[Marxism] Roger Casement: imperialist tool?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 5 07:32:29 MDT 2012


Sir Roger Casement and the German connection 	

Traditionally, Irish revolutionary nationalists have looked to England’s 
enemies for aid. So when a number of them met in Dublin on 9th September 
1914 to discuss the circumstances arising from the outbreak of war, they 
agreed to appeal to Germany for its support in an insurrection. Clan na 
Gael, a republican organisation of Irish-Americans in the United States, 
was to provide the rebels with their main channel of communication with 
Germany. Already on 24th August 1914 its leader, John Devoy, had met the 
German ambassador in New York, stressed to him the opportunities for an 
Irish rising and requested arms and military personnel for this purpose.

Roger Casement was the central figure in developing the rebels` 
relations with Germany. He had been born in Sandycove, near Dublin, in 
1864, the son of a British army officer, and for 20 years had served in 
the British consular service. He had then gained an international 
reputation for exposing European colonial exploitation of native peoples 
in Africa and South America. He had meanwhile become increasingly 
absorbed in militant Irish nationalist politics and attracted by the 
potential of an Irish-German alliance as a means of securing full Irish 
independence. He was in the US when the war began and at once submitted 
a plan to German officials there, outlining how Britain’s power could be 
broken by exploiting unrest in its vulnerable possessions, especially 
Ireland. The Berlin government suggested that he travel to Germany for 

On first arrival, Casement met with some success. On 20th November 1914, 
the German government declared its support for Irish independence, and 
soon after agreed to him raising an Irish Brigade from among Irish 
prisoners captured on the western front; its members were to be 
transported to Ireland to help in the fight for freedom. However, 
despite his efforts, recruitment to it was poor. Most of the prisoners 
were politically moderate and regarded Casement as a traitor.

German government hesitation ended when it received confirmation in 
mid-February 1916 that the date for an Irish rising had been set for the 
coming Easter. It agreed to ship 25,000 captured Russian rifles and one 
million rounds, hoping thereby to divert some British troops from the 
western front. The consignment was despatched aboard the ‘Aud’ on 9th 
April. Casement considered its size to be wholly inadequate, and that 
any rising was therefore doomed. He persuaded the German authorities to 
transport him to Ireland by submarine. His purpose was ostensibly to 
rendezvous with the ‘Aud’ and supervise the landing of the arms. His 
actual intention was to prevent an insurrection.
Image of Casement's 'Irish Brigade' in German prisoner of war camp

Sir Roger Casement's 'Irish Brigade' drawn from prisoners-of-war in 
Germany, 1915 ©

The whole enterprise ended in fiasco. Casement was arrested on 21st 
April, hours after landing on the Kerry coast. The Royal Navy captured 
the arms ship on the same day. Owing to navigational error, it failed to 
appear at its agreed rendezvous point. Due to inept planning by the 
rebel leadership, local volunteers had not been expecting it to arrive 
when it did. In any case, British intelligence had intercepted messages 
between the insurrectionists and the German Embassy in New York and was 
anticipating its arrival. Fearing leaks, full knowledge of such 
sensitive information was not communicated to the authorities in Dublin, 
who remained in ignorance of the plans for a rising.

The rebels’ failure to receive the arms had a major impact on the 
Rising. Had they arrived safely, MacNeill would probably have supported 
the outbreak, and its scale, especially in the provinces, would have 
been infinitely greater.

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