Roger Casement had served a long and distinguished career in the British Foreign Service which he joined in 1882 and retired from due to ill health in 1912. During his career with the Foreign Office he became British Consul for Mozambique (1895-98), Angola (1898-1900), Congo (1901-04) and Brazil (1906-11). He also gained international recognition with his work for the British Foreign Office by highlighting exploitation of labour in the ‘Congo Free State’ by King Leopold of Belgium, the subsequent paper he published on the subject led to a restructuring of their rule in the Congo. Similar work with the Putamayo Indians in Peru led to him receiving a Knighthood in 1911. How he came to be tried and hung for treason surrounds his involvement with the Irish Volunteers which he had joined shortly after his retirement in 1912 - this led to him becoming involved with German officials and the events leading up to the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin.
Hostilities which started in Europe in 1914 resulted in the cause for ‘Home Rule’ in Ireland being virtually shelved for the duration of the war - the Ulster Volunteer Force were instructed to join up and support Britain in its fight against Germany and likewise, John Redmond the Nationalist leader of the Irish Volunteers, pledged his support for Britain in the war against Germany and urged the Irish Volunteers to join up and fight for Britain. This call led to a split in the Irish Volunteers and a group numbering around 11,000 broke away from the estimated 200,000 membership. This breakaway group adhered to more hard line principles and objectives and were opposed to any support for Britain in any way, whom they regarded as enemies of Irish Nationalism. Operating within this group were a small group of members known as the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) - they had an inner circle army council whose members included Pearse, Plunkett, MacDiarmada, Ceantt and Clarke - it is widely believed that the leadership of the Nationalist movement at that time were unaware of the IRBs’ plans which would eventually lead to the Easter Uprising.
The IRB had devised an ambitious plan to involve Germany as an ally in their fight for Home Rule in Ireland and to get their assistancew for a guerilla campaign against Britain in Ireland (at this time Ireland was United and the govermenr ruled from Dublin) - they hoped to persuade Germany into supplying arms and also military officers to train the Irish Volunteers - another proposal was to form an Irish Brigade and recruit from POW’s captured by Germany who would then be freed to fight against Britain in Ireland - this force would spearhead a campaign in Ireland for the mutual objectives of both Germany and Irish Nationalism. Roger Casement, perhaps due to his profile and exceptional diplomatic abilities was one of the key players in this scenario. In October, 1914, he left for Germany via the United States where he meet with leading IRB representatives and funders (All communications between Germany and those involved were passed via the States). He then travelled to Berlin were he met with high ranking German government and military officials. The Germans were not convinced by the overall plan and were sceptical about the groups will and ability to undertake what they intended to do in Ireland, they also had grave doubts whether POW’s captured fighting for the British would go in any substantial numbers to form an Irish Brigade to fight against Britain in Ireland. Having said that, the Germans organized for Casement to address thousands of Irish prisoners in Limburg Lahn prison camp where he outlined the proposals of the IRB to them. The Germans were very cautious yet at the same time realized the potential that an uprising in Ireland would have in aiding their own conflict with Britain, opening up a possible backdoor into the Britain. In the end Casement only succeeded in securing a token gesture from the Germans of 20,000 guns, ten machine guns and several million rounds of ammunitions, a fraction of the 200,000 requested - it is also reported that Casement recruited around 60 prisoners from Limburg Lahn.
