Will Roger Casement be saved?
London, 29 July 1916 - A gathering swell of public protest at the impending execution of Sir Roger Casement has so far brought no reprieve from the British government.
In June Casement was found guilty of high treason and was sentenced to death by three judges (led by the Lord Chief Justice) who donned traditional black caps when they passed the sentence of death.
The charge of high treason was defined under a 1351 statute as ‘levying war against the King or being adherent to the King's enemies in his realm, giving them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere.’
It is understood that the British cabinet – led by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith – has considered the matter on several occasions, but has declined to change the decision of the courts.
Support from public figures
In a public letter addressed to Asquith, the poet W.B. Yeats noted that he had never written to an English minister on an Irish question before now, but the execution of Roger Casement would have 'so evil an effect' that he was now moved to break this habit.
Yeats noted: ‘The pardon of Sir Roger Casement may give an opportunity for more moderate opinion in Ireland to recover something of its weight.’
By contrast, Yeats referred to the sympathy that the execution would arouse among the young for whom it would not act as a restraint. He continued: ‘There is such a thing as the vertigo of self-sacrifice.’
The call for mercy from Yeats was supported by his fellow writer George Bernard Shaw. Other leading public figures in Ireland, including Cardinal Logue, Agnes O’Farrelly, Douglas Hyde and Lorcan Sherlock have repeated pleas that the the death sentence be commuted.
Further petitions have been signed by 13 Catholic bishops, 2 peers, 26 MPs and 119 representatives of universities and other educational institutions.
A motion from Kerry County Council condemned the fact that Casement was being treated as if he were 'on the level of a common murderer', despite all his humanitarian work over the years.
Irish American opinion
The Gaelic American is not so optimistic as to think Roger Casement can be saved from the gallows. It does however think that future generations will view his story differently.
‘Sir Roger Casement has been convicted. In the eye of the law, by the verdict of the jury and the sentence of the court, he is a traitor to the realm, an enemy of the King and a forsworn villain who must die the death of shame on the abhorrent gallows. In the supreme court of the future that verdict will be reversed and that sentence set aside.
At the judgment bar of history, this felon, now condemned to die for a most high crime, will be hailed as a hero and a martyr...’
‘His condemnation was assured before he was arraigned, and all that was left to him was to take advantage of the forms of the law and the established procedure of the courts of England to make his defense at the bar of public opinion and his appeal to the verdict of the ages...
Ireland must wait yet a while for freedom. Sir Roger Casement must wait yet a while for his vindication at the bar of the world’s final judgment...
But just as surely as God reigns in His Heaven, and that justice and righteousness and mercy are always conquerors in the long struggles and innumerable conflicts which mark the upward and onward march of the race of man, just so surely will Ireland yet be independent, the children of Erin be free, and the name and fame of Casement be held in love and honor through the ages of the ages.’
[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]