Hunting for the real Roger Casement

by John Garton

A STRING of sensationalist headlines greeted the recent publication of the Giles report, which concludes categorically that the Casement ‘Black Diaries’ are genuine.

It is therefore particularly welcome that John Murray and Kim Bartley’s two-hour documentary about the life of Casement, The Hunt for Roger Casement, does not follow the same sensation-seeking line and itself points to evidence which suggests that the Giles investigation was insufficiently thorough to justify its unequivocal conclusion.

This point was emphasised during a three-day Casement colloquium initiated by professor Bill McCormack Goldsmith, various contributors to which are featured in the film.

For example, Jack Moylett, secretary of the Dublin-based Roger Casement Foundation, points to the work of Éoin Ó Maille who showed that there was no correlation between the vocabulary used in the ‘White Diaries’ (in Dublin) and the ‘Black Diaries’ (in London).

However, it is the contribution of professor James J Horan of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the United States which sheds most doubt on the findings of the Giles report. Horan, a leading expert on the forensic examination of questioned documents, insists that the Giles report would not be acceptable to the American courts and demonstrates forensic flaws in the authentication process.

The Irish-made The Hunt for Roger Casement, which deals with all aspects of Casement’s tragic life, is to be congratulated for not following the sensation-seeking line. It is certainly the best documentary on Casement for many years and should be seen as a worthy successor to Kenneth Griffiths’s excellent Heart of Darkness, which covered Casement’s work in the Congo.

The film makes the point that Casement’s humanitarian legacy is not forgotten by South America’s native population. At one point an old chieftain tells the filmmakers that Casement needs to return to his people to right the wrongs still being endured by them.

Casement’s journey to Germany is portrayed as a gallant if futile gesture and his return to Ireland as his necessity to take his place alongside the other leaders of the Easter rising. He had played his part and would play it to the end.

Those who get an opportunity to see the film should remember the words of historian Owen Dudley Edwards, who points out that the timing of the diaries’ appearance was extremely opportune for the British.

There can be no doubt that Casement would have been proved guilty of treason in 1916, but the calls for clemency might have been heeded had these documents not appeared.

Another leading authority on Casement and the diaries, Angus Mitchell reminds us that Casement, suffering from a severe eye infection, could not write in a straight line and preferred to use a pencil. There is no evidence of this in the Black Diaries.

The description of Casement by Herr Zerrhaussen, his interpreter in Germany, is particularly moving, while the statement made two years ago by Professor Doerries, that constant surveillance by suspicious German authorities failed to uncover any sign of homosexual activity.

Others, such as Roger Sawyer, who accept the diaries as genuine, ably defend their research. As the filmmakers say, the Casement controversy continues.

That said, the makers of The Hunt for Roger Casement , Crossing the Line Films, have produced a film that should be shown in every Irish club around the world for it reminds us of the life of one of the greatest humanitarians and fighters for human rights that the world has ever known.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-07-31 10:41:01.
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