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Sir Roger Casement's Speech from the Dock, August 3, 1916

An old English statute, 565 years old, sought to deprive an Irishman of life and honour because the phantom King dug up from the Dark Ages a law that takes a man’s life and limb for an exercise of conscience. Edward III was King of England and France and he was not King of Ireland in 1494. Judicial assassination today is reserved for one race of the English King’s subjects - for Irishmen who cannot forget their allegiance to the realm of Ireland. Casement demanded the right to be tried in Ireland by an Irish Court and by an Irish jury of his peers. Casement appealed to Irishmen to fight for Ireland so it is by Irishmen and then only by Irishmen he should be judged. The manifesto of the Irish Volunteers, promulgated November 25, 1913, if that organisation’s manifesto threatened the unity of the British Empire then so much the worse for the Empire. An empire suppressing a section of the population must have some canker at its heart some ruin at its root. In Ireland alone in this twentieth century, loyalty is held to be a crime. If there be no right of rebellion against a state of things that no savage tribe would endure without resistance, then surely it is a braver, a saner and truer thing to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men.

Casement joined the British Colonial Service in 1891, serving in Nigeria, Portuguese East and West Africa; was appointed British Consul in the Congo Free State where he exposed conditions for African natives until 1903 his publication of the extreme hardships was published in 1904 a tremendous humanitarian achievement; Casement exposed the horrendous conditions for native workers in the British owned Amazon Rubber Company by 1911 and by 1913 Sir Roger Casement retired from the Consular service in 1913 due to ill health; by November 1913 Casement became a founder member of the Irish Volunteers. Casement was sick of Empires. Casement was arrested, tried and charged with high treason by the repressive British authorities August 3, 1916. Casement’s body was returned to Ireland February 23 1965 by Rt Hon. Harold Wilson, O.B.E. M.P. Prime Minister and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, February 28, 1965, Dublin. People, not Governments, make heroes and martyrs, and the verdict on Roger Casement was made by popular acclaim when no Government wanted to befriend his memory and when his private life was in fierce dispute.

George Bernard Shaw took a deep interest in the trial of Casement and wrote a defence: ‘If you persist in treating me as an Englishman, you bind yourself thereby to hang me as a traitor before the eyes of the world. Now as a simple matter of fact, I am neither an Englishman nor a traitor: I am an Irishman, captured in a fair attempt to achieve the independence of my country; and you can no more deprive me of the honours of that position, or destroy the effects of my effort, than the abominable cruelties inflicted 600 years ago on William Wallace in this city when he met a precisely similar indictment with a precisely similar reply, have prevented that brave and honourable Scot from becoming the national hero of his country…I am not trying to shirk the British scaffold: it is the altar on which the Irish saints have been canonised for centuries.


Easter Commemoration Digest, Volume 7, Easter 1965, Graphic Publishers

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