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Home Uncategorized He Could Tell You Things

He Could Tell You Things

Jeffrey Dudgeon
Roger Casement: Imperialist, Rebel, Revolutionary, by Séamas Ó Síocháin, Lilliput Press, 656 pp, €40, ISBN: 978-1843510215 Séamas Ó Síocháin has become one of the select band to have written two or more books on Roger Casement. He joins Roger Sawyer, the doyen of Casement authors, and Angus Mitchell in that pantheon, along with Herbert Mackey, the 1950s sanctifier. He, however, was more of a pamphleteer. Such frequency illustrates the abiding fascination that Casement excites. Perhaps it is that he covers so much ground – Africa, the First World War, the Amazon and the Easter Rising, not to mention slavery, treason, and homosexuality. That range of subjects has made him the most written about Irish revolutionary. Or perhaps it is because he was volatile, contrary, someone who changed his opinions and held contradictory views – all those traits which make people memorable and dynamic and are often the mark of great men and women. Such large books as that under review are fewer. However Peter Singleton Gates’s 1959 Black Diaries, Angus Mitchell’s Heart of Darkness (mostly 1911 Amazon documentation), and this writer’s1 also came in at more than 600 pages. Ó Síocháin’s biography of Casement was launched at Maynooth where he lectures in anthropology. Indeed he is currently editor of the Irish Journal of Anthropology. The main speaker was Niall Crowley, the estimable chair of the Equality Commission, who shares an interest in the Third World. In response, the author spoke of the long gestation of the book and – raising a laugh – of the frequent queries as to when he was coming out. Eyes of Another Race, his earlier Casement book (with Michael O’Sullivan) was published in 2000. It reprinted Casement’s 1903 Black Diary and the British government Congo report he wrote, along with commentaries, giving both documents equal measure and status. The 1903 diary was meticulously transcribed in its entirety, much better than before, and is plainly a key document that helps to explain many aspects of Casement’s report as well as illustrating his motives, outlook and foibles. That report and Casement’s off-duty efforts in the Congo Reform Association broke King Leopold’s grip on his personal fiefdom and in 1908 he was forced to make it a Belgian colony. Literally at the launch, someone produced a new photograph of Casement with Mrs May French Sheldon, a hostile critic of his Congo report. It was probably taken on the island of São Thomé…

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