The English Soldiers who came to crush rebellion

Sherwood Foresters badgeThis piece was originally published in “An Cosantoir” (The Defender), edited by Wayne Fitzgerald and appeared in the 1916 -2016 Commemoration issue of March 2016

Who were they and where did they come from, those stern English soldiers, marching now towards the city, marching from Kingstown, marching through the spring Dublin sunshine, into the second city to their empire, to crush rebellion. They looked, to the mostly cheering citizens, so young, more like cadets than experienced soldiers, but they were the teeth of an Empire and were marching to be unleashed upon those who would dare to question that Empire’s rule in Ireland.
They were not, of course, cadets, but they were young, terribly young. And terribly inexperienced. Some amongst their ranks had not yet fired their weapons on the rifle ranges let alone in anger, against a determined foe. Most did not have that soldier’s familiarity with their rifles that comes with training and use, almost none of the privates were experienced in war and absolutely none of them, none at all, in the urban warfare towards which they now approached.
They were all volunteers. Kitchener’s volunteers. But it was France that they had volunteered, not for Ireland. They had seen the casualty lists from the Western Front and were prepared to die in France or in Belgium, but had not dreamed of a death in Dublin.
For the military they were the North Midlands Division. 59th North Midland Division shoulder badgeThey came from the English Midlands, a great slice of England running from the fishing villages and seaside towns of the East coast in Lincolnshire, across the great agricultural plains of that county, till the plains began to rise into the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and the hills and dales and textile mills of Derbyshire and then down into the industrial heartland of England, Staffordshire, Birmingham, the black county and rising again now, towards the boarders with Wales.
In civilian life they were fishermen and potato pickers from Lincolnshire, Shepard’s and mill workers from Derbyshire, from Nottinghamshire, hewers of coal, loom workers from the lace factories and textile mills, dyers, bleachers, mechanics from the bicycle factories, cigarette makers from Players, agricultural labourers from the farms, and boatmen from the river Trent. And from Staffordshire, the black country, Burton and Birmingham, black with smoke from a thousand forges where they made the anchor chains for the Titanic and half of the Royal Navy’s fleet, they made guns, fine instruments, clocks and pots and plates and jugs and mugs, they brewed beer and from all these trades, and from none, came the men of the North Midland Division, now, clad in karkhi and marching, to their destiny, marching on Dublin.

