Forensic examination of Sir Roger Casement's so-called Black Diaries has provided "unequivocal" proof that they are genuine, according to a group of British and Irish academics which presented its findings yesterday.
For more than 80 years since the Irish nationalist leader and humanitarian was hanged for treason in 1916, historians and biographers have bitterly disagreed about their authenticity and explicit references to his homosexuality, which were ultimately used by the British to ruin Casement's reputation and secure his execution.
In an attempt to resolve the debate, the academics, led by Prof Bill McCormack, Professor of Literary History at Goldsmiths College, University of London, commissioned Dr Audrey Giles at the Giles Documentary Laboratory to examine the diaries using comparative analysis of the handwriting, paper and ink.
The five documents - two office diaries, an army field notebook, a pocket diary and a 1911 cash ledger - were also subjected to a process called electrostatic detection, which can detect handwriting impressions on original documents.
The two-month examination, completed last month, revealed that the Black Diaries were in Casement's hand throughout and found "many similarities and no significant differences" between the disputed material and genuine examples of Casement's handwriting.
"We have established the nature of the diaries, the authorship of the diaries. That issue, it seems to me, is closed so people can now get on with assessing Casement," Prof McCormack told The Irish Times as he presented the academics' conclusions at a press conference at Goldsmiths College.
"In some people's eyes he will be more of a hero, in some people's eyes he will be a more complicated hero. Some people may want to turn to other areas of his activities, his work in the cultural movement in Ulster . . . so at least we don't have to have the ifs and buts of the past."
Using the diaries to destroy Casement's reputation was "not only blackguardly but frankly cowardly" behaviour by the British authorities, said Prof McCormack.
He suggested that Casement could have been reprieved if they had not been used against him.
"My sense certainly is that the diaries did for him," he added.
The research into the Black Diaries, which included Casement's private observations as he carried out humanitarian work in the Congo and Amazon basin, cost about £15,000 and was funded by RTÉ, the BBC and the Office of the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said he welcomed the opportunity to "finally put to rest this long-running historical controversy".
And in a statement Casement's grandnephew, the psychoanalyst Mr Patrick Casement, said the diaries made "a great deal of psychological sense" in the context of the times. "He could not have escaped from feeling an irreconcilable split between his public position of honour and his private life for which he was doubtless conditioned, by his upbringing, to feel acute shame."
One of Casement's biographers, Séamas Ó Siocháin, acknowledged that while the research confirmed his beliefs, some people would remain convinced the diaries were forged. "It won't fully end [the debate about authenticity]," he said.
"Even before these tests were carried out some of the forgery thesis people dismissed handwriting as an adequate test, arguing that even in 1916 handwriting could be forged quite successfully."
The second part of RTÉ's series, The Ghost of Roger Casement, examining the new evidence will be shown tomorrow. A three-day conference to discuss the research will be held at Goldsmiths College next month.
Members of investigating group
Members of the steering group investigating the authenticity of The Black Diaries:
Prof Bill McCormack - professor of Literary History at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He commissioned Dr Audrey Giles at the Giles Document Laboratory to carry out the forensic examination of the diaries.
Prof Mary Daly - associate professor of Modern Irish History at University College Dublin and member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.
Ms Helen Forde - until recently head of preservation services at the Public Record Office, London, she sits on the board of the Department of Archives, University College Dublin.
Ms Siobhan Kilfeather - lectures at the School of English, University of Sussex and is co-author of a forthcoming anthology of Irish writing.
Mr John McIntyre - retired head of the preservation division of the National Library of Scotland and former adviser to the National Library, the Royal Irish Academy and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Ms Niamh nic Daeid - a senior lecturer in the Department of Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde, specialising in the examination of documents.