Roger Casement has been a subject of fascination – and controversy – for over a century. During his lifetime, he was an internationally-recognized champion for human rights, and was instrumental in exposing the horrors surrounding the rubber industry in the Belgian Congo and Peruvian Putumayo. Significantly, he spent his life striving to do more than just expose the injustices of the Congo and Putumayo – he built a network of activists and leaders willing to intercede, push for reform, and demand change for the indigenous peoples who suffered under European occupation. After years working within the British Empire, he was radicalized in his Irish nationalist beliefs, and spent the last two years of his life working to fight for Ireland’s independence from Britain. After his execution, some held on to the memory of him as a humanitarian hero, others claimed he was another martyr of the Irish nationalist cause, and still others distanced themselves from his evident homosexuality. The question of his sexuality determined whether or not he could be counted among the ‘real’ Irish heroes.

Transcript for Irish Hero, Queer Traitor, Gay Icon: Roger Casement Over Time

Researched and written by Averill Earls, PhD

Recorded by Averill Earls and Sarah Handley-Cousins, PhD

Averill: Recently I picked up the newest biography of Roger Casement, written by Martin Duberman, one of the preeminent US LGBT historians, who gives us what he calls a ‘biographical novel’ version of Casement’s life. For the most part, the book is like any history book, drawing on the expansive collection of published and unpublished primary sources written by and about Roger Casement, while seamlessly weaving together secondary literature on British imperialism, Irish nationalism, and same-sex desire. Throughout the book, however, Duberman crafts plausible but mostly fictional conversations between Roger Casement and the various people in his life. It is clear that he is building these conversations from Casement’s diaries and the writings of his friends, family, and colleagues, so even though they are imaginary, they provide a kind of immersive narration that makes the book a great read. I feel like it’s the kind of book that we all secretly hope we’ll be allowed to write once we’re at the Duberman level of historianing.

Sarah: Significantly, Duberman’s book is just the most recent in a long, long list of Casement biographies. He has been a subject of fascination – and controversy – for over a century. During his lifetime, he was an internationally-recognized champion for human rights, and was instrumental in exposing the horrors surrounding the rubber industry in the Belgian Congo and Peruvian Putumayo. Significantly, he spent his life striving to do more than just expose the injustices of the Congo and Putumayo – he built a network of activists and leaders willing to intercede, push for reform, and demand change for the indigenous peoples who suffered under European occupation. After years working within the British Empire, he was radicalized in his Irish nationalist beliefs, and spent the last two years of his life working to fight for Ireland’s independence from Britain.

Averill: When he was arrested and put on trial in 1916 in connection with the Irish Easter Rising, many were shocked, outraged, and leapt to his defense. He was Roger Casement, hero of the Amazon and Congo! But when rumors started circulating that he was also a sexual deviant, that there were a series of diaries seized from his property that chronicles all many sodomitical acts, the public outcry fizzled out. After his execution, some held on to the memory of him as a humanitarian hero, others claimed he was another martyr of the Irish nationalist cause – like Pearse, Wolfe Tone, and Connolly! – and still others distanced themselves from his evident homosexuality. For eighty years, the Irish debated whether Casement’s “Black Diaries” were real or forged, because above all else – his humanitarian work, his two years in Germany trying to build an Irish army for the independence cause, his dedication to Irish nationalism until his dying breath – the question of his sexuality determined whether or not he could be counted among the ‘real’ Irish heroes. Significantly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Roger Casement’s legacy in Ireland – or, how the Irish have perceived and memorialized Roger Casement – has changed over time. And that change over time is the focus of today’s episode.

I’m Averill Earls

And I’m Sarah Handley-Cousins

And we are your historians for this episode of Dig.

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Averill: Before we begin, we want to acknowledge that each of our episodes relies on the research and writing of historians and other scholars. First, as I said, I read Martin Duberman’s Luminous Traitor, which is a fantastic read, but friends, it has zero footnotes. Not a one. I really enjoyed reading it, but using it for this episode meant I had to cross-reference pretty much every fact he offered. But still, thank you Martin, for framing Roger Casement’s life and work with such care and thoughtfulness. But please, issue a reprint with footnotes. In addition to a ton of super old biographies on Roger Casement – folks, there are TOO MANY, and none of them are truly complete or particularly academic – I am basically expanding on Brian Lewis’s thesis about Roger Casement from his 2005 article “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement.” I’m also indebted to Kathryn Conrad’s theoretical framework for thinking about queerness and nationalism in Ireland; her “Queer Treasons” is essential reading for all historians of Irish sexuality. Susannah Bowers’ response to Conrad’s work, “Queer Patriots,” was also lurking in my mind while I wrote this. And admittedly, I am drawing on my own work, duh. I have an article in The Journal of the History of Sexuality from 2019 that deals with Irish nationalists’ strategic association of Englishness and homosexuality, and I am, of course, writing a book about same-sex desire in Ireland between 1922-1970. For the post-1970 stuff, I am relying on Paraic Kerrigan, Patrick McDonagh, and Sonja Tiernan.

Sarah: Born in 1864 in Dun Laoghaire  [pronounced lair-ah], Roger Casement was orphaned at 13. With his two older brothers and one of his sisters (Agnes, also called Nina), he became the ward of John Casement at Magherintemple House in County Antrim, Ireland. Casement was fortunate enough to attend the Diocesan School, Ballymena, until he was 16. When he left school, he got a position with the Elder Dempster Shipping Company. Elder Dempster sent him to West Africa in 1883 as a purser, and he spent much of the next 20 years in Africa.

Averill: In 1884, the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck called the European colonial powers together to a conference in Berlin to negotiate imperial boundaries in Africa. The so-called “Scramble for Africa” was already well under way – as evidenced by men like Casement being sent to survey, map, build supply stations and railroads, and establish an economic presence in Africa – and the European powers frequently tusseled over imagined borders. Wars were expensive, and disrupted the flow of goods in and out of Africa’s ports. The men who gathered in Berlin between November 15, 1884 and February 26, 1885 had never seen Africa with their own eyes, but they used the various measures for “effective occupation” – roads, court houses, churches, station buildings, treaties with locals, and other infrastructure – as evidence that they had a “greater” claim to particular regions than the other Europeans. The idea behind the conference was to mitigate European competition for the land and resources. Of course, no Africans were consulted during the conference. After months of negotiation, the Europeans kicked into overdrive to exploit Africa for all of its human and material resources.

Sarah: Adventurers and explorers like Roger Casement were essential to the European colonial projects. We’ve discussed men like Richard Burton, Henry Morton Stanely, Joseph Conrad, and even Roger Casement before on this podcast – you should definitely check out our episode “Hearts of Darkness” – for some background on the atrocities committed by the Belgian King Leopold’s private company in the jungles of the Congo. But understanding how Casement became an international hero is important to understanding how and why his posthumous legacy changed over time.

Averill: Equally important to understanding Casement’s posthumous legacy was the sort of “double life” he led while alive. Roger Casement maintained an active sex life on every continent – with other men. He preferred casual, often anonymous, sex, and – like the 17th century Samuel Pepys – he recorded his sexual adventures in his diary. He made notations that would likely jog his own memory of the size of the penises he observed and engaged with, as well as the names of the men he had sex with – if he caught their name – the quality of the encounter, and whether or not he paid for the sex, which he frequently did. Since he cruised in areas where the available partners were mostly poor or working class, his offer of remuneration is quite consistent with his broadly giving nature.

Herbert Ward and Roger Casement

Sarah: Around the time he began his work for the British consul, Casement started to keep a second diary that was distinct from his private daily diary. Perhaps, as a man in public service, he thought his private diaries might be requisitioned or even published, and so he prudently kept his public life separate from his private life. He also started writing in a sort of shorthand, more notations than complete thoughts when he referenced his sexploits. In the climate of the 1890s, perhaps he hoped this would allow for plausible deniability should his diaries be read by the wrong person. Though a modern reader would have no trouble parsing out the true meaning behind his notations, including:

[written in cape verde]: “Enormous, stiff and music”

[written in Liverpool]: “Walk. Medium—but mu nua ami monene monene beh! beh! [in the Kikongo language: “in my mouth very big”]

[written in madeira]: “Augustinho—kissed many times. 4 dollars.”