Many would have been as poor as the poor of Dublin. They came from overcrowded industrial slums or primitive rural cottages, they were stunted by deference and class, most did not have a vote and played little role in the civic and democratic processes of their counties and towns, they were cannon fodder for Flanders, but they were loyal enough to die, and knew in their hearts that many would fall in France. But Dublin? To die in Dublin would not have crossed their loyal minds and now, they marched with loaded weapons towards the Risen city.
The Sherwood Foresters led the march. They were without machine guns and even if they had had them, they were mostly without the training to use them. They were without hand grenades or mortars and even if they had had them they had not the training to use them. But they were men, soldiers. Numbers would count in the crushing of rebellion and they were numbered in their hundreds. Imperial hundreds.
The officers were exclusively public school, for by this year of the Great War the English public schools had effectively become officer factories for the front, such was the rate of casualties being inflicted in the trenches. Their adjutant, laden with maps and binoculars, leading the march through the leafy suburbs, was married to an Irish girl. No one knows how they had met, what fate had brought them together. She played hockey for Ireland, her family were wine merchants, her brother had died on the Somme, only the month before the Rising. She was home with her mother. She and her two small children, home for the Easter, in their grand house in Blackrock. And she saw the soldiers, marching, stern, determined coming along the coast road, rifles on their shoulders, bayonets flashing in the spring sunshine, marching, and goodness me, it cannot be, it was her husband. What was he doing in Dublin? She thought he must have been in France but he was here! Look! Children, its daddy, in his uniform, oh isn’t he so handsome!
And the adjutant fell out from the marching ranks and held his dear wife and his dear dear children and kissed them on the coast road at Blackrock, and they held each other, for war had kept them apart and the fates had now conspired to bring them together. It was but a too brief embrace, for the captain must re-join his marching soldiers, but they would meet? Soon? He would be home perhaps. A few days of leave, for tea on Sunday? And he rushed to the front of his battalion finding his step, waving goodbye, marching now to his destiny in Dublin town.
His marching soldiers would have smiled a bit at their captain’s luck, wished him well, hoped he could get away quickly to be with his children. There would have been some smart remarks, some coarse banter as re re-joined their marching ranks.
The Sgt. Major would settle them. A firm word, no need for him to shout, they were not on the parade ground now, they were marching into battle, quietly, firmly, “settle down lads”. And on they would march.
Their Sgt Major had worked as an apprentice in the cloth trade before the war, taught at a Methodist Sunday school, played in the band. He was twenty two years old.
You wouldn’t make corporal by that age in most armies. It was the war, the Great War. It was destroying men on an industrial scale, great cohorts of NCOs and officers were being systematically wiped out in the trenches, and new men, experienced well beyond their years, were being promoted to ranks they would never attain in a peacetime army. Twenty two! Sgt Majors should be veterans, feared on the parade ground, mentors in the field, mature, wise, experienced, and reliable, looked up to by both the officers and men. If the senior NCO of this marching army, now advancing on Dublin, was but twenty two then god bless and god save the young, the youths, who were his Sgts and corporals and privates that he now steadied on their march into the city.
They were careful now, they were being told that rebels were nearby. Shots had been fired at their marching ranks; ineffective shots from isolated rebel guns, but enough to march now with care, as they approached the edge of the city.
What would they have thought of Northumberland Road? It is such a pretty part of Dublin, a quiet leafy avenue of grand houses. It could be anywhere in England. There were places just like it in Nottingham. The adjutant lived in just such an avenue of fine graceful period houses, where lived barristers and doctors and well to do businessmen with servants, well-tended gardens and an air of prosperity. What on earth were they doing, advancing down this, so British looking, idyllic, peaceful place, holding loaded rifles, many of the men unfamiliar with the long awkward metal and wood of the weapons. They were still marching, albeit with a certain care, but the place, the prettiness of it, the ordinary familiarity of it, would have relaxed them. Their care would have been that which attends a pedestrian crossing a busy road, not that of those who are about to die.
There is a particularly fine house at the corner of Haddington Road with Northumberland Road. Number 25. In fact it is a beautiful house. It stands square and private and noble and commanding and you know in your heart that whoever lives there will be a lover of music and books and will be wise and educated and civilised. They will take sherry in the afternoon and go regularly to church. It is an innocent and delightful place.
Thy may have admired number 25 as they now marched towards Mount Street Bridge. They most certainly did not see and did not notice that the windows had been barricaded. They certainly did not suspect, nor did they expect, that such a handsome house would be occupied by rebels.
The Adjutant was in the lead. We can be sure he was alert and was concentrating on his command but perhaps he also had a thought for the children on the coast road for it had been such a joy to see them again.
He was the very first Englishman to be hit by the volley of shots that erupted from number 25. Ten Sherwood Foresters fell in the leafy avenue and suddenly, unexpectedly, the ordinary, the pretty the so very British Northumberland Road, was wet with English blood.
The soldiers scattered into the gardens and doorways of the grand houses, looking for where the shots had come, shouting orders, retuning fire, pulling the wounded and the dead from the blood wet road into safety and cover. The adjutant died quickly. His family would not have heard the shots or known at all that he would not be home for Sunday tea. His remaining officers drew their swords and prepared to rush number 25. Drew their swords! What on earth were they doing wearing swords in Dublin? What kind of soldiering was this! But swords drawn, they led their men in a frontal assault on the beautiful corner house. They may not have been very well trained soldiers, but they lacked nothing in their foolish bravery. If a fight was wanted then they were up for it, and never mind the fear, never mind the families back home, never mind that mum won’t like it, the officer has his sword up; charge!   Shots poured down upon them. The rebels could not miss and now other rebel volunteers, five hundred yards away, in Clanwillima House, across the Mount Street Bridge opened up with their Howth Mausers, catching the inexperienced valiant, brave Englishmen in a deadly crossfire. And they fell and they fell. They could do nothing when they reached number 25. They had not bombs to blow open the barricaded door, nor grenades to toss into the windows nor ladders to reach them.
How inexperienced where they? A fat artillery officer, from Athlone, the Clongowes College educated Captain E Gerrard of the Royal Field Artillery recorded that he found himself in Beggar’s Bush barracks under fire from rebels holding the railway line. He was accompanied by a small group of the English Foresters. “They had never fired a service rifle before” he would say, “they did not even know how to load them, we had to show them how” “They were the untrained undersized products of the English slums”.
In the end it was numbers that defeated the brave rebel fighters in number 25 and in Clanwilliam House. Overwhelming numbers, assisted by the bombs and machine guns that were eventually supplied to them by the Dublin garrison. The young Sgt Major, Methodist Sunday school teacher, died in a valiant charge, across Mount Street Bridge. Altogether the regiment suffered some 240 casualties before the rebels were crushed.
Some of the soldiers would go on to form the execution parties that shot the rebel leaders in Kilmainham Jail. If they had been unfamiliar with their rifles when they first marched into Dublin then by the time of Kilmainham they knew their weapons with that rare intimacy of soldiers blooded by battle. They would know the weight of the Lee Enfield, the smell of rifle oil and cordite, the feel of the wood, the oiled click of the steel bolt, the heavy kick of the brass plated butt and the sharp crack of its shots. But as they lifted their barrels to aim at the small white cloth pinned above the rebel heart, then you could forgive them if some barrels trembled or some faltered in their duty. They were fighting soldiers not executioners and the shots they were about to fire would echo, not just round the breakers yard of Kilmainham, but across the world. They would herald the end of the British in Ireland, and perhaps, for it is not too far-fetched, they would signal the end of the British Empire itself.
And after all the killing they marched away from Dublin in its smoke and rubble, to barracks in the town of Naas from where they would finish their training, through the summer months, in preparation for France, marching through the Irish countryside, digging trenches across the Curragh, preparing for gas attacks.
France would prove far more deadly for the Sherwood Forester’s regiment than had Dublin. Dublin had cost them some 240 dead and wounded. In Flanders over 10,000 would fall.
So should we, in this centenary year, remember these English soldiers? There is many an old fat artillery officer and a lot of armchair republicans who would be horrified at the very idea, although the Irish who had fought, the rebels, those of 3rd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, Dev Valera’s Battalion, those who had held Mount Street Bridge for so long against so many, had not the slightest such reservation. In 1966, fifty years after the Rising, De Valera, now the aged President of a free Ireland, invited the English officer who had taken the surrender of the Battalion in 1916, to return to Ireland. They took tea together in Áras an Uachtaráin and then travelled together and stood together, on Mount Street Bridge, with the surviving volunteers of the 3rd Battalion, and remembered, together, those who had fought and those who had fallen, Irish and English.
We do not need to celebrate them, or seek to justify what they did, or to honour their sacrifice, all we need to do is remember them. And perhaps it will be left to those of us who have been soldiers, or who are soldiers still, to acknowledge that in the end they were just soldiers, and we will remember them.


