The Easter Rising

This of course is the centenary of Ireland’s ‘Easter Rising’ against the British. (Roughly – Easter may have been on a different day then.) In 1966 I was in Dublin for the 50th anniversary, researching the papers of Sir Roger Casement, the Irishman knighted for his revelation of King Leopold’s atrocities in the (later) Belgian Congo, which fed into my doctoral work on fin de siecle anti-imperialism. Afterwards I visited Banna Strand in the south-west of Ireland, where Casement was arrested after being brought ashore from a U-boat. An Irish nationalist as well as a ‘critic of empire’, he had been plotting the Easter Rising with the Germans. He was later shot as a traitor; but not before the British government had revealed to the American ambassador – in order to dampen any criticism of his execution the USA might have – passages in his private diaries detailing in graphic terms (‘it was fully a foot long!’) his homosexual exploits both there and in South America.

The Irish I met were super-friendly – I was never allowed to buy a round at McDaid’s – and fascinated when they learned that I was working on one of their great martyr-heroes. What struck me, however, was that all of them insisted that the ‘homosexual’ passages in his diaries had been forged, by the evil British authorities in order to blacken his reputation. (As if leaking them were not bad enough!) It was terribly important to them – firm Catholics, I presume – to believe that he hadn’t been gay. I couldn’t be sure then; but I think it is accepted now on both sides of the Irish Sea that the diary entries were not forgeries; and that after fifty years the Irish have learned to come to terms with this. I hope so, at any rate.

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