[written in dublin]: “Enormous. Came, handled and also came.”

[written in london]: “Walked. Dusky—depredator—Huge. Saw 7 in all. Two beauties.”[1]

Averill: Of course, sex between men was illegal in the United Kingdom throughout Roger Casement’s lifetime. In England and Wales, it was illegal until 1967; in Scotland until 1980; in Northern Ireland until 1982, and in the 26 Irish ‘southern counties’ that gained independence in 1922 – until 1993. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act reduced the penalty for crimes of sodomy from death to life imprisonment – considered, at the time, a humane turn of events. By the 1880s, the thinking around same-sex sex was starting to shift in the UK. For one, the 1884 Dublin Castle Scandal proved a major embarrassment to the British government, when several key figures of the British administration in Ireland were exposed as men who had sex with men. The Irish nationalist press framed the scandal as evidence of Britain’s lack of moral grounds for governing Ireland. While the consequences for the accused were minimal, the following year Parliament passed a new law that would have a tremendous impact on the policing and imprisoning of men who desired other men. Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act created enough vaguery in the law to allow for the policing of any and all intimacy between men, not just the crime of sodomy – anal sex – or attempts to commit sodomy. Mutual fondling, fellatio, even passionate kissing could – and did – result in arrests and convictions. The 1898 Vagrancy Law Amendment Act, which further expanded policing opportunities to men who “in any public place persistently solicit or importune for immoral purposes.”[2] The language around same-sex sex shifted over the course of the 19th and into the 20th century from describing acts to describing a kind of person. While not consistent or hegemonic by any means, it was certainly a developing frame of reference by the time Roger Casement was a man in public service.

Sarah: Though the law wouldn’t be employed with gusto until the 20th century, and in Ireland really not until after independence, it was famously used to convict Oscar Wilde in 1895. Roger Casement was no doubt aware of all of these developments. Between the gross indecency law and the vagrancy act, Roger Casement consistently put himself in danger by pursuing sex with strangers in public, but it was how he fulfilled that physical need in his life. From the records – and he left many – he had very few long term relationships that included sex, romance, and friendship. He had many friends, close ones, all of whom he loved and cherished. And he had many sexual partners. Rarely did the two designations meet. And Casement undoubtedly knew that his desires – and sex acts – were out of step with those around him. He became deeply involved in Irish cultural nationalism at the end of the 19th century, and though many of the major influencers in the movement – like Padraic Pearse, Francis Bigger, Eva Gore Booth, and others – were likely or open-secretly queer, Irish nationalists spent much of a century equating homosexuality with Britishness. For a movement trying to shrug off the yoke of British imperialism, that could and did often mean defining homosexuality as unIrish. This would be made more evident during Ireland’s postcolonial period, but was also an undercurrent of the Irish nationalist movement.[3] For the most part, Casement kept his private life to himself. He never discussed his sex life with his friends or family, not even Gertrude Bannister, his closest confidant and cousin. Though many likely suspected the life-long dapper bachelor of queer desires, no one made an issue of it during his lifetime. He was never caught by the police – miraculously – but in the end his desires invited ruin nonetheless.

Averill: The year of Otto von Bismarck’s Berlin Conference – and, coincidentally, the Dublin Castle Scandal – Casement worked under Henry Morton Stanley for the African International Association. Casement and his friend Herbert Ward helped survey and build the railroad from Matadi to Stanley Pool that would allow Europeans to circumvent the otherwise unnavigable Congo River. The AIA would end up being a front for King Leopold II’s takeover of the Congo, and the monarch took formal control of the railroad survey in the late 1880s – at which point Roger Casement resigned from his position rather than continue in the employ of the Belgian king.[4]

Sarah: The Belgian king had a clear and specific reason for wanting to be in the Congo: rubber. In the 1880s and 90s, the demand for rubber for things like bicycle tires and then the inflatable automobile tire skyrocketed. At that time, rubber was collected from wild rubber trees. Rubber cultivation took off at the end of the 19th century on Dutch and British plantations, but for a few decades, all rubber came from the wild trees that grew in places like the Congo and Amazon jungles. It was dangerous work, particularly as early demand cleared the easy-to-reach rubber vines, after which laborers had to climb high into the trees to get access to the rubber vines while wielding heavy machetes.

Averill: As a young man, Roger Casement was like many men of his time: a believer in the European colonial mission. For the first half of his career, he believed that Europeans were needed in Africa to bring the “blessings of Christianity” and, in his words, “useful and diligent labor…[to a native population that was] disinclined.”[5] But he was also a kind, giving, generous man. He always sent money to help support his brothers, who ended up in South Africa and Australia and always seemed to struggle, and gave money to a variety of causes and institutions; he lived on little so that his salary could support the people and ideas that mattered to him. When he encountered injustice and suffering, it struck him like a blow – and he spent his life fighting for justice and to end suffering. He saw a great deal of both in the Congo under the reign of Leopold II. As Martin Duberman notes, Roger Casement did still believe, for much of his life, that the peoples of Africa and “Indians” of South America “needed” European civilization. It took decades, and the intellectual intervention of more forward-thinking individuals like Mary Kingsley, for him to eventually recognize that the European mission – including Christianity – was not for the best.

Sarah: As Duberman notes, Casement took to the life of a man of the empire with gusto. He loved to tramp through the jungles, let his beard grow scraggly and lived without complaint on the local cuisine.[6] His closest friend in those early West and central Africa years was Henry Ward, though the two were opposites when it came to their adventuring spirit. Ward tried in vain to maintain his hygiene standards of shaving and grooming every day, and Roger just laughed at him. Ward turned his nose up at their daily ration of quanda—a mix of pounded root and coconut milk—while Roger tucked in. The two were thick as thieves, even posing for a portrait together.

Averill: Ward and Casement left the service of the AIA around the same time, and Ward published a book about his experiences in Africa. Casement joined his friend on a book tour in the United States before spending some time in Ireland with family and friends. He visited with Gertrude Bannister, aka Gee, and recorded in his diary that year that she had quickly become his dearest family member and confidant. She would be the last person to visit him before his execution in 1916.

Sarah: In 1892, at the age of 28, Casement moved into service with the British colonial administration in the Oil Rivers Protectorate (what would later be Nigeria).[7] He was likable, good with people from all walks of life, and worked his way up quickly into consular service. He was older and likely needed to slow down. His health had suffered from years in the Congo jungle, as well as suffering from a recurring anal fistula, most likely as a result of frequent anal sex. But he did not enjoy the drudgery of bureaucratic work, listening to and solving the complaints of British nationals and their conflicts with locals. He was good at it – and promoted several times throughout his career – but it was probably really boring compared to the work he’d done as a younger man.

Averill: While working for the AIA in the Congo, Casement heard reports of Europeans treating the indigenous peoples horrifically. He’d made a significant effort to learn several of the languages spoken in the region, and collected testimonies from the locals as well as a number of European and American missionaries. According to Martin Duberman, it was in conversations with the missionaries that Casement’s faith in the European civilizing project began to wane. The missionaries witnessed atrocities: natives flogged with rhinoceros hide whips, their hands cut off by overseers and brought to the white rubber collectors as proof of quota enforcement, women and children beaten and murdered, people worked so hard they had no time to cultivate their own food and starving as a result. Despite seeing these horrors and the results with their own eyes, though, very few missionaries spoke out against European violence in the Congo. They feared that they’d be kicked out of the region, thus losing access to the people they intended to convert to Christianity. They pursued their own civilizing mission, no matter the costs – just like just about every other European on the African continent.