Sherwood Foresters who died in Dublin

To the memory of the 31 soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment who were killed in this and other areas of Dublin during the Easter Rising 1916
-Lest we Forget-

(your can read their story here and here)
L/Cpl Barks (Newark); Private Barnett (Loughbourgh); Private Blissett (Nottingham); Private Bradford (Alfreton); 2nd Lieut. Browne (Nottingham); L/Cpl Chapman (Southwell); Lieut. Daffen (Worksop); Private Davenport (Mansfield); Capt. Dietrichsen (Nottingham); Sgt. Maj. Dixey (Newark); Private Dixon (Nottingham); Private Elliott (Nottingham); Private Farnsworth (Nottingham); Private Forth (Worksop); Private Goss (Nottingham); Lieut. Hawken (London); Private Holbrook (Nottingham); Private Holland (Sutton-in- Ashfield, Notts); Cpl. Hoyle (Nottingham); Private Jeffs (Bulwell, Nottingham); Private Kitchen (Newark); Private Lang (Nottingham); Private Miller (Canterbury); Lieut. Perry (Nottingham); Private Rogers (Whitwell, Derbyshire); Private Sibley (Beeston Notts) ; Private Tunicliffe (Long Eaton, Derbyshire); Private Tyler (Rutland); Private Warner (Mansfield, Notts); Private Wood (Newark); Private Wyld (Nottingham):

SF Colour

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Blood on the Streets by Paul O’Brien – a review

Nottingham has been sending fighting troops to Ireland for over 800 years. There is a reference in the 1363 Rolls of Edward III calling upon the Sheriff of Nottingham to ” select 40 of the best and bravest of Archers in Notts and Derby, to assemble at Liverpool, furnished with bow, arrows and other arms, to go to Ireland at the Kings wages for the defence of that land”

But by far the most significant, and the most tragic visit of Nottinghamshire soldiery to Ireland occurred at Eastger 1916 at the time of the Rising when Irish revolutionaries struck for Irish Freedom and the Sherwood Foresters were rushed from their English training depots, to crush rebellion.

Over 300 casualties were inflicted upon the Foresters, by less than 20 Irish rebels. No other regiment has ever suffered greater losses in Ireland. The Englishmen who fell were predominately from Nottingham and from Newark, but their fight and their losses have been mostly forgotten in the long and difficult history of the British in Ireland, swept quietly under the sandbags of the Western Front where the horrendous casualty lists were bloody enough to drown out any embarrassment as to what happened in Ireland.

Paul O’Brien’s new book tells their story shot by shot as they lived and died in Dublin. They were supposed to be marching to Trinity College but came across a carefully prepared rebel position on the banks of Dublin’s Royal Canal, just half a mile from their objective. There they were slaughtered in the leafy tree lined suburb with the roadway and canal bank wet with Nottinghamshire blood. The Rebel Commander was none other than Eamon Devalera, a future President of a Free Ireland. He had placed his twenty or so men with great military skill and care as is evidenced by the casualty lists that followed. The men who marched upon him, Nottinghamshire lads of a terribly tender age, were unskilled soldiers most of whom had not yet completed their military training. Incredibly many had not yet fired their weapons on a range, let alone in anger at an enemy, yet here they marched, the very teeth of the British Empire, onto the rebel guns onto their place in Irish History, onto their destiny.

