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"Condolences and Funerals" (2005)

Commentary on Casement’s repatriation


On 1 March 1965, the state funeral of Sir Roger Casement took place in Dublin. Casement had been executed in London in 1916 for treason because of his attempted involvement in the 1916 Rising and his remains had lain in Pentonville Prison until 22 February 1965. The repatriation of his remains was the culmination of lengthy negotiations between the Irish and British governments, commencing in 1929. The two main objections to repatriation on the British side were: that the law forbade the relocation of the remains of convicted criminals; and that even if this were possible, it would be likely to stir up difficulties and unpleasant memories, and thus damage the relationship between the two states.

 

These contentions were robustly challenged by Eamon de Valera when he became Taoiseach. He contested the British interpretation of their own law, and insisted that repatriation could only improve relations between the states. He was careful to separate the issue of repatriation from that of Casement’s private diaries, which detailed his sexual activities while a British diplomat, and the dissemination of which had played a large part in crushing a campaign for clemency which might have saved his life. The diaries were in the possession of the British government, and de Valera and many other Irish politicians and officials did not want to get involved with them.

 

Casement’s remains lay in state in Arbour Hill for the five days preceding the funeral, and were visited by 665,000 people. His funeral was attended by the President, the Taoiseach and all members of the Government, as well as 1000 Old IRA veterans. President de Valera delivered the graveside oration, in which he praised Casement for his humanitarian work in the Congo and Putumayo: “His name would be honoured, not merely here, but by oppressed peoples everywhere, even had he done nothing for the freedom of his country.” A concise account of the negotiations which led to the repatriation of Casement’s remains can be found in Deirdre McMahon, ‘Roger Casement: an account from the archives of his reinterment in Ireland’, reproduced with the kind permission of the author, originally published in “Irish Archives”, Spring 1996, Vol. 3, No. 1.