The 2nd annual Roger Casement August Gathering was held in the Mount Brandon Hotel, Tralee on Monday 2 August 2010. I attended some of it during my stay. (Tralee is somewhat dead; the country surrounding Daingean Uí Chúis is lovely, but best avoided during tourist season, I think.)
I was ill and missed the morning session, but from what I heard, Xander Clayton’s talk, The Casement Ship, was by far the highlight. Clayton has obviously dedicated an enormous amount of effort into researching the Aud, and in fact has been criticised for including too much detail in his book on the subject. Rather than bring out another edition, he is looking to publish another book. He made the point that, while the German refusal to provide artillery doomed the Rising from Casement’s point of view, their provision of ammunition was far from niggardly or inadequate.
Donal J. O’Sullivan remarked that Clayton was a hard act to follow, but his talk on the Ballykissane tragedy was of interest in focusing attention on the bungled operation, the repercussions of which were to be enormous for the success of the Rising and for Casement himself. Angus Mitchell talked about new developments in the Casement field, including a forthcoming novel by leading Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa.
The evening session began with Leo Keohane (who took the pronunciation of his name very seriously!) talking about J.R. White of the Irish Citizen Army. While the talk was weighted more towards White’s family and military background than his actual activity with the ICA and involvement with socialism, Keohane’s biography promises to be very worthwhile. White’s writings, including Where Casement would have stood today, are available online.
Angus Mitchell’s lecture showed that Casement’s involvement with the Irish language movement consisted not only of financial support for such high-profile projects as Coláiste Uladh, Coláiste na Mumhan and the school at Tamhain Island, Co. Galway, but contact with someone involved in the revival of Scots Gaelic and writings of his own, including The Language of the Outlaw and Hy-Brassil: Irish origins of Brazil. For Casement, the maintenance of the indigenous language was central to the integrity and survival of the nation.
The conference ended with a showing of Kenneth Griffith’s documentary Roger Casement – Heart of Darkness. Griffith’s unique method of acting the various roles of Casement, King Leopold, the trial judge, and so on, was unusual but unexpectedly effective. The audience was so moved by the end as to break out into applause, and rightly so; I think this is my favourite of Griffith’s documentaries on Ireland, including Curious Journey.
The extent of Roger Casement’s engagement with Irish politics, and the scale and significance of his colonial and anti-imperialist work means that there is a wealth of research still to be done. This should ensure the success of this conference in years to come.