They are named here; at last, they are named, there are even photographs so you can look into the eyes of these no longer anonymous men. There is the Nottingham Barrister, the son of a Country Farmer, the Sunday School Teacher from Newark, the lads from the factories and mines and fields, schoolboys really. They had volunteered to fight in France these boys, not Ireland. They were prepared, as all the men of the Great War were, to die for their country in Flanders, but not, for Gods sake! Not in Ireland. The barrister, Dietrishen, was even married to a Dublin girl, he’d sent her, with their infant children, back to Dublin to escape Zeppelin raids on Nottingham. His dear dear wife and his dear dear children, to their eternal joy, saw him, cheered him, waved wildly to him as he marched into Dublin at the head of his beloved Robin Hoods. He was the first to die.

This is a graphic and moving story which looks at the battle as much as from the British perspective as from the Irish. Indeed I don’t think there is another Irish book that has ever given so much time to the men of an English Regiment as does this. It treats them with respect, occasionally affection, always as soldiers. It is their testament and if you value the memories of local men, if you wish to know the English history of your town, your people, your nation, your responsibility for what happened and happens in Ireland, then you must read it.

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1916 – 2016 How will the Four Courts commemorate?

A photograph taken after the surrender taken from the Judges yard looking out of the Chancery Place gates. framed in the gates is the front door of the Medical Mission. The barricade inside the gates was erected by the rebels. The mattresses came from the Fourcourts Hotel. Some of the furniture they used will look remarkably familiar to current law library members!

So far as I know there is but one single memento to the role played by
the Four Courts during the Easter Rising of 1916. It is a portrait
that hangs in the Irish bay of the barrister’s Law Library. It is of Charles
S. Bevan, the volunteer who helped to relieve the Chancery Place gate-keeper of
his keys and led the rebel force into occupation of the courts for the
duration of the Rising. As portraits go it is rather poor, being an
enlarged and grainy photograph of Bevan in his volunteer uniform, his chest crossed with leather bandoleers.

It is both surprising and disappointing that this the only memento, because the Four Courts was in fact at the centre of some of the most bitter and intense fighting of the whole rising. It was from here that the 1st battalion of the Irish volunteers directed their part in the insurgency. Their
battlefields ran from Ushers quay, where Sean Heuston placed his men
to frustrate attempts by the British to advance along the quays towards the
city centre, to the glorious Four Courts building itself, and then north up
through the slum residential areas of Church Street, North King Street
and Constitution hill.

Whilst the most severe fighting was undoubtedly in the North King Street area, the Four Courts itself saw plenty of heavy action. Rebels on the roof of the Four Courts and in the Liffey windows engaged soldiers all along the South Quays. There were gun battles with soldiers in church towers, soldiers in church cemeteries and with soldiers trying to cross the bridges at Capel Street and Church Street. There were more gun battles with soldiers advancing through Smithfield and attacking the western side of the building

On the Eastern side one can still see contemporaneous
evidence of the intensity of the gun battles. English Lancers,
escorting munitions along the quays, were ambushed in front of the
Four Courts. They wheeled and galloped for cover into Chancery Place
taking refuge in the Medical Mission directly opposite the Chancery
gates. An intense gun battle developed between the Lancers in the
Mission and the Rebels in the courts. Today the front of the Medical
mission is deeply scarred with bullet damage from the battle. The
worst of the damage has been repaired with off white smears of cement
filler, making the building look wounded, as if it were wearing
plasters, but in fact almost every brick in the building is scarred
by gunfire damage giving dramatic evidence to the ferocity of the
battle that raged there. After losing several men the Lancers were
extracted from the Mission by getting into the back of improvised armoured cars made of Guinness boilers.

Edward Daly, commandant of the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Volunteers. He was aged 25 when executed at Kilmainham.

Inside the Four Courts command was in the hands of 25 year old Edward Daly. He was also responsible for capturing the Bridewell to the rear of the courts and he kept prisoner there some of the Bridwell police officers and all of the army pay corps soldiers taken prisoner when the rebels burnt down their barracks at Linenhall, up near the Kings Inns.

Although not a signatory to the proclamation Edward Daly still went to the firing squads at Kilmainham. As yet, at least to my knowledge, no mention of him appears anywhere within what the Courts Service now calls the Four Courts campus.

Lt. Thomas Allen, killed in action, Records Office, Four Courts.Over on the western side of the courts building volunteer Lieutenant Thomas Allen was shot dead in the Records Office, ( now Courts 22 and 23), during a machine gun attack by soldiers advancing through Smithfield. You can still see scarring from the machine gun damage to the building as you walk up Church Street. From Moyville Co. Meath, Thomas Allen left a widow and three children.

Who now, who works in or frequents Courts 22 or 23 knows of Thomas Allen, who gave his life in the creation of an independent Ireland?.

