One hundred years ago last week, Roger Casement faced a judge and jury in London accused of traitorous behavior against His Majesty.
Casement is, in many ways, the most interesting of the men of 1916 – an Ulster Protestant who made his way through life as a champion of human rights, shaming the King of Belgium and the King of England for their horrific abuse of native rubber workers in the Congo.
Incredibly, up to 10 million Congolese could have died in the dreadful conditions in the rubber plantations. They were slaves who had their hands hacked off if they tried to escape.
The list of crimes went on and on. Joseph Conrad wrote "The Heart of Darkness" about those supposedly civilized Europeans who plundered, stole and murdered at will in Africa.
For his pioneering work Casement was given a knighthood, but his thoughts were always turning towards Ireland.
He saw in the faces of the Irish people barely recovered from the Famine era the same dreadful treatment that colonials had administered in the Congo.
In his speech from the dock which in my opinion rival's Robert Emmet's he gladly confessed to being a traitor to Britain. “Let me say that I am prouder to stand here today in the traitor's dock to answer this impeachment than to fill the place of my accusers. If there be no right of rebellion against a state of things that no savage tribe would endure without resistance, then am I sure that it is better for men to fight and die without right than to live in such a state of right as this.”
Casement played a huge role in the Rising: raising money in America, visiting Germany to procure arms then cast ashore from a German ship as the rebellion was due to start. He was captured when a carload of IRA fighters never made it to lonely Banna Strand.
Here are Casement’s words: “Since arms were so necessary to make our organization a reality and to give to the minds of Irishmen menaced with the most outrageous threats a sense of security, it was our bounden duty to get arms before all else.
“I decided with this end in view to go to America. If, as the right honorable gentleman, the present attorney general, asserted in a speech at Manchester, Nationalists would neither fight for home rule nor pay for it, it was our duty to show him that we knew how to do both.
“Then came the war. As Mr. Birrell said in his evidence recently laid before the Commission of Inquiry into the causes of the late rebellion in Ireland, ‘The war upset all our calculations.’
“It upset mine no less than Mr. Birrell's, and put an end to my mission of peaceful effort in America. War between Great Britain and Germany meant, as I believed, ruin for all the hopes we had founded on the enrollment of the Irish Volunteers.
“I felt over there in America that my first duty was to keep Irishmen at home in the only army that could safeguard our national existence. If small nationalities were to be the pawns in this game of embattled giants, I saw no reason why Ireland should shed her blood in any cause but her own, and if that be treason beyond the seas I am not ashamed to avow it or to answer for it here with my life...I went a road that I knew must lead to the dock...surely it is a braver, a saner, and a truer thing to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as this than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men.
“My Lord, I have done."