Saturday 26 May 2018

Casement and the 1916 rebels honoured in moving ceremonies

President Michael D Higgins walks between two lines of troops at the commemoration at Banna Strand yesterday. Photo: Domnick Walsh
President Michael D Higgins walks between two lines of troops at the commemoration at Banna Strand yesterday. Photo: Domnick Walsh
Roger Casement. Photo: National Gallery of Ireland
Robert Monteith

Graham Clifford

In the early hours of April 21, 1916, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong on the 'Lonely Banna Strand.'

Roger Casement, ill and exhausted, fell onto the north Kerry beach and while his travelling companions - Robert Monteith and Daniel Bailey - tried to alert volunteers that they'd arrived, he was captured in a nearby cave.

But yesterday on the same stretch of majestic beach, everything that could go right, did go right. The gentle waves lapped at the water's edge and the sun basked the thousands who came to remember the man they sing about regularly in these parts. Over sand dunes they trudged to be part of history.

Schoolchildren in uniform waved Tricolours and one sign outside a nearby house read, "President Higgins, will you come in for a cup of tea?".

The 'Lonely Banna Strand', an anthem in these parts, was performed and the Siamsa Tíre national folk group gave a rousing rendition of 'An Roisín Dubh'.

Out at sea the Navy ship the LÉ Niamh was anchored. Guests of honour at the commemoration were descendants of the Casement and Monteith families.

Melbourne native Christopher Farrington travelled to pay his respects to his great grand-uncle. He told the Irish Independent: "Roger's humanitarian work in Africa and South America was awe-inspiring, as was his firm belief that Ireland deserved self-governance. It's really quite something to see so many people here today."

A clear highlight for President Higgins was the re-enactment of Casement's speech from the Old Bailey dock. The actor Declan McCarthy, dressed as Casement might have done, read the Rebel's rousing words.

And in his address, President Higgins praised the moral strength of Casement, his determination to pursue better humanitarian conditions for indigenous people and his patriotism to his country.

The Irish Air Corps provided a fly past and as the four aircraft disappeared into the distance, the national anthem played.

The President also visited Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn in Tralee and an exhibition at the Kerry County Museum called: 'Casement in Kerry: A Revolutionary Journey'.

Earlier in the day, at 8am, an intimate ceremony was held at the pier in Ballykissane near the town of Killorglin. It was here on Good Friday, 1916, that three young volunteers lost their lives as the car they were travelling in plunged into the river Laune having taken a wrong turn.

Con Keating from Cahersiveen in Kerry, Donal Sheahan from Newcastelwest in Limerick and Belfast's Charles Monahan all lost their lives.

Kay Keating, the niece of Con Keating, told of how the three men met their death in such tragic circumstances while on a mission. On a still morning, the music of the harp shifted from the strings across the water and out to sea.

And so a century on, Kerry successfully marked a period of tragedy and pain with two poignant ceremonies. It was a perfect day to remember such an imperfect one.

Irish Independent

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