So with the 100th anniversary of the Rising now on the horizon and
with government committees planning commemorations all over Dublin
what are the plans for the Four Courts? The issue has yet to be considered by the Courts Service, or by those who work within it’s environs. But in the spirit of the matter it is not too early to suggest some possible acts of commemoration.

Surely Daly can be remembered. And Allen. We have memorials on the
campus to those who fell in the Great War; to those who took part in
the 1798 rebellion and there is even a memorial, in the Land Registry,
to barrister Francis Henry Browning who was shot dead on Mount Street by rebel forces under the command of De Valera.

So how about one of the two courts in the old Record Office, court 22 or 23, being named as the Allen Court; Should the Irish bay, where hangs the Bevan portrait, be re-named the Bevan Bay?

And in the spirit of the good Friday agreement and the reconciliation of old sores and enmity’s how about naming the Chancery Gates the Lancers
Gates, after the soldiers who fought so hard and withstood constant
rebel fire for three days.

As for Daly, his name must be recorded somewhere within the Campus. We have an ÁrasDhálaigh after the sixth President and former Chief Justice Cearbhall O Dhálaigh, surely we can afford to have a Daly room, a Daly court or a Daly bursary prize, Can we not just cast his name in the doorstep of some prominent entrance. Cannot we just remember him?

For further reading on the role of the Four Courts in the Rising read Paul O’Brien’s book: Crossfire – The battle of the Four Courts 1916, published by New Ireland Press.

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Review of Crossfire – The battle of the Four Courts 1916.

Conscription came in March 1916. By Easter of that year the last of the army’s voluntary recruits were coming to the end of their training for the trenches of France. They knew, those young men, of the risks they faced in Flanders; they knew of the casualty lists. But still they volunteered, to fight, be it in France or Belgium. They were brave young men who make it difficult for us to measure our own ordinary lives.
It would be these ordinary voluntary soldiers, half trained, not yet ready for Flanders soldiers, who would be shipped to Dublin and thrown into the bitter street battles of the Irish Easter rebellion of 1916. Men of the Sherwood Foresters, the South Staffordshires, the Lincolnshire regiment and the Leicestershires, all of them well prepared to die in the trenches of Flanders, but not a single one of them, not one, would have given any thought at all to the idea of dying in Dublin.
They are rarely remembered these men, often treated, especially by Irish republican writers, with scant regard, even scorn and generally given no quarter by Irish history. But Paul O’Brien’s account of their Dublin fighting is scrupulously fair, scrupulously objective. When they gave good account of themselves, where there was courage or valour, then it is noted. And where their performance is lacking, their discipline lost or atrocities committed, it too is fairly and objectively recorded.
This latest book of Mr O’Brien’s focuses upon the fierce battles that raged in and around the Dublin Four Courts. Nowhere was the Easter fighting more intense, more dangerous or ruthless. The urban battlefield ran from ushers Island where rebels took up positions to frustrate the movement of troops along the Liffey quays towards the city centre fighting; it ran into the glorious Four Courts building itself, then north into the residential slum districts of Church Street, North King Street and Constitution Hill.
The rebels too were volunteers. They too knew the risks, the risks of rebellion. They had turned out to create a new nation and they too were prepared to die. To die in Dublin. They were well led, well armed and had an intimate knowledge of the battlefield they had chosen.
We are taken, day by day, shot by shot through the tragedy that now unfolded.
We are with the Lancers, escorting munitions down the quays when they are ambushed in front of the Four Courts; their horses wheeling and turning as they gallop for cover, taking refuge in a side street building next door to the Courts complex where they came under intense gunfire from rebels barricaded in the courts. They were under siege for three days, giving as good as they got until rescued by Sherwood Foresters who backed into the street in improvised armoured cars made of Guinness boilers no less, into which the exhausted, surviving Lancers are retrieved.
We are with the Staffordshires trying to advance along North King Street, from barricade to barricade, or tunnelling through the walls of the terraced houses, taking constant casulties, nine dead in one assault alone.
We are with the rebels on the roof of the Four Courts, firing on soldiers across the river Liffey, soldiers trying to cross the bridges, soldiers in church towers and graveyards. We are with them in their casualty station full of wounded and exhausted rebels.
We are with the army Pay Corps soldiers, arrested by the rebels, their barracks burned down and held as prisoners in a captured police station. And we are with the Staffordshires again, their discipline lost, their officers without control, committing murder on North King Street where fifteen innocents, men and boys were simply shot, some of them bayoneted.
We are back with the Rebels in Reilly’s fort, a public house stronghold from which fierce causalities are inflicted upon the advancing English. Hour by hour, shot by shot, in this brilliant analysis of street fighting, perhaps the first real British experience of street fighting, Mr O’Brien leads us through the blood wet streets of the fair city of Dublin, where half trained soldiers learnt to fight the hard way and Irish rebels threw their all into the fight against England.
A remarkable book. The Irish have never forgotten those Easter days.But what happened to the English soldiers is largely forgotten by English history. Perhaps in embarrassment at the history of the English in Ireland, perhaps because it was “small beer” in the context of the great war. It has been swept under the sandbags of the Western Front, where the casualty list were horrific enough to drown out the experience of Dublin. This, then, is a timely reminder of what we did in Ireland. A timely reminder that there are brave young men lost in Ireland, who deserve to also be remembered.

