Casement's death row letter released

 

A stoic final letter from Roger Casement on the eve of his execution and handwritten observations on his 1916 trial are part of a cache of newly released papers written by the Irish revolutionary.

The documents, released by the National Library of Ireland, were bequeathed to the State 60 years ago but were stored under privacy conditions, which prohibited their viewing until now.

One of the many moving personal items was a letter written on death row in Pentonville Prison in London on August 2nd, 1916, a day before he was hanged, in which he speaks of his hopes for Ireland, his late conversion to Catholicism and how he was “quite happy” to face death.

Thanking his cousins for their support in his last days, he writes: “It is the women who have saved me and made me happy – in these dreadful days it has been nearly all of it done by women.”

Of the politics of the day, he says: “God will surely give freedom to Ireland. Irishmen live unselfishly and die faithfully and fearlessly for Ireland, as the men of 1916 have done, and no power of man . . . can withhold freedom so vowed.”

The envelope was marked by a family member: “Final message to Ireland.”

The material belonged to Casement’s closest cousin, Gertrude Bannister, who died in 1950. It passed through the Irish Embassy in London to the library, where it was placed under a “Not for Consultation” order in 1952, which would normally prevent release for a period of time for privacy reasons.

Colette O’Flaherty, keeper of archival collections, said such orders were “difficult to manage because you have to honour those wishes”, and in this case there was no release date specified.

“We are really looking forward with interest to see the response from academics,” she added. “There is a real immediacy with this material; he is writing in the last weeks of his life, and I think he is conscious of posterity. He is recording the dates, and instructs with the letters that they be sent to his cousin on his death.”

The documents can be viewed at nli.ie.