While trying not to overburden readers with detail, it is important to counter unevidenced assertions and to correct errors in Martin Mansergh’s review of Paul Hyde’s book Casement: Decoding False History (https://drb.ie/articles/blackening-casement/). Hyde has published an earlier book entitled Anatomy of a Lie, offering a number of other theories on the supposed forging of the Casement diaries, not least that the handwritten versions were produced after the typed up ones circulated in May 1916.
The first thing to say is that Hyde never provides written evidence of the nefarious forging activities by British Intelligence over ten decades, nor by its supposed allies, notably Frank MacDermot, a former TD and Senator, and Montgomery Hyde a former MP. What he points up are inconsistencies or oddities in the documentation while insisting historical assessments must be based on incontrovertible proof. Such a type of proof is of course rare in any controversy.
I quote another historian’s view: “It appears that Hyde understands history as something based exclusively on ‘waterproof’ evidence and totally dismisses the logical conclusions which form the basis of most historical reconstruction.”
Mansergh majors on the “sea-change in public attitudes towards homosexuality which has seen the emergence of Casement as a gay icon”. But Casement has never been a gay icon for the simple reason that he did nothing to advance the group’s freedoms. Certainly his diaries are of great interest to gay historians and readers, revealing, as they do, an almost unique example of homosexual life in the early twentieth century. This is especially so as there are next to no such records outside of, inevitably negative, court cases.
Martin Mansergh has one fact very wrong, statingthat Lord Castlereagh was caught in flagrante with a guardsman in a St.Albans inn. The soldier episode – in a Westminster pub back room – did not involve Castlereagh but the bishop of Clogher, a son of Lord Roden.
Castlereagh did indeed tell the king during his final psychotic episode before he cut his throat that he was being accused of homosexual activities, as he put it, the “crime of the Bishop of Clogher”. He may however have been gay or bisexual as Montgomery Hyde indicated in his 1959 book The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh. On mid-century evidence, he wrote of blackmail by what would now be called a trans woman.
Martin Mansergh states: “Casement’s experience and humanitarian work led to his rejection of imperialism, whether colonial or capitalist in nature, or both. This was not least because his work in the Congo and Latin America led him to perceive that the same system had been in play in his native Ireland and indeed at times across the empire, something that his privileged background had long helped to obscure from him.”
This is trebly wrong. Casement was not a socialist or anti-capitalist; rather he believed in the civilising force of commerce and Christianity, especially in Africa. In relation to Ireland, he was certainly antagonistic to English and especially Scots colonialism but was not generally anti-imperialist as he enthused over the better, younger German version and its potential. In the Freeman’s Journal in January 1914 he wrote, “As a matter of fact the people of Alsace-Lorraine today enjoy infinitely greater public liberties within the German Empire than we are ever more likely to possess within the British Empire.”
Another example from his 1910 Amazon Journal or “White Diary” is: “No sight could be pleasanter than the flag of Teutonic civilisation advancing into this wilderness. The Americans have got their part of America, and it will take them all their time to civilise themselves. Germany with her 70,000,000 of virile men has much to do for mankind besides giving us music and military shows. Let loose her pent-up energies in this Continent.”
In September 1909, again referring to South America, it was, presciently: “Someday Europe will challenge this pretence of the USA and put it to the great arbitrament of battle, and I sincerely hope Germany will win and erect a Great German State with honest clean laws and institutions here under the Southern Cross.”
Nor was Casement’s background privileged. Although from the Ulster merchant class, he was brought up, until orphaned, in a dysfunctional and impoverished family in England. He left school at fifteen. Nor was his Irish nationalism learned while a British consul (reporting on Belgian and Peruvian atrocities) but from his parents, in a not dissimilar way to Oscar Wilde.
Mansergh asks how Casement’s evident idealism is “reconcilable with its complete absence in the cynically promiscuous and athletic sexual exploitation of young males and teenage boys portrayed in the ‘black diaries’. Even if, which no one disputes, much of this had to be fantasy, many will ask themselves whether these writings can be from the same person.”