Crossfire – The battle of the Four Courts 1916 is published by New Island Press.  Author is Paul O’Brien.

Review of Roger Casement: The Black Diaries – With a Study of His Background, Sexuality and Irish Political Life by Jeffrey Dudgeon

Not all the late nineteenth century white men who cut their way into the wealth of untamed Africa were touched by dreams of colonial conquest, territorial gain or massive religious conversion of the native tribes. Sir Roger Casement, it is true, was in deepest Africa, in the Congo, as Consul for Her Majesty’s Imperial Government of the United Kingdom, her colonies – and Ireland. But he was no ordinary diplomat. His task was not to consolidate conquest. In fact the opposite. He had been sent to Africa in 1895 and was subsequently given the task to effectively expose and restrict the unbridled territorial expansion of Belgium’s King Leopold. The Royal Belgium was the worst of the colonial capitalists. In the Congo he had enslaved the local tribes. He imposed a heartless discipline under which the natives, young and old, were turned to forced labour for the collection of rubber and who suffered severe beatings, physical mutilation, including the chopping off of hands and feet, if they failed to make the King’s quota.
Casement’s work, conducted in the harsh environment of rawest Africa was both dangerous and heroic. The British House of Commons published his report detailing the horrors he had witnessed. He was condemned by the King of Belgium and earned for himself, almost by accident, an international reputation as amongst the finest humanitarians of his age. And a knighthood. He remains one of the lesser-known hero’s of the native African.

This book, which is by far the most comprehensive biography yet written, focuses upon the diaries he wrote whilst serving in the Congo, and the later diaries written whilst exposing similar native exploitation in the Putumayo region of the Amazon. They became the diaries that destroyed him. For Casement, the benighted British diplomat and African hero, became a traitor who was to hang for his role in the 1916 Irish Rebellion. And the homosexual content of his diaries added the fatal weight to his drop from the English gallows.

Dudgeon has, perhaps rightly, seen his life as some kind of template for the complexities of the relationship between England and Ireland. Casement was a protestant. His heart was in the glens of Antrim. His family served the Empire. He became a homosexual. Dudgeon’s meticulous research of his early pre revolutionary life seeks to understand the North of Ireland as much as it seeks to explain Casement. And he succeeds. For all the drama and adventure, the tragedy and the farce of Casement’s life as a diplomat or his revolutionary role in the Rising, what stays with you most is the relationships in North Antrim, sometimes rich, often lonely and isolated. Nothing finer about the North will be written for some time.

On the diaries Dudgeon reveals their full and explicit nature. They are the diaries of an active homosexual. They contain great-untapped wealth for the student of early colonial Africa or for Amazonian environmentalists. But their fame and notoriety lies in the explicit detail of homosexual encounters from Belfast, London, the Canaries, Africa and the Amazon. Dudgeon’s task is to assert the diaries as a genuine record of a gay Irish hero. There are many in Ireland who still believe the diaries were forged by British Intelligence to blacken the name of an Irish Hero and to ensure his hanging for High Treason. They are unlikely to read this complete demolishing of the forgery theories, the best ever published. The diaries themselves were clearly not written for publication. They are rather seedy, often repetitive and without the notoriety attending on the theories of forgery they would not attract the attention they do.

Casement’s role in the rising; his attempts to suborn prisoners of war held by the Kaiser; to raise a brigade of rebels to fight in the rising; his journey by U boat back to a lonely Irish beach and his capture trial and execution, have been better told by other writers, most notably by Montgomery Hyde (Famous Trials 9: Roger Casement-Penguin 1964) But this book, rich with previously unknown photographs, is in the end, more satisfying more complete and perhaps now, the definitive biography of this flawed hero.

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John LAVERY (1856-1941): High Treason 1916. Oil on canvas, 214 x 322 cms .

The canvas is huge: ten feet by seven feet and it hangs at the foot of the great marble staircase within the King’s Inns,Dublin where it dominates the descent of the Benchers as they process on their way to dine. It is almost as if belongs  there.

The scene, in Courtroom I of the West Green Building of London’s Royal Courts of justice (now Courtroom 34) as viewed from the jury box, presents a unique social and legal record of immense historical importance.  Here is a Dublin barrister in English Court pleading for the life of a British diplomat turned Irish revolutionary: the traitor in the dock.

This is a real history-painting, caught by the artist’s own hand as he sits in the jury box, paints beside him, sketching, drawing, and listening to this dramatic moment in the long struggle between England’s laws and Ireland’s destiny.