Sarah: But not Casement, or the friends he surrounded himself with. In a few short years he helped E.D. Morel started the Congo Reform Association. Though Casement couldn’t officially be a member, because he would lose his position with the British consul if he did, he raised funds for Morel and the CRA and funneled information and informants to the cause. In 1900 Casement got himself stationed back in the Congo, where he was tasked with setting up a consulate in Boma, on the coast of the Congo Free State.[8] (Leopold, when he took control of the Congo, named his “protectorate” the Congo Free State, even though there was nothing free about it.) Casement wrote to the Foreign Office and urged his superior to intervene directly in the Congo. “The only hope for the Congo,” he wrote to British foreign minister Lord Lansdowne, “should it continue to be governed by Belgium, is that its governor should be subject to a European authority responsible to public opinion, and not to the unquestioned rule of an autocrat whose chief preoccupation is that autocracy should be profitable.”[9] Lansdowne refused. He promised to continue collecting the evidence in the official Congo Atrocities File, but the British government would not directly challenge a European monarch on his administration of his “private property.”

Averill: Duberman weaves a masterful picture of Casement’s discontent, restlessness, and frustration with his government in Luminous Traitor. I highly recommend you pick up a copy; though some of the innermost thoughts that Duberman poses are more supposition than fact, it makes for a lovely read. Needless to say, Casement’s report on the conditions in the Congo wasn’t published by the British government until 1904. Unfortunately the British Foreign Office thought it would be too incendiary to publish the full names of the individuals responsible for the atrocities, and also censored the names of places and tribes, so as to obfuscate who was being maltreated and who was doing the maltreating. This allowed the Belgian king to build a counter campaign of misdirection and denial, calling Casement a liar and shit-stirrer. Still, the report spurred dozens of petitions to the Foreign Office demanding action. The Congo Reform Association held their first public meeting after the publication of the Casement Report, on March 23, 1904, where they announced their dedication to securing “for the natives inhabiting the Congo State territories . . . just and humane treatment . . . by the restoration of their rights in land, and in the produce of the soil, of which preexisting rights they have been deprived by the legislation and procedure of the Congo State.”[10]

Sarah: In 1906 the Belgian King appointed yet another Commission to investigate the Casement Report claims, and to everyone’s surprise, they actually corroborated the whole thing.[11] The result – the Belgian parliament seizing the Congo colony from the King and bringing it under control of the government instead of the monarch – was not exactly the change Casement and his colleagues wished to see. Though under “democratic” governance, the conditions in the Congo did not change. Land continued to be seized by Europeans, Christianity continued to be foisted on the indigenous, and there was still forced labor, violent “disciplining” of the forced laborers, and a ravaging of the land. Casement and Morel would continue to advocate for changes for the rest of their lives.

Averill: Between 1900-1904, Casement collected testimonies, assembled the material that he ultimately submitted to the British government. But in between consular postings, he returned often to Ireland. There he would become involved in the Gaelic League, an organization that worked to grow Irish nationalism through cultural institutions, like literature, theater, and the Irish language. After his Congo report was published, the Foreign Office sent him to various posts that he immediately hated. He was sent to Lisbon in the summer of 1904, almost immediately after the publication of his report which he quickly had to leave for health reasons – appendicitis and the recurring anal fistula, both requiring surgeries. He spent most of the next two years in Ireland, recovering and throwing himself into the cultural nationalist activities. He started to run out of money in 1906, though, and asked for another consular posting. Instead the Foreign Office awarded him the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, a consular title that came with no prefix, which he tried in vain to reject without actually rejecting it – to do so was tantamount to resignation. Finally they offered him a choice of positions: Bilbao in Spain or Santos in Brazil. THinking he could live cheaply in Brazil, he headed to South America. He wrote to his boss, Sir Edward Grey, that Santos “is quite the nastiest place I’ve ever been in.”[12] He got leave in 1907, rather than reassignment, and headed back to Ireland immediately. There he spent rejuvenating time with his friends, including Francis Bigger, the famous nationalist Alice Stoppford Green, and of course his cousin, Gee.

Sarah: In Ireland, he threw himself into the nationalist causes and organizations. Like many Irish nationalists, as a younger man Casement was pro-Home Rule. He’d idolized Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party until Parnell’s death in 1891. Though Casement’s faith in the IPP waned – particularly after the second Home Rule Bill was killed in 1893 – for the most part he still believed in a constitutional solution to Irish autonomy. According to Martin Duberman’s reading of Casement’s diaries and letters, Casement found John Redmond a lackluster replacement for Parnell, not up to the task of leading the Home Rule movement. But well into the 1910s, Casement still wanted to believe a Home Rule bill would pass and give Ireland what she needed. 

Averill: Perhaps decades in the service of Britain, and witnessing first hand the government’s aversion to doing the right thing, started to change Casement’s mind. Home Rule was unlikely to happen, and even if it did, would it really be enough? He started, reluctantly, to fall in the camp with the more radical nationalists who demanded militant separation. He co-authored, with Alice Green and Bulmer Hobson, an anti-recruitment pamphlet designed to dissuade Irish men from joining the English military titled Irishmen and the English Army, in 1906.[13] “Any Irishman joining the English Army, Navy or Police forces,” the pamphlet chided, “is a traitor to his country and an enemy to his people.”[14] Though he wasn’t fully on board with an armed uprising in 1906, and he himself was hypocritically in the British service, Roger Casement thought to deprive the British of Irish bodies for the English imperial cause.

Black and white image of Roger Casement, 1910
Roger Casement, 1910

Sarah: He was still sending funds to his older brothers, in addition to contributing to various organizations like the Congo Reform Association and, in 1908, St. Edna’s, Padraic Pearse’s language school for boys. When he again started to run out of money, he explored new employment opportunities. He was just about to accept a job in the private sector when the consulate offered him the highly coveted consular general job in Haiti. He accepted it, only to have the rug pulled out from under him – they gave it instead to a Boer War vet who needed a job. They told him he could go back to Brazil or resign. He couldn’t afford to resign, so he agreed to go to Brazil – this time to Para, a small town at the mouth of the Amazon.[15]

Averill: At first he was charmed by the little city, but the charm soon evaporated. “ “The Brazilian,” he wrote to the Foreign Office, “is the most arrogant, insolent and pig-headed brute in the world. Pleasure, amusement, social life, companionship all are wanting in Brazil—in a city of close on one million people I am far more alone in this sham, pretentious copy of civilization (without any of the reality) than I was away up the Congo. Th e Congo’s naked natives were far nicer people, sincere and real, than these overdressed, vain, empty minded humbugs with their extraordinary vanity and arrogance.”[16] Within months of arriving, he was bedridden and sent by a doctor to Barbados, and then back to England to recover.

Sarah: In 1909, finally restored, Casement accepted the prestigious consul general position in Rio de Janeiro. While there, he learned of the atrocities in Peru. According to reports published by journalist W.E. Hardenburg, the Amazon Rubber Company, a joint Peruvian and British venture, was enslaving the indigenous peoples in service of rubber collection. In a distressing echo of the Congo practices, harsh overseers were maiming indigenous people, creating starvation conditions, and murdering adults and children, ostensibly to enforce quotas. The company, Hardenburg wrote, “works the natives day and night at the extraction of rubber, without the slightest remuneration . . . gives them nothing to eat . . . robs them of their crops, their women, and their children . . . sells these people at wholesale and retail in Iquitos . . . flogs them inhumanly, until their bones are visible . . . gives them no medical treatment, but lets them die, eaten up by maggots, or to serve as food for the chiefs’ dogs . . . cuts them to pieces with machetes . . . grasps children by the feet and dash their heads against walls and trees . . . have the old folks killed when they can work no longer and, finally, to amuse themselves, to practise shooting or to celebrate the sábado de gloria, they discharge their weapons at men, women, and children, or, in preference to this, they souse them with kerosene and set fire to them to enjoy their desperate agony.”[17] Almost identical in nature and horror to what he witnessed in the Congo, Casement was once again called to action.

