Category Archives: Roger Casement

“Our choice lay in submitting to foreign lawlessness or resisting it, and we did not hesitate to choose” – Roger Casement on trial for his life

In his 1914 book The Crime Against Ireland and How the War May Right it, Sir Roger Casement wrote, “Sedition (is) the natural garment for an Irishman to wear”.  Casement wore it well. 

A participant in the preparations for the 1916 Easter Rising, Casement landed at Banna Strand (northwest of Tralee) in Co. Kerry on board a ship from Germany with a large consignment of weaponry for the rebels.  However the rendezvous did not take place and Casement was captured on April 21, 1916.  He was subsequently held in Pentonville Prison in London, tried in London over four days in May, and hung for treason on August 3.  At his trial, he made a speech from the dock; he had written the body of it while in prison.  Below is the text.  I have broken up some paragraphs which were huge in the original.

This text is longer than that often found on the internet.  I had to type up additional chunks of text from where I found this – I have it taken it from The Great Prisoners: the first anthology of literature written in prison, selected and edited by Isidore Abramavotich, New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1946.  Abramovitch lists the range of his Casement sources on p869.

I have added subheads to break up the text.

 

Roger Casement:

My Lord Chief Justice, as I wish to reach a much wider audience than I see before me here, I intend to read all that I propose to say. What I shall read now is something I wrote more than twenty days ago. I may say, my lord, at once, that I protest against the jurisdiction of this Court in my case on this charge, and the argument that I am now going to read is addressed not to this Court, but to my own countrymen.

There is an objection, possibly not good in law, but surely good on moral grounds, against the application to me here of this old English statute, 565 years old, that seeks to deprive an Irishman to-day of life and honour, not for “adhering to the King’s enemies”, but for adhering to his own people.

When this statute was passed, in 1351, what was the state of men’s minds on the question of a far higher allegiance – that of a man to God and His kingdom?  The law of that day did not permit a man to forsake his church or deny his God save with his life.  The ‘heretic’ then had the same doom as the ‘traitor’.

Today a man may forswear God had His heavenly kingdom without fear of penalty, all earlier statutes having gone the way of Nero’s edicts against the Christians, but that Constitutional phantom, ‘The King’, can still dig up from the dungeons and torture chambers of the Dark Ages a law that takes a life and limb for an exercise of conscience.

If true religion rests on love, it is equally true that loyalty rests on love.  The law I am charged under has no parentage in love and claims the allegiance of to-day on the ignorance and blindness of the past.

I am being tried, in truth, not by my peers of the live present, but by the peers of the dead past; not by the civilisation of the twentieth century, but by the brutality of the fourteenth; not even by a statute framed in the language of an enemy land – so antiquated is the law that must be sought to-day to slay an Irishman, whose offence is that he puts Ireland first.

The Government of Ireland by England. . . can evoke no loyalty

Loyalty is a sentiment, not a law.  It rests on love, not on restraint.  The Government of Ireland by England rests on restraint and not on law; and since it demands no love it can evoke no loyalty.

But this statute is more absurd even than it is antiquated; and if it is potent to hang one Irishman, it is still more potent to gibbet all Englishmen.

Edward III was King not only of the realm of England, but also of the realm of France, and he was not King of Ireland.  Yet his dead hand to-day may pull the noose around the Irishman’s neck whose Sovereign he was not, but it can strain no strand around the Frenchman’s throat whose Sovereign he was.

For centuries the successors of Edward III claimed to be Kings of France, and quartered the arms of France on their royal shield down to the Union with Ireland on 1st January, 1801.  Throughout these hundreds of years these “Kings of France” were constantly at war with their realm of France and their French subjects, who should have gone from birth to death with an obvious fear of treason before their eyes.  But did they?  Did the “Kings of France” resident here at Windsor or in the Tower of London, hang, draw and quarter as a traitor every Frenchman for 400 years who fell into their hands with arms in his hand?  On the contrary, they received embassies of these traitors, presents from these traitors, even knighthood itself at the hands of these traitors, feasted with them, tilted with them, fought with them – but did not assassinate them by law.  Judicial assassination today is reserved  only for one race of the King’s subjects, for Irishmen; for those who cannot forget their allegiance to the realm of Ireland.

Slide by Robert Ehrlich

The Kings of England as such had no rights in Ireland up to the time of Henry VIII, save such as reasted on compact and mutual obligation entered between them and certain princes, chiefs and lords of Ireland.  This form of legal right, such as it was, gave no King of England lawful power to impeach an Irishman for high treason under this statute of King Edward III of England until an Irish Act, known as Poyning’s Law, the 10th of Henry VII, was passed in 1494 at Drogheda, by the Parliament of the Pale in Ireland, and enacted as law in that part of Ireland.  But if by Poyning’s Law an Irishman of the Pale could be indicted for high treason under this Act, he could be indicted only in one way and before one tribunal – by the laws of the realm in Ireland and in Ireland.

The very law of Poyning’s, which, I believe, applies this statute of Edward III to Ireland, enacted also for the Irishman’s defence, “All those laws by which England claims her liberty”.  And what is the fundamental charter of an Englishman’s liberty?  That he shall be tried by his peers.

“Not a jury of my peers”

With all respect I assert this Court is to me, an Irishman, not a jury of my peers to try me in this Read the rest of this entry