The date is 17July 1916 and it is Roger Casement’s Appeal against conviction for High Treason and sentence of death.  In the same courtroom, just nineteen days earlier,  the sentence itself had been handed down by the  Lord Chief Justice, Viscount Reading, and two of his judicial colleagues. By the time of the Appeal, Casement had, by Royal command, been stripped of his knighthood and his honours so that he appears now as a plain Irish felon, a rebel, as the five scarlet-robed judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal listen to the pleadings for his life.

Casement (Fig 8 in the Key) had been brought from the beach at Banna Strand, county Kerry to a cell in the Tower of London. There, under truly awful conditions, he was allowed to see the solicitor, George Gavan- Duffy (Fig 10 in the Key) – then a successful partner in a prestigious London firm – he became the first member of his legal team.  But Gavan Duffy was warned by his partners  that if he took on the case he must leave the English solicitor’s partnership and so, when – without hesitation – he accepted Casement as his client, he was effectively  sacked.

The case was to prove a turning point in Gavan Duffy’s life. Although English-born and English-educated – at the Catholic public school of Stonyhurst – he was of an Irish family rich in nationalist politics: his father, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, was a prolific Irish historian, a founder member and editor of The Nation newspaper, and a leader of the Tenant League. He had been tried, with Daniel O’Connell, for sedition; and, for his role in the 1848 rising at Ballingarry, county Tipperary.  Four times he was tried and acquitted.  Eventually, he left Ireland for Australia where he rose to become Governor General of Victoria while his other son, Frank, rose to become Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

After the Casement trial, George Gavan Duffy went on to a distinguished political and legal career. He was appointed by De Valera to the Treaty negotiations along with Collins, Griffith, Barton, and Duggan and was subsequently Ireland’s first Minister for Foreign Affairs. Later, he returned to the law, reading for the Bar at King’s Inns, and rising to become President of the Irish High Court.

Gavan Duffy had been chosen for the trial by Casement’s devoted cousin, Gertrude Bannister, while Casement was imprisoned in the Tower and still uncertain as to whether he was to be tried by Court Martial and shot or whether he was to be tried by the Criminal Courts.   Gertrude, who attended each day of the Trial and each day of the Appeal, has not been identified in the painting but, as it is well known that during both hearings she was handed a series of notes from Casement,  it is probable that she is the lady in the hat at the very end of the solicitors’ bench, directly beneath the dock in which Casements sits.

Gertrude was a primary school teacher and as a price for helping her cousin, the traitor, she was sacked from her school with one week’s notice.

Gavan Duffy initially turned to the English Bar to find a King’s Counsel for Casement but those whom he approached declined or refused the brief.   It was not a propitious moment to represent a traitor who, as a guest of the German enemy, had sought to recruit an Irish Brigade from among captured prisoners of war drawn from the Irish regiments of the British Army;  to do so would have been considered an act of treachery that could prejudice a future legal career, as Gavan Duffy already knew.

As Junior Counsel, Gavan Duffy secured the services of a Welshman, Artemus Jones, who appeared at the Bow Street Magistrate’s Court hearing, at the Trial, and at the Appeal. (Fig 19 in the Key). Jones, who has recorded that Casement told him in the Tower of London that he ‘should be glad to die a thousand times for the name of Ireland’,  was accompanied by an expert on constitutional law, Professor John H Morgan (Fig 20 in the Key)  he was an old friend of Casements and an active and radical liberal party member.

In his search for a King’s Counsel, Gavan Duffy eventually turned to the Irish Bar and to one of its leading advocates, Serjeant Sullivan, KC (Fig 18 in the Key) whose sister, Margaret (Fig 11 in the Key), was actually Gavan Duffy’s wife and who assisted him throughout the trial..

The office of Serjeant meant that the holder was a member of a superior order of barristers from whose ranks the Common Law judges were chosen.  Their only distinguishing mark was a small patch of black silk set into the top of the wig. They were Crown law officers and could not, in the normal course of events, take a brief against the Crown.   Sullivan sought the advice and sanction of Chief Baron Palles, the most distinguished of the Irish Judges, before taking up the Casement brief and it was Palles who encouraged him to accept it.  In accepting, Sullivan wrote to Gavan Duffy saying, ‘…I would reluctantly go into the business providing I was handsomely paid…’  and he demanded a fee of 150 guineas. In the event, he was paid £530 for the Trial, which lasted four days, and a further fee for the Appeal. This was a handsome sum indeed for 1916 when a pound sterling could purchase up to forty pints of Guinness and the average weekly wage for a manual worker was less than a pound.

The money was raised by Gavan Duffy and Gertrude Bannister through private donations from, amongst others, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and  William Cadbury, the Quaker chocolate manufacturer.  Large sums were also raised in America by John Devoy of Clan na Gael in New York and brought over to England by an American Lawyer, Francis Doyle (Fig 9 in the Key), who was granted permission to assist the defence team.  Montgomery Hyde, in his important book of the trial,  records that this money was reimbursed to John Devoy by the German Secret Service.