The arms were dispatched to County Kerry aboard the ‘ Libau’ - this ship was originally named the ‘Castro’ and had previously belonged to a Hull company before being captured by a German torpedo boat at the outbreak of hostilities, it was renamed the ‘Libua’ and docked at Hamburg. Captain Karl Spindler was selected for the mission and he met in Berlin with Casement and his companions to learn the objectives of the voyage. The ‘Libau’ sailed from Hamburg to Luebeck where she was loaded with arms and disguised to the finest detail as a Norwegian merchant ship (sea charts, maps, logs, bed linen and even canned food), under cover of darkness her name was changed to ‘Aud Norge’ and ‘Bergen’ was painted on her stern as her home port - the crew were recruited from the German Navy and all sworn to secrecy, they too were disguised as Norwegian merchant sailors. Casement had misgivings about sailing on the ‘Libua’ so the German officials arranged a submarine to take him, Robert Monteith and Sgt.Daniel Bailey (a POW recruited at Limburg Lahn) back to Ireland. Originally U20 under Capt. Schweiger (which had sunk the Luisitania off Kinsale on May 7th, 1915) had been scheduled to take them to Ireland where they planned to rendezvous with the ‘Libua’ off Kerry and sail into Tralee harbour aboard her. U20 developed rudder problems and the assignment was handed over to Captain. .Weissbach and U19, interestingly Captain Weissbach had served under Captain Schweiger aboard U20 as a Torpedo Officer and was responsible for launching the torpedo that sank the Lusitania. Both were experience submariners with a excellent knowledge of the Irish coast, Captain Weissbach later commanded U80 and survived the war.
Flying the Norwegian flag, the ‘Aud Norge’ sailed around the north of Scotland and although seen by Royal Navy warships they passed unchallenged through the blockade between the Faeroe Islands and Iceland. After a stormy voyage which saw them having to sheltering off Rockall they finally arrived and anchored off the agreed rendezvous point of Inishtooskert, County Kerry. Failing to find any shore contact, Captain Spindler moved slowly into Tralee Bay and then back to Inishtooskert. They had contact with the navy auxiliary ship HMS Shatter whose Captain came aboard the ‘Aud Norge’ but their presence did not appear to raised any concern - British intelligence were said to have known of the plan in advance but the description of the ‘Aud Norge’ had not reached the patrols off Ireland, who were on the lookout for a well armed and larger ship. The ‘Aud Norge’ arriving off Kerry with no radio onboard and was waiting for land signals - the reason no contact was made is sometimes attributed to the fact that three IRB men had drowned when their car crashed off the pier at Ballykissane, apparently on their way to make that contact. Spindler waited until his fear of arousing suspicion led him to move offshore again - he was then intercepted by HMS Bluebell who ordered him to follow them into Queenstown (Cobh, Cork). En route the ‘Aud Norge’ following a pre-arranged plan was prepared for scuttling - charges were set, the crew put on their German naval uniforms, the German ensign was hoisted and the charges detonated off Daunt’s Rock, all the crew surrendered and the ‘Aud Norge’ complete with cargo went to the seabed. U -19 failing to find the ‘Aud Norge’ eventually landed Casement, Monteith and Bailey by dingy in Ballyheige Bay - two nautical miles from where they finally landed, the dingy was said to have overturned in surf on Banna Strand, Tralee. Casement had been ill for some time before and was far too weak to travel or run - on getting ashore he took refuge in McKenna’s Fort while Bailey and Monteith tried to make contact with the local IRB, a local Constable discovered Casement and he was arrested and shortly afterwards Monteith and Bailey were arrested.
Casement was taken to London were he was subsequently tried and convicted of treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown on June 29th 1916 - he appealed but it was turned down and he was hung at Pentonville Prison on August 3rd 1916. A petitioned had been made by many influential people in both England and the US on grounds of his distinguished career but to no avail. Copies of diaries alleged to have belong to Casement and graphically recording homosexual practices were circulated at the time. Controversy still surrounds these ‘Black Diaries’, some experts believing them to be forgeries, others believing them to be authentic. In 1965 his body was returned to Dublin and re-interred in Glasnevin Cemetery.
On February 23, 1965, Casement’s body was returned to Ireland to be reinterred, where he was given a funeral that rivaled that of O’Donovan Rossa. Eamon de Valera, 82 years old and feeling poorly, insisted on attending and gave the graveside oration at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Casement had returned to Ireland in 1916 to share his comrades’ fate. In 1965, 49 years later and 45 years ago this week, he was finally able to rejoin them one last time.