Averill: Because British citizens were involved – both members of the Board of Directors and some of the Barbadian employees used as overseers in Peru – Casement convinced the Foreign Office to allow him to investigate the conditions on the Putumayo River. He was named as one of five members of a commission sent by the Peruvian-Anglo Amazon Company to investigate the allegations of abuses. To no one’s surprise, they found ample proof to support Hardenburg’s reports. Casement collected testimonies and evidence, and once again wrote up a report, this one extolling the atrocities committed in the Amazon jungle, naming names and calling for justice. In 1911 he was knighted (an honor he once again would have preferred to reject) for his service to the crown and realm.

Sarah: By the time he retired from service for the Foreign Office in 1912, Roger Casement was famous. He was a champion in the fight against oppression, slavery, and – ironically – imperialism. In 1904, he was still small potatoes. Irish newspapers barely reported on the Congo report – despite the parallels of exploitation that Casement himself recognized, most Irish folks were too busy trying to survive to care about the problems of the world. By 1912, though, he was big news in Ireland. A knight of the realm, the hero of both the Congo and Putumayo, the little Irish-speaking town of Tawin “had an air of unusual excitement” in August 1912 when he visited to open a summer school.[18] The Evening Herald reported on the evidence Casement gave in the Putumayo atrocities in November of that year.[19] And thereafter, when he had something to say about Irish politics, newspapers printed his letters to the editor and interviews with gusto. Between 1911 and 1913, there are over 170 newspaper articles written by or about Roger Casement in the Irish Newspaper Archive. When he was finally and formally disentangled from the British imperial project, he threw himself publicly into the causes he believed in – the Congo Reform Association, justice for the Indians of the Putumayo region, and, of course, Irish independence.

Averill: In 1912, the British parliament finally passed a Home Rule bill. It was the third iteration, and after 20 years of proposed and failed bills, the Irish Parliamentary Party, under the leadership of John Redmond, finally saw the fruit of their labor. The 1912 bill was immediately opposed by Ulster Unionists. These were the folks who opposed the establishment of an Irish parliament—the primary goal of  Home Rule—because they assumed that the Catholic majority would impose “Rome Rule”, and discriminate against the Protestant minorities. The Ulster Unionists had opposed every home rule bill since 1886 (when the first was proposed), but thanks to larger political issues and the maneuvering of Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party, the 3rd bill was passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Sarah: In 1913, the Ulster Unionists who’d opposed the Home Rule Bill formed a militant wing – the Ulster Volunteers – and vowed to go to war if the Home Rule Bill was implemented. They didn’t have to, however, as the implementation of the bill was postponed for 12 months in 1914 due to the outbreak of WWI. Everyone thought WWI would be a few months, maybe a year at most. It was a regional conflict – it should have been resolved relatively quickly. But 19th century trench warfare tactics combined with 20th century military technology dragged the war on and on for, as we know, years. When the war didn’t end in 1915, the Home Rule bill was suspended indefinitely. Meanwhile, the militias in the north were marching, and even accepted a major shipment of guns and ammo from Germany in April 1914. The authorities – Irish men, of course, but under British orders – did nothing. They just let the Ulster Unionists drive almost 25,000 rifles and between 3 and 5 million rounds of ammunition from Larne, Donaghadee, and Bangor into Ulster. Of course the Irish nationalists in the south had to respond.

Ave: There were, at the turn of the century, a number of key Irish nationalist movements. As we’ve already discussed, Casement was deeply involved in the cultural nationalist movement, and sought to help build an Ireland that was distinctive in language, customs, and even religion from Britain. There was also a strong socialist nationalist movement, shaped by labor organizers like James Larkin; in 1913 he led the Dublin Lockout, where 20,000 workers went on strike for four months for the right to unionize. When it came to responding to the threat posed by the Ulster Volunteers, however, neither language schools nor unions were going to be sufficient. This was the moment for the men and women who’d been advocating for militant separatist nationalism all along – folks like Patrick Pearse, Arthur Griffith, and Constance Markevicz.

Sarah: In 1905 Arthur Griffith founded the political party Sinn Fein – which is an Irish phrase that translates to “We Ourselves” – underscoring the goal of the party, which was complete independence for Ireland. Sinn Fein sought the establishment of an Irish Republic. This was quite different from the Home Rule movement, which wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, but sought an autonomous Irish parliament for domestic issues. Sinn Fein wanted to sever all ties with the Crown. When the Ulster Unionists formed the Ulster Volunteers, the Irish Republican nationalists responded immediately by forming the Irish Volunteers in 1913. The Volunteers were made up of members from the Gaelic League – an organization dedicated to preserving the Irish language – the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Sinn Fein, and, secretly, the remnants of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a militant group responsible for terrorist activities against the British government and violence at the end of the 19th century. The IRB/Fenians had mostly been kept alive by Irish-Americans who saw Britain as the devil.

Averill: Roger Casement was not particularly on board with the Arthur Griffith model of nationalism – militancy – until the Ulster Volunteers threatened to respond to Home Rule with violence. More significantly, in April 1914, when the British were contemplating using the military to enforce Home Rule, a bunch of officers and soldiers threatened to resign rather than follow orders. It was then that he decided that Ireland needed to defend itself against the radicals in Ulster – because Britain obviously wouldn’t provide the soldiers necessary to realize Home Rule. As Martin Duberman points out, even then he wasn’t necessarily advocating for a military uprising against Britain; he only wanted to defend Home Rule. Nonetheless, he worked with the Con Markievczs and Arthur Griffiths, because a united front in those early months was important if the Home Rule bill was ever going to make it to law. So Casement worked with Erskine and Molly Childers, Mary Spring-Rice, and several other friends connected to the Irish Volunteers to secure their own – much more modest – armory. Erskine Childers had a yacht, and through one of Casement’s contacts, they arranged for Childers and their Volunteer crew to meet up with a German tugboat to transfer guns and ammo on July 12. They made landfall at Howth, where they moved the guns to safe houses on bicycles and in packs.

Sarah:  By mid-1914 the Irish Volunteers were at 2,000 members. Not two weeks after the Howth gun run, WW1 started. Britain entered the fray on August 4th, and called for volunteers. John Redmond, assuming that Irish cooperation was the ticket to the British following through on the Home Rule bill, called for the Irish Volunteers to join up and fight for Britain in the war. The Volunteers split over the issue. Some of the Volunteers leadership thought it was unfair to be fighting to protect small nations like Serbia and Belgium when Ireland was forced to live under the tyranny of Britain. Most volunteers, however, followed Redmond’s call and went to war.

Averill: When war broke out, Casement was in New York, fundraising for the Irish Volunteers. Roger Casement was convinced that the brave men who went to fight for Britain did so because they had no other choice – they and their families needed the British soldier’s pension. With the support of the Irish-American John Devoy, Casement went to Germany to try to recruit Irish prisoners of war in German camps for an Irish brigade that would defend Ireland against the Ulster Volunteers.

Sarah: With the Volunteers split – and half enlisted to support the British war effort – tension was building in Ireland. The Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood was already scheming to rise up against Britain, while it was distracted by the war on the continent. On 5 Sep 1914, the Council met and decided to stage a rebellion, and accept the help of Britain’s greatest enemy – Germany. There were 7 signatories of the Military Council that planned the rebellion, and those 7 names would – in independent Ireland – be heralded for years as the martyrs and heroes of the Republican cause. Additionally, the Republicans continued recruiting for the Volunteers. By 1916 the Volunteers numbered 15,000.

