The trial of Roger Casement

Doran, Fionnuala (2016) The trial of Roger Casement. Self Made Hero. ISBN 9781910593202

Abstract

My first graphic novel, The Trial of Roger Casement, examines the last 18 months in the life of (the former) Sir Roger Casement, who was hung for treason in 1916 after the failed Irish Easter Rising. It combines fiction and non-fiction- in parallel to how he recorded his own life in his public-facing ‘white’ diaries (intended for publica- tion) and his private, intimate ‘black’ diaries. I do not want to simply replay the known facts (as much as they can be known) of his last years. Casement is an opportunity to explore our (or my) inability to truly know the inner life of another person (or oneself). The comic form is perfect for exploring the different levels of self- the inner life as perceived by others (such as a biographer), the observable outer life, the inner life as perceived by oneself (in a diary) and the actual, lived experience of one’s own life. I explore this through what is drawn and how it is drawn. The same sentence can be said by the same (named) person, but when coming from a figure drawn in two different ways the effect of those words will be different. The Trial of Roger Casement is as much about the failure of biography as it is a biography. Casement rose to prominence from a civil servant of the British Empire to expose the grotesque human rights abuses committed by the regime of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo Free State. His 1904 report for the British Parliament was the first expose published from within an institution of European colonial power to detail the brutality and horror inflicted for profit in the aftermath of Europe’s Scramble for Africa. His first-hand reporting showed the hollowness and hypocrisy of European colonial expansion and capitalist exploitation, the legacy of which still resonates today. Casement’s work with exploited people in the Congo and Peru radicalised him against imperialism, at home and abroad. He returned to Ireland to join the campaign for Home Rule and-when that became frustrated by politi- cal manoeuvering not dissimilar to contemporary British politics-he began to work on what would become the 1916 Easter Rising alongside other seminal figures of Irish and socialist history such as Countess Markievicz and James Connolly. Among the Irish revolutionaries, he was also an outsider. He did not believe in pressing ahead with the Easter Rising plans, knowing that the rebels were outnumbered and outgunned compared to the British army. He argued passionately against the loss of lives that action would cause. Casement was also a gay man who had mul- tiple intimate and sexual relationships at a time of public revulsion against homosexuality. His trial for treason and hanging were a direct consequence of his sexual identity. A gay man was not seen as worthy of a military tribunal and execution by firing squad. While the bodies of the other 1916 Rising leaders were returned to their families, Casement’s was thrown into a lime pit outside of Pentonville Prison. The diaries he kept chronicling his sex-partners and gay cruising were circulated to his former friends and allies, such as Arther Conan Doyle, who might otherwise have pleaded for clemency. His public outing caused him to be written out of both Irish and British history, and even today he is a problematic figure, refusing to fit into any pre-defined conceptions of masculinity and heroism often applied to early 20th Century narratives. Casement’s life touches on issues still relevant today: European exploitation, the inner and outer lives of individuals, the right to demand a society for all, and the quixotic dream of freedom.

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