The final wish of Roger Casement, the Irish-born, former British diplomat who was captured at Banna Strand waiting for weapons from Germany for the 1916 Rising and executed for treason, was to be buried at Murlough Bay in Co. Antrim. It was where his cousins, Gertrude and Elizabeth Bannister lived, and near Ballymena, where he spent the later part of his childhood following his father’s death.
That wish would not be fulfilled. Casement’s corpse was treated with a shockingly high degree of contempt: following his execution on August 3, 1916, his naked body was thrown into a grave in the Pentonville Prison yard and covered with quicklime.
In one of Casement’s final letters to Elizabeth, written from his prison cell just nine days before his execution, he described his love for Murlough Bay, and called it the place that first made him realize what Ireland meant to him.
His beautiful words, captured here in a short film tribute by Oliver Hegarty for the Carey Historical Society of County Antrim, offer a window into his love for Ireland.
“The other night I dreamed that you, Gee and I were at Murlough Bay, on the green hill, 900 feet above the sea coast to the McGarry’s house, looking out at the racing tides of Moyle. Churning currents and whirlpools, and overlapping tides, and Alba across the way, and the blue peaks of Jura clean and clear. The great panorama of island and hill and swirling waters that first made me realize what Ireland was to me…”
“And now I am on no hill, with no waves to see or hear far off. With no sea, but only the illimitable and no sea to gaze at. Death is not dark, but only deeper blue.”
Forty years after Casement’s execution, after repeated pleas from the Irish government to have Casement’s body repatriated, he was returned to Ireland on the condition that he would be buried in the Republic, meaning that his final wish to return to Murlough still could not be honored.
On March 1, 1965, Casement was reinterred in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery and given a full state funeral. President Eamon de Valera went against his doctor’s orders and took the podium in the wind and sleet to say “It required courage to do what Casement did, and his name would be honored, not merely here, but by oppressed peoples everywhere, even if he had done nothing for the freedom of our own country.”
There was for many years a Celtic cross monument to Casement and his fellow 1916 Republicans overlooking Murlough Bay, which was installed in 1929. It was the site of an annual pilgrimage for decades, until the top half of it was destroyed in 1956, in retaliation against an IRA attack on the Murlough RAF.
Still, to this day, each August there is a small remembrance ceremony held for Casement at Murlough Bay, and local groups continue to seek to honor him and understand his legacy. The Carrey Historical Society, which commissioned the film about Casement’s love for Murlough, is holding an inaugural event on June 25 called The Rogers Casement, which will delve into the many different aspects of his life and personality through exhibitions, talks, and a play.
The free event is billed as “A unique look at the story of Roger David Casement (RDC), hosted in the parish of Culfeightrin on the north-eastern coastline of County Antrim, which stretches from the Casement family home in Glenshesk in the west to RDC's requested burial place in Murlough to the east.
“The title is a play on words, referring to the multiple identities of Roger D Casement: imperialist turned anti-imperialist, raised a Protestant but secretly baptised a Catholic, British Consul turned Irish Republican, an Easter Rising hero who had hoped to land in Galway in an attempt to have it postponed.”