Friday, August 12, 2016

Those Brave Few

Given it's the centenary of the 1916 rising, what we leave behind has been something that has been on my mind the last year. At the end of April I made my way to a commemoration of the failed landed of 20000 German rifles at Banna Strand near Tralee.

Could Roger Casement, alone, hiding in the dunes from the police, ever have imagined what was to come in 100 years? In some ways, of course he did, that is the point, he dreamt, he imagined, and a sizeable proportion of the population dreamt his dream along with him. In his own native Ulster he got 50000 protestants to sign a republican response to the infamous "Solemn League and Covenant."

Bound For Banna, 1916

Casement's legacy was embroiled in a war of propaganda after he died. "The most dangerous man in the Empire" was too important not to crush entirely. They planned that his memory would be tarnished and darkened so as to make his legacy irrelevant. Even when he was alive, you get the sense that he was fighting against inexorable forces, something that resonates throughout Irish Republican literature. From the covert voyage of the Catalpa, to John Mitchel bound in chains for Van Dieman's Land, From the Fenian Rising in Kerry, to the 1916 rising in Dublin itself, we sometimes forget, these were the brave few. Though many sympathised, few "heard the call."

At the Official State Commemoration at Banna, standing there on the thronged strand, the sense of bringing dreams into reality was overpowering. There were thousands on the beach for the ceremony-the aircorps flew by,  the army marched on, the tricolour waved and Banna Strand was sung. 100 years ago, there was one man on a beach hiding from police.

 "1916 Commemoration, Banna Strand"
The Black diaries were purported to have been written by Casement while in Brazil and the Congo. In amongst his musings on Empire and use and abuse of humans as resources, scattered here and there, are details of homosexual escapades and fantasies.

In 1999 Bertie Ahern (just before he ushered in the era where the tiger ruled supreme) accepted the British findings, which ruled the diaries were legitimate and not forged. I think it is important to remember-the I.R.A. were still bombing England in the 1990's. Whatever British finding were to be doled out to the public, as ever, these would be mightily coloured towards protecting the interests and safety of the Union and its remaining Irish colony in the north.

It is possible the diaries were legitimate, but it seems much too convenient. In some ways, it doesn't now matter, given we live in more enlightened times, its neither here nor there whether he was gay. But that isn't the point, if his diaries were forged by British Intelligence, that is information that should be known to the public. This article here in the Dublin Review of Books, makes a great case for the diaries being forgeries.

Moving forward to 2016, what was heartwarming was the Irish President's response to the current state of Roger Casement's legacy. In his speech on Banna Strand, without condemning and naming the diaries outright, Micheal D Higgins condemned the propaganda (including the diaries) that led to the execution.

"The trial was outrageous for its imperilling of an adequate defence by the circulation of material that would strike a populist note and blacken the defendant in an extra-judicial attempt at undermining the international campaign for clemency."

Trying to come out from under the shadow of Empire is a mighty task. Casement tried to recruit an Irish Brigade from the very many Irish born, British P.O.W.'s in Germany. Only managing to recruit less than 100 soldiers, he was fiercely disappointed. Sometimes I think the image of the Irish Rebel is really a misnomer. The Irish are not generally of rebellious character, so that those few that are, are a virulent crop.

And what is it I mean by all this? I suppose I'm trying to tell myself, and anyone else who might listen, as Anaïs Nin once said "Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together."

Banna Strand, April, 2016

On a more personal note, my great-grandfather, Paddy Casey, was a founding member of the labour party in Kerry. On the subject of memory and commemoration, back in May there was a ceremony and mass for him in the town park in Tralee. Incidentally, he was denounced from the pulpit for being a communist in his own lifetime. So, it was pleasing to see the clergy promote his legacy somewhat, in our own time. A part of that legacy was that he secured the town park for the people of Tralee. He made it his raison d'être, he didn't stop until that dream became a reality. As I walked through the park with my mother I thought on the power of choice and action. My mother was raised for much of her childhood by Paddy. Paddy, because of his dedication to having a town park for the people of Tralee, had a major impact on the things after he died. People now enjoy the park as a public amenity every day of the week. In a world where he hadn't endevoured to secure the park for the people, we wouldn't have been there on that day so many decades later. Myself and my mother would never have walked through the park's verdant splendour. There were little stalls selling all manner of food and goods (the 800th anniversary of Tralee was concurrent with the small ceremony for my great-grandfather). The rain was bucketing down during the mass but we were dry under a beautiful tent-open on all sides onto the lush green.

My mother Aileen with a portrait of her grandfather Paddy Casey
back row, 5th from left, Paddy Casey, standing over James Connolly!

The park is now redolent with Paddy's memory, indeed, its wouldn't be there atall, only that Paddy "brought his dreams into play with action."

Lets keep in mind "the brave few," whether that be Paddy Casey, trying to wrestle control of the park, or casement on a Lonely Strand! In a year of commemoration and memory, would we were as bold as they!

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