Averill: Casement spent two years in Germany trying, in vain, to raise a brigade of Irish soldiers from the POW camps. He managed to convince almost two dozen – of hundreds – but his naive assumptions about his fellow countrymen were his downfall. Most of the POWs thought he was on the German payroll – and when they suffered maltreatment, they assumed it was on his order. His thoughts on an English war with Germany had been circulated by the Celtic Press in Philadelphia before the war broke out. Casement hoped for a German victory over Great Britain. “One of the conditions of peace, and for this reason the most important condition of peace that a victorious Germany must impose upon her defeated antagonist is that Ireland shall be separated and erected into an independent European State under international guarantees. England, obviously would resist such conditions to the last, but then the last has already come before England would consent to any peace save on terms she dictated… as an Irishman I have no fear of a German triumph. I pray for it.”[20] Though he wrote months before war broke out, his disloyalty to the United Kingdom couldn’t have been more obvious or, to those POWs, problematic. News of his opinions were reported in Irish newspapers in March 1915.[21]

Sarah: Alternatively, some thought that he was a British agent trying to catch them out for treason. He was, after all, THE famous Sir Roger Casement, former consulate general for the British Foreign Office. He’d demonstrated Britain’s influence and might across three continents. How could he be in Germany now except at Britannia’s beck and call? In addition to failing to convince the POWs to join him, he was unsuccessful in arranging for broader German support for the Irish nationalist movement. Initially he negotiated for German officers to lead the Irish Brigade, but that pledge quickly dried up. Two years of efforts were largely, in the end, wasted. 

Averill: While Casement was trying to build an army to defend Home Rule, his friends and a subset of his fellow nationalists were preparing for a war of their own. When he learned of the planned Easter Rising, scheduled for April 24, 1916, he made his plans to hurry back to Ireland, hoping that he could stop the obviously doomed rebellion. He was able to get the Germans to sell him 20,000 rifles. The rifles were 15 years old, and Russian in origin – details that the Germans neglected to share with Casement.

Sarah: Martin Duberman sums up Casement’s final negotiation with the Germans:

“On the evening of April 7, 1916, Roger and [his colleague] meet with the German General Staff at the Hotel Saxonia. They’re told that after considerable debate the decision has been reached to grant their request and send them by submarine to the Irish coast, to arrive before the Aud [the ship that will smuggle the arms into Ireland], thereby allowing time (as Roger has suggested) to organize a detailed plan for landing the arms—and, hopefully (given the minimal German support), to rethink the notion of an uprising. … the Aud will … arrive off the coast of Ireland sometime between April 20 and April 23—no greater precision is possible, the General Staff points out, due to the assorted cordons that will have to be circumnavigated. The Aud will be met on the coast by a pilot boat identifying itself by flashing two green lights.”[22]

Averill: With the uprising scheduled for April 24

, this is quite obviously not an ideal situation. Casement hoped that he could land in Ireland early enough to convince his friends and colleagues to call the whole thing off.

Sarah: What Casement didn’t know is that the British knew everything. They knew about the planned uprising, because U.S. secret service had raided the German consulate in New York City and found all of John Devoy’s correspondences with Germany about the Easter Rising. (Devoy, as you’ll remember, was the leader of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the U.S. He wasn’t a big fan of Casement, wrote on a number of occasions that he knew Casement was an “Oscar Wilde type,” but couldn’t deny the man’s ability to get stuff done, so it was Devoy that had sponsored Casement’s efforts in Germany over those two years.) What’s worse, the IRB in Dublin had no idea that the Aud could arrive earlier than they wanted – which it did, making it to the Irish coast on April 20. When no one showed up to meet the Aud in Tralee, and the ship was intercepted by the British, the captain of the Aud booby trapped the ship, put his men in life boats, and sunk the ship and the IRB’s 20,000 guns.

Averill: The British knew, too, that Casement was headed back to Ireland, so they had all Royal Irish Constables – the police – on alert for the famous Irishman. The boat that was supposed to meet the U-19 – the German sub carrying Casement and his Brigade – didn’t show. The German sub couldn’t risk circling the Tralee harbor – British waters – indefinitely. Casement and two of his colleagues took the risk of getting to shore on the sub’s little lifeboat. When they washed up, outfitted with pistols and knives for self-defense, Casement was too seasick to make his way from the beach to Tralee.

Sarah: A farmer discovered their life boat, as well as the ammunition and pistols they’d hastily tried to bury when they went to town. He informed the RIC, and they combed the beaches. An officer found Casement, still a little delirious from the harrowing journey, and arrested him. He was taken to the Tralee RIC station. One officer recognized him, and though he was sympathetic – and would have been in favor of an Irish uprising – he didn’t intercede on Casement’s behalf. Though Casement told the officer that he was there to stop the planned uprising, he was persona non grata. With bits of German code and damning evidence on his person, he was arrested, and transported to London to await trial. He arrived in London on Easter morning.[23]

Averill: When the promised shipment of guns never arrived (because it was at the bottom of the Tralee bay), some of the leaders of the planned Rising got spooked. They canceled the rising, publishing coded messages in the Sunday morning newspapers and sending messengers throughout Ireland. Most regiments of the Irish Volunteers got the message and stood down – but those based in Dublin, led by Patrick Pearse and Constance Markievicz, were unwilling to let the chance pass them by.

Sarah: The original plan was to stretch the British forces as thin as possible by launching events all across the island on the Monday following Easter. Instead, most of the action ended up confined to Dublin. On Monday, April 24, a small force of Irish Volunteers took the General Post Office – with little resistance at first – and issued their Proclamation of the Republic. Thomas J. Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse, Éamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett were the signatories of the Proclamation. On the steps of the GPO, Pearse read aloud the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, declaring Ireland’s independence from Britain. The GPO became their headquarters. After news of the Dublin insurrection, other smaller-scale rebellions sparked in Louth, Wexford, Galway and Ashbourne, but the majority of the fighting took place in Dublin.

Portrait of Roger Casement, Artist: Sarah Henrietta Purser, 1848-1943, Oil on canvas.

Averill: Both men and women were engaged in the fighting. Women like Markevich and the other members of Cuman na mBan, the paramilitary Irish women’s organization, were central to the effort, and fought because the vision they and many of the other nationalists were fighting for was a true democratic, independent Ireland, with women’s suffrage and representation in the government. The fighting lasted about a week, and resulted in the deaths of over 250 civilians, 130 members of the crown forces and over 60 insurgents. The Easter Rebels ultimately surrendered. Their leader, Patrick Pearse, submitted the final surrender notice, writing: “In order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have decided on an unconditional surrender, and commandants or officers commanding districts will order their commands to lay down arms.  P.H. Pearse, Dublin 30th April 1916.” The leaders were captured. The seven signatories of the Irish Proclamation were executed for treasonous activity in a time of war. A number of other key leaders of the rebellion were also sentenced to death, including Roger Casement.

Sarah: In British custody, Casement was unable to help his friends in any way, and the Easter Rising was crushed. In June of 1916, Casement went on trial at the Old Bailey. He was accused of treason, for ‘levying war against the king or being adherent to the king’s enemies in his realm, giving them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere’. His lawyer tried to argue that his alleged acts took place outside of the kingdom, and to appeal to former allies in the British cabinet, but failed.[24] According to scholar Kathryn Conrad, who has written on the Casement case, “His ineffective defence was mounted based on a point of grammar in fourteenth-century statute; its success rested on whether or not there was a comma in that document.”[25] The trial lasted four days, and the jury deliberated for only one hour. Casement was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

Averill: After his conviction, Casement made a long speech from the dock in the Old Bailey courtroom, condemning the statue under which he was tried. He said that he ought to have been tried by an Irish court – as he’d landed and been arrested in Ireland – rather than in Britain. Most brazenly, and in keeping with his original mission to Germany, he argued that the Irish should fight for independence at home rather than for abroad. “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.”

Sarah: Many people were upset by the decision to execute Roger Casement. By all accounts he was a hero. He’d fought for the disenfranchised and abused when no one else would. His cousin Gertrude and his friend Alice Green worked tirelessly on his behalf, raising money for his defense, then his appeal, and finally directly to the king to stay the actual execution itself.

