Wednesday, August 03, 2016


Roger Casement
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What other Roger Casement? Was there not only the one?

Well, yes and no.

We are currently commemorating the centenary of 1916 and Casement surfaces at that time for his attempts to mobilise a German sourced invasion of Ireland along with the importation of arms for the domestic rebels. His capture on arrival was followed by his trial and execution for treason. Enough, you might think, for a whole lifetime. But this was just at the end of Casement's career.

There is a whole other Casement which gets much less attention. It was not for nothing that he was knighted in 1911.

He had earlier exposed and documented the abominations practised against the natives of the Belgian Congo by King Leopold of Belgium. The king was extracting much valued rubber from the area and oppression and genocide of the natives didn't bother him. Casement's reports on the situation caused the Belgian state to deprive the king of the territories concerned which up to then had been his private possession. That job done Casement then reported on similar atrocities in Putumayo in the Peruvian Amazon Basin. Again the extraction of rubber but this time by a British registered company.

Raghnall Ó Floinn

This was what Casement was all about and it was this aspect of his life which was being commemorated in the exhibition launched today in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare St.

The speakers were introduced by Raghnall Ó Floinn who has taken over from Pat Wallace as Director of the Museum. Raghnall gave some background to the museum and, hitting a theme which was taken up by some of the speakers, reminded us that the museum was not just a series of objects and collections. It was a vehicle for bringing people into contact with their past and this exhibition was an excellent illustration of this.

Catherine Heaney

If Raghnall is only three years into his stint as Director, Catherine Heaney is just one month into her role of chairing the Board. From what she said she has certainly jumped in the deep end having already been around the museum's many properties and also literally up the Amazon to where Casement reported from. She was very strong on the museum's outreach to the public. Collections were to be put to work to promote interest in our past and bring whole new contexts to people's attention.

Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold, current DG of the Irish Institute for European Affairs, and a former CEO of the NGO Concern Worldwide, gave us a context for Irish humanitarian action in the world, starting with St. Columbanus, moving through Daniel O'Connell and his opposition to slavery, then the church missionaries and finally through to today's three major Irish NGOs, Concern, Trócaire and GOAL. This is the timeline and continuity into which Casement fits and it is for his work in this area that he should be remembered.

Fiona Reilly

Fiona Reilly has curated this exhibition and when you hear her talk about it you know that it was not only a labour of love but an expression of a conviction that Casement's work has enormous relevance for us today as millions are still caught in slavery, and sweatshops and extractive industries, with all their cruelties, are by no means a thing of the past.

Casement's call still resonates and awaits an adequate response. He was the "Voice of the Voiceless".There are many voiceless out there today who not only need their voices heard but something done about their plight as a result.

The exhibition itself, while relatively small, is beautifully presented. It combines the stories of the oppressed, and Casement's work to give them voice, with some objects from their culture. A visit will surely stimulate you to go and read up some more and better understand the nature of this unfinished business.

Casement's State Funeral 1965

Casement was executed on this day in 1916 and it was to be 1965 before his remains were returned to Ireland for a state funeral to Glasnevin where he rests today.

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