A Note on the Casement Papers in the Benjamin Iveagh Library, Farmleigh House, Dublin

Author: John Gibney

John Gibney was Visiting Research Fellow in Marsh’s Library, Dublin, in April 2013. He would like to thank Jason McElligott,  Julia Cummins and Maria O’Shea for their assistance. Click here to learn more about the Benjamin Iveagh Library at Farmleigh.


The Roger Casement archive is voluminous, if scattered. Large collections of his papers are retained in repositories such as the National Library of Ireland, but Casement material can be found in a variety of other locations, including the Benjamin Iveagh Library in Dublin’s Farmleigh House, on the edge of the Phoenix Park. Farmleigh, which is now owned by the Irish state, was originally built in the eighteenth century before being bought and extensively redeveloped by the Guinness family. The library of Benjamin Guinness, 3rd Earl of Iveagh (1937-1992) was donated to Marsh’s Library in 2009 and is still retained in Farmleigh. It holds a small but coherent collection of papers relating to Casement, some of which were purchased at auction in February 1985. The collection mainly comprises letters written by Casement to a number of individuals; copies of some of this material are retained in both the National Library of Ireland and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.[1] One of the two principal correspondents was Lady Constance Emmott, a daughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll, and Casement’s letters to her were mostly written between June and November 1912 from a variety of locations in Britain and Ireland. The range of addresses, from Falcarragh in Donegal to Dublin and beyond, indicates Casement’s peripatetic lifestyle at this time. The other major correspondent is Colonel Robert Gordon Berry, whom Casement wrote to at locations as diverse as Armagh, Buenos Aires, the Curragh Camp, and Sierra Leone. There are also a number of letters written to Berry from the British consulate in Brazil in 1907. The collection contains letters to Casement from a number of correspondents, such as the journalist R. Barry O’Brien, along with some documents relating to his captivity and execution.

While the various elements of the Farmleigh collection offer insights into only a fraction of Casement’s life and experience, they cast some intriguing flashes of light nonetheless. Writing to Berry from Antrim on February 15, 1905, Casement expressed his hope that sectarianism could be overcome in Irish public affairs: “Protestants must show first that we as good Irishmen as the Catholics.”[2] But he offered some striking comments on entrenched sectarianism amongst Ulster’s Protestant community (into which he had been born), relating to

our continued sniffling about the might and magnitude of the British lion […] our sneers at the poverty of Ireland ad infinitum, our steady refusal to work with the Catholics in any movement having an Irish ideal at the back of its head; and by all this we inevitably, we fatally drive the Catholics into the arms of their priests.

Does the latter comment itself betray a surprising hint of sectarianism? A subsequent letter to Berry written on March 29th, 1905, which was signed “beannacht leat,” pointed towards Casement’s burgeoning views on what might be deemed an “Irish ideal.” The letter also contained references to Casement’s experience in the Congo. As for his experience of South America, there are a number of letters written while he was stationed there, the most notable of which is a handwritten document entitled “Notes on military conditions in state of São Paulo, May 1907.” This is a lengthy, detailed, and lucid account of political and social conditions. The later correspondence with Berry makes reference to burgeoning unrest in Ulster, presumably over the issue of Home Rule, and indeed there is a rich commentary on Irish matters throughout the collection.

In July 1912, Casement was staying at the Savoy in Denham, Buckinghamshire and wrote to Constance Emmott on July 23rd expressing his happiness at an impending journey to “peaceful, gay, light-hearted Ireland where life has fewer cares— at any rate where humanity finds time still to laugh and forget”[3]—a form of escape, it seems, from various troubles. The same letter gives a hint of other preoccupations, however: “If you should meet Mr Leigh, the dean of Hereford, ask him to read ‘the Heart of Darkness’ in ‘The Nation’ of 20 July. [There] is a tribute to him on the Putamayo question.”

Within weeks Casement was in the Donegal Gaeltacht. On August 20, he wrote to Constance Emmot, this time from Cloghaneely; Casement was impressed at the extent to which Irish was spoken in the district, was optimistic at the burgeoning interest in its revival, and was especially impressed at the fact that Protestants (such as “Miss Gough” of Coleraine) were involved in a project to finance an Irish-speaking school on Rathlin Island. Writing to Berry on August 9, 1912, Casement recalled the warmth of the welcome he received in a village in the Donegal Gaeltacht, and expressed his dismay at “the atrocious libels and rot written about the south & west of Ireland in Belfast.”[4]  Strikingly, given that in May 1913 he would refer to Connemara as “an Irish Putamayo,” Casement was also impressed with the farmers of Galway: “their farms are excellent—their houses clean & comfortable & their hearts warm and Christian.” The letters from Donegal serve as an abbreviated account of his experience in the Gaeltacht (“the country here is most beautiful”), but this phase of Casement’s life was punctuated by bouts of prolonged ill-health, especially rheumatism, which also becomes an issue in this correspondence, much of which was written from various lodgings in Dublin.

The years before the outbreak of the First World War saw Casement’s views on Irish matters harden, and his increasing militancy was evident on May 1, 1914 when writing to his close friend Richard Morten from Malahide in north Dublin. Casement was writing within weeks of the Larne gunrunning, from a coastal village only a few miles from Howth. Considering that at this stage the Howth gunrunning of July 1914 was already being planned, it is tempting to speculate on what exactly Casement was doing there: given the proximity of Malahide and Howth, was his sojourn connected to the gunrunning? Certainly, the sentiments expressed in the letter were consistent with the attitudes that underpinned the mission of the Asgard: “It is quite clear to every Irishman that the only rule John Bull respects is that of the rifle […] the vital question for England, is she only knew, was to secure Irish friendship and goodwill on terms of equality. She wants to keep Ireland as a piece of real estate and thinks it belongs to her […] The Bill may or may not pass—most of us don't care a damn now. We knew all along it was a makeshift—but we were prepared to take it and make it work.”[5] The tone of the letter and the reference to the Home Rule Bill indicate disillusionment; it is fair to say that in this instance, amongst many other things, the small cache of letters retained in Farmleigh offers a glimpse of Casement’s eventual journey to Banna Strand.



[1] Roger Casement, “A portrait of Roger Casement: some unpublished letters to Col. Robert Gordon Berry,” ed. Desmond J. Berry, MS 31,722, National Library of Ireland (NLI); McPeake Papers, T3071, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), (http://www.proni.gov.uk/introduction__mcpeake_papers.pdf).

[2] Casement to Roger Gordon Berry, 15 February 1905, Marsh’s Library, Benjamin Iveagh collection in Farmleigh, Dublin. [BOX IX E2 1864/1].

[3] Casement to Constance Emmott, 23 July 1912, Marsh's Library, Benjamin Iveagh collection in Farmleigh, Dublin. [BOX IX E2 1051/3].

[4] Casement to Roger Gordon Berry, 9 August 1912, Marsh's Library, Benjamin Iveagh collection in Farmleigh, Dublin. [BOX IX E2 1864/14]

[5] Casement to Richard Morten, 1 May 1914, Marsh's Library, Benjamin Iveagh collection in Farmleigh, Dublin. [BOX IX E2 1059/5].