Few beyond the Casement author Angus Mitchell and the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa believe the diaries are fantasy. They bear the marks of a contemporary male gay, which can be easily confirmed if you wander on to Grindr. They certainly put the sex into homosexual, something many try to avoid. The youth of some of those groomed, as opposed to the obvious enthusiasm of his outdoor contacts, is however disturbing but explains why the diaries still have to be denied, as they were when homosexuality itself was the issue.
After discussing the early accounts of when and where the diaries were found, (although London from their release in 1959 is clear officially they were handed in to Scotland Yard after Casement’s arrest in April 1916). Mansergh deals with Paul Hyde’s theories of British Intelligence faking and doctoring archives over nine decades in Dublin and New York. This requires belief in an institutional memory lasting nearly a century.
Mansergh here relates Paul Hyde’s explanation of the penultimate doctoring moment: “In the late 1950s a poem in the National Library that expressed strong homosexual tendencies was attributed to Casement as support for his authorship of the ‘black diaries’. The allegation was made in a Sunday Times article by an Ulster Unionist MP, H Montgomery Hyde, a historian with an interest in the state’s treatment of homosexuals.”
Actually, Montgomery Hyde’s “interest in the state’s treatment of homosexuals” extended to campaigning in the House of Commons in the 1950s for homosexual decriminalisation, some forty years before the law change in Ireland in 1993 (in Northern Ireland it had been 1982). That aside, Mansergh explains the doctoring in the 1950s involved “inserting a ‘fake’ homosexual poem by Casement on to a microfilm”.
He continues: “Montgomery Hyde had links with British intelligence, but the poem was passed to him by former Oireachtas member and barrister Frank MacDermot, who subsequently moved to Britain and who had an intense dislike of Casement, writing strong letters to the paper whenever the authenticity of the ‘black diaries’ was questioned. Paul Hyde makes a convincing argument that the source of the poem was a British intelligence plant in a New York Public Library copied on microfilm to the National Library of Ireland, to which Frank MacDermot was alerted.”
This manipulation involved writing and forging the homosexual poem, slipping it into a folder in New York while remaking the microfilm of Casement documents bought by the NLI in Dublin. Nobody in Intelligence had the wit to slip the fake poem into one of the many folders of Casement verse in the NLI but instead concocted a twin-city-operation involving the technically difficult reconstitution of an American microfilm.
We are later asked to believe that “a binder of documents presented to Ireland by the German Foreign Office regarding Casement’s time in Berlin” in 1966 was switched in the NLI some thirty years later. Hyde wrote: “Someone removed the original volume containing the letter and replaced it with a manipulated volume at some time after the publication of Doerries book in 1999” (Anatomy of a Lie p 96). This was supposedly necessary because Brian Inglis in his Casement book had made a “deceptive citation” about a fake letter Casement had written in November 1914 to con the British – a trick which actually worked.
The problem is that the genuine fake letter which referred to Casement’s companion Adler Christensen as a “treasure” still exists in the German Foreign Office archive. I have seen a copy. (Reinhard Doerries had erroneously referenced it as in the NLI not in Berlin.)
British Intelligence may be effective, but it beggars belief that they so cared about an erroneous reference Brian Inglis made in 1973 that it required the replacement of an indexed 159-page volume (NLI MS 14,914/1). The notion however exemplifies the desperate and unwise measures self-appointed custodians of the state’s founding myths go to to shore them up.
For evidence of Casement’s homosexual status, people will have to read my book.* Outside the diaries, there are no definitive accounts of sexual activity beyond Norwegian witness statements and those of Adler Christensen. All of course are derived from records in British hands, which if not permitted to be taken account of, or if disputed in every respect, as is the case with diary deniers, leaves only historical assessment of what has come our way in Casement’s papers, the considered views of others, and the absence of evidence of heterosexual activity. These are normally private matters, unfathomable to outsiders. Casement simply wrote it all down.
He was, however, a very early and influential separatist. His ideas on Europe were carried through, as Mansergh states, to become Irish foreign policy, informing Simon Coveney to this day. Better to accept the reality of the diaries and then argue for his political foresight and accuracy. He just got it wrong on the Ulsters who, like Redmond, he thought were bluffing.
*Roger Casement: The Black Diaries – With a Study of his Background, Sexuality, and Irish Political Life (3rd edition 2019)
This correspondence is now closed – drb.