Averill: When Scotland Yard searched Casement’s apartments, they found his diaries.  Seeking to sway public opinion of this treasonous, but by all accounts heroic, figure, the British government started circulating excerpts from Casement’s diaries. They sent them to the Associated Press as well as prominent politicians, and even tried to get Casement’s own counsel to read them. You, listener, will be unsurprised to learn that the excerpts that they used for shock and awe purposes were the records of his many sexual encounters. As Brian Lewis notes, the public reaction to the diaries was immediate horror and disgust. In the summer of 1916 the Daily Express editorialized that if all the gentlemen trying to turn him into a martyr read the diaries, “no man—and certainly no minister of religion—would ever mention Casement’s name again without loathing and contempt.”[26]

Sarah:  Some people – like Roger’s former colleagues, and his former boss from the Foreign Office, Edward Grey – refused to even read the excerpts. Some asserted that the diaries were forgeries intended to undermine his bid for clemency. Others rejected the idea that his private sexual proclivities somehow erased his decades of service and humanitarianism. But others, including some of his life long friends, were broken by the revelation that Roger Casement was a sodomite. According to Duberman, Casement’ dear friend Herbert Ward – from all the way back to his early private sector Congo days – was so disturbed by Casement’s association with the diaries that he refused to sign the petition for Casement’s reprieve, and legally changed his son’s name. The boy had been Casement’s godson, and named for him – Roger Casement Ward – but after 1916, he was affiliated with his godfather no more.[27]

Averill: Though the broader British public lapped up the dramatic revelations and turned on the former hero of the empire, and some of his friends abandoned him entirely or did little to advocate for Casement, others worked tirelessly on his behalf, even with the revelations of the diaries complicating the issue.  Arthur Conan Doyle, William Cadbury of the chocolate empire, and even George Bernard Shaw write or create petitions on Casement’s behalf. Among radical Irish nationalists, the general sentiment was straight-forwardly that they did not believe the diaries were real. They refused to acknowledge the “Black Diaries” as nothing more than British propaganda being deployed to undermine the Irish nationalist cause. This position – a rigid rejection of the diaries as “authentic” – would dominate Ireland’s memorialization of Roger Casement for nearly a century. Alice Stopford Green – who, with Roger’s cousin Gertrude, worked tirelessly on Casement’s behalf – was one of the few Irish nationalists who both accepted the authenticity of the diaries and continued fighting for his life. Whether they spoke up because they doubted the validity of the diaries or simply could not let a good man go to the gallows, in the end, the result was the same. The petitions were not enough, the pleas were not enough, even the objections of Sir Edward Grey were not enough. Roger Casement’s execution was not staid. He was led to his death on August 3, 1916.

Sarah: So far, this episode has been a lot of background. Like, a lot. Undoubtedly you could go back through and trace a number of “change over time” threads in the material we’ve covered. You could look at the change in the Congo from the time Roger Casement got there in the 1880s up through his death in 1916, by which time the Belgians had created a ministry of propaganda for the office of the colonies, and played the role of victim throughout the war to ensure international eyes were turned elsewhere during WW1. Global rubber prices collapsed in 1912, but Europeans discovered copper, gold, and coal in the Katanga region, which they promptly began to exploit.[28] You could look through the change over time of Roger Casement – from the sort of naive imperialist adventurer to literal martyr in the fight against imperialism. Martin Duberman’s narration of Casement’s evolution on the subject is a really useful tool for thinking about that. But the reason we’ve given you such a lengthy and intimate look at Roger Casement’s life and death is because we want to talk today about what historian Brian Lewis called the “queer afterlife” of Roger Casement.[29] Because after he died, his place in Irish nationalist mythology changed over time, largely because of the political and social context in which his legacy was considered and reconsidered between 1916 and 2023.

Averill: The Easter Rising was crushed, the signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic were executed – along with Roger Casement – and the Home Rule bill was permanently put on ice. Though the British government was well within its rights to execute individuals guilty of armed insurrection during a time of war, the Irish (and much of the international community) found the executions in bad taste. The Irish Volunteers who occupied Dublin in April 1916 were radicals. Very few Dubliners aided or supported the rebels, and as the Irish POWs in Germany communicated quite plainly to Roger Casement, the majority of the Irish were not interested in armed separatist insurrection. Something about the British handling of the Rising, however, pushed a lot of fence sitters onto the separatists’ side. In 1919, during the “khaki election” following the conclusion of WW1, the Irish elected Sinn Feiners to all their parliamentary seats. Sinn Fein – Arthur Griffith’s radical separatist party – refused to take their seats in London, and declared that Ireland was an independent Repbulic. The British responded with force. For two and a half years, the Irish fought a war against the Royal Irish Constabulary and a bunch of shell-shocked veterans who were routed from ending their WW1 tour into the guerilla battlefields of Ireland. It was brutal war, rape and torture committed by partisans on both sides, and literally tore families apart. It ended only when the Irish agreed to a treaty that would ultimately result in six counties of the north remaining in the UK. The Irish parliament split over the treaty, and following the end of the War of Independence, those who supported the Treaty had to defend it against those who rejected the Treaty.

Sarah: Finally, after another eleven months of brutality, the Treatyites won the war – as much as anyone “wins” in a civil war – and set about building a new state. They disbanded the Royal Irish Constabulary and replaced them with a new “police force for the people”: An Garda Siochana (an garda Shee-o-kana). They shellaced a lot of the old institutions with new Irish names, but kept most of the old infrastructure, including most of the laws. The Vagrancy Laws, gross indecency law, and sodomy laws were all carried over. Unironically. Because of course the Irish nationalists had made it pretty clear over the last 100 years that they believed the Irish did not do same-sex sex, that it was a British disease or sin that the British had imported with their rule. Nevermind that it was actually only the British laws governing same-sex sex that the British imported. The facts were unimportant to this nascent state.

Averill: So one of the things the Irish did upon taking command of their own destiny was start to build up a new intolerance for sex. Not just same-sex sex – though definitely that, especially displays of same-sex desire in public, where people could see the evidence that same-sex desire was in fact home grown. The state instructed the guards, the new police force, to get the prostitutes off the streets, to clear out the “vice” of homosexuality from Dublin, and gave the Catholic church a sort of cart blanche for interfering in state matters. They (Church + state) set up a censorship board to restrict Ireland’s access to information about things like birth control, abortion and abortifacients, and of course, homosexuality. After 1929, you couldn’t get a copy of Havelock Ellis’ Studies in the Psychology of Sex or a copy of Kate O’Brien’s Land of Spices – one a medical text and the other a novel – because they both mention same-sex desire. In O’Brien’s case, a single sentence in the entire novel. But there you go. Women who had sex, or got pregnant outside of marriage, or thought about sex, or even got too angry were institutionalized in the dreaded Magdalene laundries, where some were imprisoned for life without recourse. Between the shame inculcated in the Catholic confession booth and the fear cultivated through policing of sexuality, Ireland was a pretty depressing place.

Sarah: But it was also a new state, and in those first few decades, it was heavily influenced by the nationalist ideas that drove the independence movement. Among those ideas was that Roger Casement’s Black Diaries were forgeries. To admit otherwise would mean that one of the heroes of Irish independence – one of Ireland’s great humanitarian heroes! – was a homosexual. And for a lot of people, that did not jive with the Ireland that they were trying to create.

Averill: Immediately after his death, his nationalist friends went hard and strong: deny, deny, deny. Bulmer Hobson called the charge “the dirtiest bit of English propaganda. . . . All this talk about vice makes me want to assault the people who say it.”[30] Some of them knew better. Francis Bigger and Alice Stopford Green both knew, and his cousin Gertrude, but they weren’t willing to get in a fight about it – especially as, among the Irish nationalists, it would just mean tarnishing Casement’s memory and legacy.

