Discovery of export of Casement pistols to US caused alarm in 1991

Department of the Taoiseach and National Museum notified after letter from gun collector

The discovery that pistols seized from Roger Casement were exported to the US by a gun collector caused raised eyebrows in the Department of the Taoiseach in 1991, newly released government files show.

Casement was captured on Banna Strand, Co Kerry, on April 21st, 1916, after he was involved in an attempt to land arms for republicans from a German vessel. The former British diplomat was executed for treason in London in August of that year.

In July 1991, a US gun collector wrote to the Irish Genealogical Office seeking copies of material about awards given to Roger Casement.

He said he had first learned, in 1948, that the German Luger 9mm guns exported to the US were at a depot in Clancy Barracks. “I recognised their immense historical value and since that time, at long last, was able to negotiate for them in 1990 and was in Dublin last January to conclude the matter and ship them here.”


His letter immediately raised alarm bells and the Department of the Taoiseach and the National Museum were alerted.

A senior Department of the Taoiseach official said there was no question that the gun collector’s request for photographs of Casement’s medals could be granted.

The keeper of the National Museum, John Teahan, later advised that the question of the disposal of the weapons should be raised with the Irish Defence Forces and Clancy Barracks.

“If the pistols are of national historical significance, in the sense of being part of the consignment associated with Sir Roger Casement, they should either not have been exported at all or have been exported only on the grant of an export licence,” he wrote.

“If they are not of historical significance, I presume a firearms licence should have been necessary as part of the normal customs documentation.”

A PSNI museum in Belfast has another pistol belonging to Roger Casement. It was the subject of a row in 2014 when then Sinn Féin Assembly member and Casement enthusiast Oliver McMullan asked the museum to allow the gun to be exhibited in Dublin, as plans were being made to mark the Easter Rising centenary. The museum said it could not do so, as rules prohibited artefacts "being transferred outside of the UK". In addition, the weapon had not been deactivated and had to remain in police custody.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times