withhold freedom from men so vowed," he said.

He also spoke of his imminent death. "And if I die as I think is fated, tomorrow morning, I shall die with my sins forgiven and God's pardon on my soul. And I shall die with many good men ... If it be said I shed tears – remember tears come not from cowardice, but from sorrow."

In another letter to his cousin, Dee Bannister, written in July 1916, Casement expresses how "so sorry" he was for having been upset when she went to visit him the previous Thursday.

And he speaks of someone called "N", saying: "You must all go to her and tell her all I feel for her and have always felt."

The letters, written by Casement while awaiting execution for treason at Pentonville Prison in 1916, were released by the National Library to mark the closing days of its 135th year.

Among the materials released online are the hymn and prayer book given to him by an Irish friend during his incarceration in Pentonville; the notice from the Court of Criminal Appeal advising of the dismissal of his appeal; documents relating to the 'degradation' of his knighthood, and other honours, with Casement's notes on this.

They also include photographs; his cousin Gertrude's admission card to the Court of Criminal Appeal to attend the trial; and a number of cards and letters of condolence.

There is also an envelope with the inscription: "This little book was used by Roger Casement at the hour of his death and was brought by me that morning by the priest who attended him on the scaffold" – Casement was received into the Catholic Church while awaiting execution.

Casement, who was born in Dublin in 1864, was baptised a Catholic at the age of three but later raised by Protestant relatives in Ballymena following the death of his parents.

The papers, housed in a small box labelled 'Not for Consultation', were identified as being suitable for release by NLI staff during a review of 'Not for Consultation' material.

'Not for Consultation' restrictions are not unusual, with donors often stipulating that certain items, for example letters or diaries, be withheld from access until such time as all parties cited in the documents are deceased.

All of the recently released Casement material has been catalogued, and key items can be viewed online through the NLI's catalogue.

See www.nli.ie

Irish Independent

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