Sarah: For decades after his death, Casement’s “allies” tried to “prove” that the diaries were forged. In 1936, William J. Maloney, a Scottish-American neurologist and supporter of the Irish nationalist movement, wrote The Forged Casement Diaries. Maloney’s book is …incredible. And when I say “incredible” here, I mean in the sense that it is unbelievable. He lays out a convoluted hypothesis about how there was one guy on the Scotland Yard secret police who specialized in forged documents, and ipso facto the diaries that Scotland Yard alleged to find in Casement’s apartments were planted and/or fabricated after the fact. Maloney’s “evidence” is that there is nothing among the Casement Collection at the National Library of Ireland “to corroborate” Casement’s private history of cruising for sex with men. So Maloney’s evidence that the diaries were forged is that there is (at the National Library) no other evidence besides the diaries to suggest that Casement had sex with men. Maloney’s assessment of the situation was repeated by Irish nationalists. In 1938, in the Wolfe Tone Weekly, an article titled “Revelations of 1916” appeared. It said “Next Wednesday…will be the 22nd anniversary of the martyrdom of… that knightly, fearless, great-hearted Roger Casement whose unselfish love of the Irish people and burning desire for Irish independence brought him to the scaffold in London, where he died like a true soldier of freedom amid the savage cheers of British Jingoes who assembled outside Pentonville Prison to gloat over his death. Not alone did the English kill his body, they did their level best to murder his character as well.”

Averill: In 1957, Alfred Noyes, a Catholic poet and scholar, wrote The Accusing Ghost, or Justice for Casement. Noyes was a Casement supporter and had seen excerpts of the Black Diaries, about which he decided that “Page after page of this diary would be an insult to a pig’s trough to let the foul record touch it.”[31] To Noyes, like Maloney, the idea that the diaries could be anything but forgeries was inconceivable. Roger Casement was a hero; that meant he couldn’t also be the man implicated by the diary notations. Significantly, that same year in the UK, the Wolfenden committee published their findings on homosexuality in Britain. They effectively argued that homosexuals were being persecuted and imprisoned – sometimes even chemically castrated, as in the case of Alan Turing – for something that they could not control. The Committee recommended a significant overhaul of the laws dealing with same-sex sex. In Ireland, same-sex sex was still discussed in terms of sin and vice throughout the 1950s. Psychiatry as treatment for homosexuality – and the categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness – got a late start in Ireland. As scholar BD Kelly notes, this is still an area that needs investigation, but it was around the 1960s that Ireland started to more broadly think about same-sex desire as something more innate, rather than a temporary condition or controllable behavior.[32] This put Ireland, in many ways, behind places like Britain and the United States in the ways that folks were self-identifying, talking about same-sex desire, and treating same-sex desiring people. In effect, while Britain was working to destigmatize homosexuality, Ireland was doubling down. There was, as yet, no place for a queer Irish nationalist hero.

Sarah: In 1960, the British government gifted Casement’s remains, which had been rotting in the prison graveyard for 40 years, to the Irish government. RTE, the new Irish television station, covered the pomp and circumstance of a state funeral as a procession. Still in 1960 Casement’s sexuality had to be separated from his national identity. The forgery thesis was still widely accepted. Roger McHugh, a professor at the National University of Ireland, followed Noyes up with the 1960 Casement: The Public Record Office Manuscripts. Like the other peddlers of the forgery thesis, McHugh insisted there was no evidence that the diaries were real without offering concrete evidence that they were forged. Instead, as Brian Lewis argues, he and these other authors insisted that the diaries were forgeries because the condition of homosexuality was incompatible with the heroism of Roger Casement. Lewis notes that McHugh “littered his account with terms like “psychopathy,” “insanity,” and “degeneration”; the forger had created a “moronic or sub-human type,” “a dull degenerate who has reached the last stages of abnormality, who has no moral scruples and who is under . . . a compulsive or obsessive neurosis.”[33]

Averill: And on the 50th anniversary of his death and the Easter Rising, Herbert Mackey wrote Roger Casement: The Truth about the Forged Diaries. For Mackey in the mid-1960s “it would be fantastic to suppose that any human being except a criminal lunatic would attempt the enormities mentioned there, let alone record them.”[34] This was an obsession. These forgery thesis peddlers were assured that Casement could not be the author, because of their belief in the  association of homosexuality in the early and mid-century with mental degeneration. Casement was not mad. He was an accomplished poet, a humanitarian of the highest degree, an intellectual who believed in the right of the Irish to self-governance. None of those things – in their minds, shaped by the anti-homosexual context in which they lived – was compatible with him also being gay.

Sarah: Kathryn Conrad has argued that Casement’s sexuality was inconceivable for Irish nationalists because homosexuality was incompatible with the Catholic and nationalist ideology upon which the independent Irish state was built. Yet historian Brian Lewis contrasts the forgery peddlers with the slow but eventual acceptance among some scholars and public figures of Casement’s sexual identity with his nationalist and humanitarian identities. In 1956 WB Yeats’s cousin, Monk Gibbon, wrote sarcastically to the Irish Times: “A man is a great patriot; at all costs it must not transpire that he was also a homosexual!” In the same year René MacColl, Daily Express journalist, wrote: “although I am certain that Roger Casement was a pervert, it makes as little difference to me, in assessing his place in history, as if he had possessed a club-foot.” This “flawed-hero” idea was not widespread, but it certainly showed a shift in possibilities for Casement’s legacy and memory. For decades Casement’s friends and supporters had insisted that there was simply no truth to the diaries, that the man who wrote those foul things was not Sir Roger Casement. By the 1970s a few outliers dared to move beyond the flawed hero rationalization. Historian AJP Taylor wrote in 1973 “What was the relevance of the diaries even if they were genuine? None. . . . [I]t never affected his policy or public conduct”.

Averill: The 1970s also marked the launch of the Irish Gay Rights Movement. Media studies scholar Paraic Kerrigan has charted the ways that representations of LGBTQ people helped to shift the conversation and social climate in Ireland. Historian Patrick McDonagh’s history of the Irish Gay Rights movement similarly marks the 1970s as a key turning point for LGBT people in Ireland. Though my own work charts a longer history of networking, McDonagh demonstrates that queer people started building community and claiming public spaces for community in the 1970s and 80s. Rights organizations, community centers, call hotlines, and newspapers and magazines connected LGBT people all over the island, smashing through the fear, isolation, and oppression that the postcolonial state had fostered since independence. Those folks worked hard to decriminalize homosexuality in Ireland, and were finally successful in 1993.

Sarah: It wasn’t perfect, nor was it like a switch flipped and Ireland went from being homophobic to homophilic. If anything, reports of gay bashing went up – probably only because, after 1993, queer people could expect the law to be on their side – but the hostility persisted for another decade.

Averill: AJP Taylor’s perspective that Casement’s homosexuality shouldn’t matter because it didn’t impact his public comportant was radical in a sense, but also consistent with that moment. Similarly, Benjamin Reid’s 1976 The Lives of Roger Casement accepted the likelihood that Casement was having sex with men, but could only do so with the qualification that every man has his vices – that Casement lived “two lives,” he was a mind divided. Reid writes, “Was he an Irishman or an English man; an Irish patriot or an English public servant; … a man or a woman; a man or a boy?” Martin Duberman, writing 40 years later, thanked Reid for the detailed record of Casement’s non-sexual endeavors in the Congo, Putumayo, and Ireland, but in his ‘biographical novel,’ Duberman seeks to challenge the underplayed, denied, censured, and deplored parts of Casement’s life – his homosexuality. Both Taylor and Reid weren’t saying “let’s celebrate this queer hero” – he was saying “we can acknowledge that he wasa hero, and deal with the fact that he had sex with men.” Duberman, on the other hand, is very much saying “let’s celebrate this queer hero.”

Sarah: While the forgery hypothesis was a hard and popular one for much of the 20th century, there were those – particularly gay rights activists and historians, much like Martin Duberman writing in 2018 – who sought to reconcile the legitimacy of the diaries – and his desires – with Roger Casement’s heroic and humanitarian legacy.

