RTE Drama on One, 11 May 2012
Sir Roger Casement (1864-1916) was a British consul by profession, noted
for his reports against human rights abuses in Peru and the Congo, and his dealings with the Germans in the midst of the First
World War. A prominent Irish nationalist, he was eventually hanged by the British on the charges of treason, sabotage
and espionage against the Crown.
Patrick Mason's drama suggested that Casement (Ciaran Hinds) was a fundamentally
good man, passionately committed to the cause of Irish nationalism (he helped to found the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and toured
the United States in the following year to raise funds for the organization. While not opposed to the British per
se, he believed that Ireland should be given self-government, and worked hard to achieve his aim.
Despite his good intentions, circumstances did not work in his favour. The
IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) considered him too moderate, and probably pro-British in his views, while the British government
treated him like an insect, to be squashed under their imperialistic boots. Mason's drama incorporated several sequences
where so-called 'democratic' representatives of government such as the Attorney-General Sir Frederick Smith (Nick Dunning),
Sir Emley Blackwell of the Home Office (Robert O'Mahoney), and Sir Basil Thomson of Scotland Yard (Mark Brennan) deliberately
organized a smear campaign against him. They deliberately kept some of his diaries for the years 1903, 1910, and 1911,
that portrayed Casement as a homosexual with a passion for young men. They also commissioned a medical report from a
doctor to examine Casement's body for evidence of anal penetration. They were determined not make him a martyr, and
would go to any lengths to ensure it - even burying his body in quicklime outside Pentonville Prison in London.
So what kind of a man was Casement? Mason portrayed him as a difficult person,
unable to communicate his feelings to anyone, even his cousin Gertrude Bannister (Jane Brennan). In a world that regarded
homosexuality as a form of mental illness, he ended up being both mentally and emotionally repressed - only at the end, when
he was about to die, could he confess his love for one particular young man. Perhaps he was also rather naive in the
belief in the cause of Irish nationalism: both his fellow-nationalists and the Germans exploited his good nature for their
own ends. On the other hand, he certainly did not deserve to die: the prosecution against him was extremely flimsy.
However it seemed that the British wanted to make an example of him in the wake of the Easter Rising.
Through a series of interior monologues (where Casement confided in the listeners), we
were given a convincing explanation why he was so highly regarded in Ireland at that time: over half a million people
filed past his coffin in the Republican cemetery at Glasnevin in Dublin.