Diarmaid Ferriter: Complex Roger Casement has avoided cancellation so far

Republican’s humanitarianism not obscured by claims of sexual exploitation

Statue of Roger Casement by Mark Richards at the Dún Laoghaire baths: his career is a reminder of the wider context for our revolutionary decade of 1913-1923. Photograph: Peter Cavanagh

Statue of Roger Casement by Mark Richards at the Dún Laoghaire baths: his career is a reminder of the wider context for our revolutionary decade of 1913-1923. Photograph: Peter Cavanagh

Twenty years ago, the American historian Kevin Grant described Roger Casement as “a memory in motion”. Little was settled in relation to this intriguing and complicated Irish republican who was born in Sandycove in 1864 and became a controversial 1916 martyr.

He was celebrated while alive as one of the great humanitarians of his age due to his work in the British diplomatic service exposing the barbaric treatment of natives in the Congo and Amazon by European imperial powers. Despite being knighted in 1911, he devoted himself to Irish republican endeavour, attempted to recruit an Irish brigade from prisoners of war in Germany to fight against Britain, and was arrested after landing from a German submarine on the Irish coast on his way to persuade those organising the 1916 Rising to postpone it until more support could be arranged. After his petition for clemency was rejected, he was hanged at Pentonville Prison and his body was not returned to Ireland until 1965, where he received full honours as an Irish patriot.

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