BOOK REVIEW by Brian Gillespie
Angus Mitchell (ed.): One Bold Deed of Open Treason: The Berlin Diary of Roger Casement 1914-1916. Dublin, Merrion Press, 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-78537-056-4 (p.b.); 978178537-057-1 (h.b.)
This book is a terrific insight into Roger Casement’s eighteen month stay in Germany from 1914-16. Taken directly from his diaries and superbly put together by historian Angus Mitchell, the book is a must read for anyone fascinated by the controversies that surrounded Casement in the period when he went from decorated Imperial civil servant to treacherous anti-colonialist and fervent Irish nationalist.
The title explains that he was well aware of the consequences of his journey to Berlin and meetings with senior German government and military figures. Indeed he confesses as much a number of times in his daily writings.
His mission was to gain recognition for an Independent Ireland and solicit military support for a rebellion. As a primary source of European history, not just Irish, the diaries read like a Cold War thriller, full of intrigue, deceit and conspiracy. As he records his daily movements and meetings, you get the sense he is aware that he is recording history for a future generation to judge.
Over the eighteen months his mood moves from healthy optimism on arrival to utter despair as the failure of his mission becomes apparent.
By the end he feels cut off from the Dublin and New York revolutionary leaders, both physically and intellectually. In his final weeks he sees no hope for the coming rebellion believing it to be ‘worse than folly’ without the German support requested. He struggles desperately with this, but feels the need to return and join these brave men in their sacrifice for Ireland.
Casement was a key contributor in the preparation for Easter 1916. He helped form the Irish Volunteers and co-wrote that organisation’s manifesto and was involved in organising the Howth gun running episode in 1914. More has been written about him than any of the other ’16 leaders, such is his fascination. Through this publication Angus Mitchell helps us understand the complex intellectual character that later life Roger Casement was.
It is a thoroughly good read.
Brian is an avid reader of Irish history, and has written a play about the trial of Roger Casement, Convicted on a Comma, to mark the centenary of his execution on 3 August 1916.