Search Browse On This Day Map Timeline Research Free Datasets Remembered About Contact

History: Ireland

Sat 14 Oct 2006 In: Features View at NDHA

Roger Casement Executed in 1916 for trying to foment an armed uprising against British occupation, Sir Roger Casement's ‘Black Diaries’ reveal he enjoyed regular sex with men. Born in Dublin, 1864, Casement was the son of an impoverished ex-military family. By his mid-teens, he'd emigrated to Liverpool, and joined the Elder Dempster Shipping Company. This took him to Africa, and he became accquainted enough with the area and its peoples to be seconded to the Foreign Office. In the so-called Congolese Free State, Belgian King Leopold II ran a virtual charnel house. In order to harvest rubber and ivory, slavery was endemic, families were destroyed, innocents were massacred to insure indigenous compliance, and bodies were mutilated. Casement was charged with establishing a British consulate in the area after 1900, and undertook a fact-finding mission into the interior in 1903. He submitted a detailed report that catalogued the inhumanities that Leopold indulged under his personal rule. As a result of his meticulous document, there was an international outcry, and the Congolese Reform Association, a humanitarian solidarity group, was formed to force the Belgian King to relinquish his hold over the tyrannised Central African country, which duly happened when it was turned over to the Belgian state in 1908. In 1910, Casement was assigned to the northwest Amazon, investigating similar reports about the conduct of the Putumayo River's Anglo-Peruvian Rubber Company, which were similarly documented and exposed, leading to Casement's knighthood in 1911. By this time, however, he was becoming increasingly torn between his career as a foreign office humanitarian reformer, and his growing awareness of British colonial injustices in Ireland itself. For that reason, Casement defected to the Kaiser during the First World War, and sought to provide Irish revolutionaries with arms when he returned to Ireland in 1916. Unfortunately for him, he was apprehended, tried and executed. It didn't help that British Intelligence had found records of his sexual encounters with other men in his "Black Diaries," which they released to 'discredit' him. Initially, though, it didn't work, although the Ireland that emerged from the turmoil of civil war and independence was conservative Catholic dominated and obviously unwilling to acknowledge that one of its nationalist martyrs had also actively pursued sex with other men. Accordingly, there was a widespread tendency to deny that the Black Diaires were authentic, and arguments that they had been designed to smear his reputation, often with homophobic diatribes about sickness and perversion attached to these denials. Gradually, though, times changed. Casement himself was recognised as a nationalist martyr though, and his remains were excavated from Pentonville in London, where he'd been executed in 1916, returned to Dublin, and given a state funeral for his role in the independence struggle, in 1965. However, the enigma of his sex with other men still remained. As the emerging lesbian and gay rights movement appeared, some liberal journalists and historians began to reconsider Casement's apparently 'incompatible' gay sex and nationalist ardour. When Irish lesbian and gay activists emerged, they too argued for reconciliation of the two divergent lives, which gradually filtered through to the rest of Irish society and academia, although there are some holdouts even today. Why was Casement closeted? Bear in mind that with homosexuality illegal in the United Kingdom and its colonial possessions, and with memories of the Oscar Wilde trial still fresh in other's minds, it would not have been easy to conduct a gay public existence, which may explain his apparent lack of a committed relationship with another man at the same time. Casement enjoyed sex across class lines, indulging his taste with Regents Park Guardsmen and rent boys while quartered in London, and enjoyed the company of sailors and late adolescents in the Congo and Amazon while posted there. Why did he detail his sexual interests so thoroughly? He wasn't the only one- so did noted British economist John Maynard Keynes thirty years later. It may have provided an outlet for private expression of his desire at a time when public profession would have discredited or destroyed him as it had Oscar Wilde. It may have taken ninety years after his execution, though, but Casement has been posthumously rehabilitated, and the two halves of his life reintegrated into a portrait of this celebrated Irish nationalist figure and Edwardian humanitarian icon. Recommended: Brian Lewis: "The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement" Journal of the History of Sexuality: 14: 4: October 2005:363-382. Craig Young - 14th October 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 14th October 2006 - 12:00pm

Rights Information

This page displays a version of a article that was automatically harvested before the website closed. All of the formatting and images have been removed and some text content may not have been fully captured correctly. The article is provided here for personal research and review and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of If you have queries or concerns about this article please email us