In his powerful and eloquent summing up to the jury, Sullivan sought to show that Nationalist Ireland had been engaged in arming itself solely to defeat threats to Home Rule coming  from the already heavily-armed Unionists of the Ulster Volunteers. He suggested that Casement, in seeking to procure and land German arms, was acting only to defend legitimate, constitutional Nationalist concerns against armed Unionist threats to the Home Rule legislation. It is a stirring speech and makes much of the limited material available to Sullivan.  However. during his delivery he was interrupted by both the prosecution and the Bench who protested that he was introducing arguments not supported by any material evidence given throughout the Trial.  Obliged to make an apology, he lost the thread of his argument and when he tried to resume he could not, he swayed on his feet and  collapsed into his seat

The Trial had to be  adjourned and Junior Counsel completed the closing speech. But Sullivan, as we can see from the painting, had fully recovered by the time of the Appeal.

Unionism was well represented both on the Bench – Viscount Reading, the Lord Chief Justice (not shown in the picture), was a well known Unionist supporter – and in the prosecution in F E Smith, the English Attorney General (Fig 14 in the Key), who was staunchly Unionist.  He was a brilliant lawyer and exceptionally close to Edward Carson to whose Unionist cause he was deeply committed. He was known for a series of seditious and violent speeches and on one occasion had called on the young men of England to rise up against the Commons should they ever pass Home Rule bill into law. Yet, here he is: Attorney General, later to be Lord Chancellor of England, and known to history as Lord Birkenhead.

In his final speech from the dock, Casement was to remind him of his Unionist rhetoric: ‘The difference between us’, said Casement, ‘was that the Unionist champions chose a path they felt would lead to the Woolsack; while I went a road I knew must lead to the dock.”‘

F E’s Juniors for the prosecution were the Junior Treasury Counsel, Mr. Travers Humphreys (Fig 17 in the Key) and Mr. Archibald Bodkin (Fig 16 in the Key).

On the opposite side of the Court, the presiding Appeal Judge, Darling, and his colleague, Atkin (Figs 3 and 5 in the Key), are shown on the Bench.

Darling was also a Unionist and a close friend of Carson. In fact, it was he who took Carson – whom he regarded as ‘most unlike other Irishmen we meet… (as) …he is incapable of speaking balderdash’ – into his Chambers when Carson moved from the Irish to the English Bar.

In the event, Casement’s Appeal was dismissed with Darling not even bothering to call on F E Smith and his team to reply to Sullivan’s two days of legal submissions and although a further Appeal, on a point of law, to the House of Lords was proposed, F E Smith as Attorney General refused to allow it.

Next came appeals for clemency but, although the British Cabinet considered such appeals on three occasions, Casement;s fate was sealed and he would  walk to the scaffold at Pentonville Prison on 3 August 1916.

While Lavery’s painting is a tribute to Casement, it was not painted as such. On the contrary, it was commissioned by Darling as a commemoration of himself and the role he played in what was to be the most important State Trial of the 20th century. Darling and Lavery were old friends and indeed Lavery had previously painted him in his full judicial robes, wearing the black cap which indicated that he was pronouncing a sentence of death.  The portrait now hangs in the Inner Temple, London.  It was considered by many in the legal profession to be in poor taste.

Darling’s decision to commission Lavery to record the Casement Appeal also attracted criticism and, in time, the painting became a source of embarrassment to the British authorities. Although commissioned by Darling, the picture was left on Lavery’s hands and, in his will, he bequeathed it to the National Portrait Gallery in London with the Royal Courts of Justice and the National Gallery of Ireland as residuary legatees. When the National Portrait Gallery declined the bequest, the Lord Chancellor’s Department accepted it for the Royal Courts; but the Lord Chief Justice did not want it hung in the Royal Courts of Justice and there was some embarrassment as to whether it was proper to refuse a bequest that had already been accepted, some years earlier.

Eventually, the painting was hung in Room 472 of the Criminal Appeals Office of the Royal Courts of justice where it was not visible to the public. In 1950, the Kings Inn’s Benchers, through the good offices of Serjeant Sullivan, now retired from the English Bar and living in Dublin where he was an Honorary Bencher, sought to purchase the painting.   After consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chancellor replied to the Benchers’ request saying that ‘we can adopt the suggestion of lending it to the King’s Inns on indefinite loan which means we can forget to ask for its return.”‘

And so the picture came to Ireland, on loan to the King’s Inns. Painted for the glory of the English Law, owned by the British Government but an hanging in Dublin as a tribute to an Irish hero.    The Lord Chancellor wrote to Sullivan saying that the loan was repayable on demand but that ‘…Any such demand is unlikely to be hurried.”

So, in the end, Serjeant Sullivan, who is generally held not to have handled the trial particularly well, performed a great and lasting service to Ireland by helping to secure for the King’s Inns this  unique historical document.

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