In 2002 Dr Audrey Giles, an internationally respected figure in the field of document forensics, conducted a forensic examination of the diaries. According to the official statement, “The unequivocal and confident conclusion which the Giles Document Laboratory has reached is that each of the five documents collectively known as the Black Diaries is exclusively the work of Roger Casement’s hand, without any reason to suspect either forgery or interpolation by any other hand. The Diaries are genuine throughout and in each instance.” The fact that this was still a question and an on-going debate – nearly a decade after same-sex sex was decriminalized – is a reminder that life didn’t just get easy for LGBT people after decriminalization. But with science substantiating what everyone knew already (even if they refused to accept it), the conversation necessarily had to change.

Averill: Brian Lewis’s article was published in 2005. He expected that eventually Irish society would catch up to Roger Casement. In a cursory examination of the press coverage of the 100th anniversary of Roger Casement’s death, I don’t know that the country has, as yet, come to terms with the full picture of Roger Casement. 2016 was a year after Ireland voted – by a constitutional motherfucking referendum – to enshrine marriage equality for all in the Irish constitution. You might think, wow, hey, there you go! They’re a rainbow connection now! Raise the Casement flag! Alas. Not quite so simple.

Sarah: Casement was honored throughout 2016. There was a one-man show highlighting Casement’s “controversial” life – as a revolutionary figure who was also “an outsider.”[35] President Michael Higgins didn’t mention Casement’s history of cruising, when he gave a speech in which he described Casement as a “complex figure.”[36] Angus Mitchell published an edited volume of Casement’s 1914-16 Berlin diaries, which includes substantive references to Casement’s weird Dutch lover, Adler Christiensen. In a review, Ryle Dwyer says there’s no “controversy” (read: homosexuality) about the Berlin diaries – though perhaps Dwyer didn’t realize that Christiansen was more than just a “man servant” to Casement.[37]

Averill: So Ireland wasn’t yet, in 2016, the queer haven we might hope for. And actually, as historian Sonja Tiernan points out in her book on the Marriage Equality bill, the entire campaign was fairly conservative in its tactics and marketing strategies. A queer hero like Casement, who limited his sexual relationships to casual hook ups and semi anonymous flings, wouldn’t really have fit with the image of the Yes! Ireland movement. Granted, Casement might’ve pursued different kinds of relationships were he given the chance, but we can’t say that for certain. Only Roger Casement can say what kind of sexual experiences revved his motor.  As Brian Lewis argues, what matters the most is how Casement’s memory has been used – and how it will be used. There were a handful of folks Irish patriots in the late 1950s through the 1970s that entertained the idea that he could be both nationalist hero and homosexual; and while, by the 1990s through the early 2010s, that has been increasingly more accepted, it is certainly not universally, especially in Ireland. Martin Duberman, as I noted at the top of the episode, is a famous United States historian – not an Irish one. There’s still a ways to go, I think, before the “queer afterlife” of Roger Casement takes on a radically new character in Ireland. It’s an inching kind of change over time, with lots of fits and starts, one step forward for two steps back kind of thing. In time, though, I do think Ireland will celebrate its own queer hero(es) boldly, proudly, and without requiring them to fit into a particular box of heroism, homosexuality, or humanitarianism.

Sarah: Thanks for joining us today! We invite you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at dig_history, or join our Facebook group – Dig History Pod Squad – for all kinds of memes and historian hijinks. If you have a comment or question or want to share some kind words with us, you can always email us at – we love listener mail! If you’re an educator, we’ve got a compendium of episodes you can use in the classroom – and free teaching resources, including full lesson plans! – on our website, You’ll also find full bibliographies, the scripts for all of our episodes, resources, and a link to our swag store at

Averill: Thanks for listening! Byeeee

Sarah: Byeeee


The Boehm/Casement papers

Roger Casement’s speech from the dock during his treason trial

The Trial of Roger Casement

Some of Roger Casement’s poems

Newspapers from IrishNewsArchive

Roger Casement, “The Crime Against Europe: A Possible Outcome of the War of 1914,” Project Gutenberg

Roger Casement et al, “Correspondence and Report from His Majesty’s Consul at Boma Respecting the Administration of the Independent State of the Congo,” Project Gutenberg

Roger Casement, ed. Roger Sawyer, Roger Casement Diaries, 1910, Internet Archive

Roger Casement, One bold deed of open treason : the Berlin diary of Roger Casement 1914-1916, Internet Archive

Susannah Bowyer, “Queer Patriots: Sexuality and the character of national identity in Ireland,” Cultural Studies (2010) Pages 801-820

Kathryn Conrad, “Queer Treasons: Homosexuality and Irish National Identity,”

Cultural Studies, 15:1, 124-137

Diarmaid Ferriter, Occasions of Sin (Profile Books, 2009)

Kevin Grant, “Bones of Contention: The Repatriation of the Remains of Roger Casement,” Journal of British Studies Vol. 41, No. 3 (July 2002), pp. 329-353

Paraic Kerrigan, LGBTQ Visibility, Media and Sexuality in Ireland (Routledge, 2020)

Brian Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement Books of Critical Interest” Journal of the History of Sexuality 14.4 (2005) 363-382

Patrick McDonagh, Gay and Lesbian Activism in the Republic of Ireland (Bloomsbury, 2021)

Michael O’Sullivan, “Lies, Damn Lies & Forensics: The Ghost of Roger Casement,”

History Ireland Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer, 2002), pp. 5-6

Jeffrey Panciera, “Why Roger Casement Still Haunts Us,” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 21.3 (May/Jun 2014): 16-19.

B.L. Reid, The Lives of Roger Casement (Internet Archives, 1976)

Peter Singleton-Gates, ed., The Black Diaries, Internet Archive

Sonja Tiernan, The history of marriage equality in Ireland: A social revolution begins (Oxford UP, 2020)


[1] Qtd in Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 49. See Also Peter Singleton-Gates, The Black Diaries, Internet Archive

[2] Qtd. in Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 42.

[3] Averill Earls, “Unnatural Offenses of English Import: The Political Association of Englishness and Same-Sex Desire in Nineteenth-Century Irish Nationalist Media,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 28:3 (September 2019) 396-424.

[4] Martin Duberman, Luminous Traitor: The Just and Daring Life of Roger Casement, (University of California Press, 2018) 3.

[5] Martin Duberman, Luminous Traitor: The Just and Daring Life of Roger Casement, (University of California Press, 2018) 1-2.

[6] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 1.

[7] Brian Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement,” Journal of the HIstory of Sexuality 14:4 (Oct 2005) 363-382.

[8] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 45.

[9] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 46.

[10] Qtd. in Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 63.

[11] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 70.

[12] Qtd. in Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 75.

[13] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 69.

[14] Qtd. in Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 70.

[15] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 78-80.

[16] Qtd. in Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 80.

[17] Qtd. in Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 89.

[18] An Claidheamh Soluis 1899-1918, Saturday, August 17, 1912; Page: 12

[19] Evening Herald 1891-current, Wednesday, November 13, 1912; Page: 2

[20] Roger Casement, “The Crime Against Europe: A Possible Outcome of the War of 1914,”, 33-34.

[21] Irish Examiner 1841-current, Monday, March 01, 1915; Page: 7; Southern Star 1892-current, Saturday, March 06, 1915; Page: 7.

[22] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 222-223.

[23] Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement,”; also Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 225-228.

[24] Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement,”; also Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 231-250.

[25] Kathryn Conrad, “Queer Treasons: Homosexuality and Irish National Identity,”

Cultural Studies, 15:1, 124-137

[26] Qtd. in Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement,” 374.

[27] Duberman, Luminious Traitor, 269.

[28]Rubber Production in Africa”, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History

[29] Lewis, “Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement.”

[30] Duberman, Luminous Traitor, 268.

[31] Qtd. in Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement,” 374.

[32] BL Reid, “Homosexuality and Irish psychiatry: medicine, law and the changing face of Ireland,” Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 2017

[33] Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement,” 376.

[34] Lewis, “The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement,” 376.

[35] The Echo (Ballyfermot) 1996-2019  | Thursday, April 07, 2016  | Section: Life | Page: 40

[36] Irish Examiner 1841-current, Friday, April 22, 2016

[37] Irish Examiner 1841-current, Saturday, June 18, 2016


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