On this date in Irish History: June 29, 1916
Roger Casement found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.
Among the many Irish rebel songs is “Banna Strand,” which tells the tale of Roger Casement who was executed for treason after the Easter Rising for his part in gun-running German Arms to Kerry. The history is, of course, far more complex.
Casement’s trial began in London on June 26, 1916. Nine Irishmen — exchanged by the Germans on health grounds after being held as prisoners of war — testified about Casement’s efforts to recruit an Irish Brigade from among more than 2,200 Irish prisoners gathered at Limburg, Germany.
They testified that Casement said this brigade would land in Ireland in an attempt to expel the British if Germany gained control of the seas. If Britain won the war, on the other hand, members of the brigade would be given money and free passage to the US.
Read more about Casement’s trial: “British used diaries to sully Roger Casement’s name”
Casement’s team tried to defend him on legalistic grounds, contending that the 1351 Statue — under which he was charged — did not apply to acts committed outside the United Kingdom. Casement had only tried to recruit people in Germany.
But the jurors did not buy the argument and took just 55 minutes to convict him after a four-day trial. He was duly sentenced to death.
A record of the trial was published in 1917 and has been in print ever since. This digitised copy contains a stirring statement by Casement after hearing the guilty verdict. It is an eloquent defense the Irishman’s right to be loyal to Ireland. There is also a fascinating moral argument against being sentenced to death in accord with a 555 year old English law, which far predates the acts of Union in 1800.
Casement’s appeal was dismissed after just two days the next month. Before he was hanged at Pentonville Prison on August 3, 1916, there were strong calls for clemency from various quarters. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw called for Casement to be treated as a prisoner of war, and more than 30 other distinguished writers — including Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, and John Galsworthy — called for the reprieve of his sentence.