“We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser, But Ireland”

Sean Doyle of Wicklow eirigi with an eulogy to the life of Roger Casement from 10 August 2014.

To review this tragic loss of life and misguided loyalty I have chosen to honour and view the period through the eyes of Roger Casement.

August the 3rd was the 98th anniversary of the execution of Roger Casement in Pentonville prison. He was captured at Mc Kenna’s fort Ardfert, County Kerry on Good Friday 21st of April 1916 three days before the Easter Rising. He was taken next day to Arbour Hill military detention barracks in Dublin, and then by ship to Holyhead and to London to Brixton prison before he was brought to the tower. He was not tried by court martial as were the 1916 leaders but in the High Court of Justice in London on a charge of treason which he resented with every fibre of his being through his address from The Dock which I will include later.
Casement’s latter life is well known, his commitment to Ireland’s fight for freedom and the procurement of weapons for the rebellion. But his earlier life and what he witnessed transformed him. He turned away from the trappings of class which he had become accustomed to and became a revolutionary.

His work for the British diplomatic corps exposed him to the workings and the iron handedness, brutality and gross exploitation of people and resources in occupied countries; colonial murder - what can only be described as plundering robbers an imperialist horde of relatives. The British King George and the German Kaiser were cousins as was the Russian Tsar. King Leopold the 2nd of Belgium was first cousin to the late Queen Victoria, the Great Starvation Queen.

Casement’s first awakening experience was in 1884 at the Berlin Conference convened to finalise the colonial partitioning of the African continent. Those involved included Austria, Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, England, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the U.S. In 1855 Leopold the 2nd of Belgium was granted the Congo Basin called The Congo Free State under his personal control in the guise of having it assigned to a philanthropic organisation claiming to work to improve the lives of the natives.

Casement’s father Roger senior had an insight and influence on him. Senior wanted to join the Fenian rebellion of 1867 but his family protested. During the Franco Prussian War he drafted plans for the provisioning of Paris which was under siege. On reflection he wrote:
The enemies of freedom may multiply in Europe, shall so horrify the world that the masses of people will be joined by the majority among the middle classes and a few aristocrats in hailing universal republicanism as a harbour of refuse”.
Where imperialist greed is allowed to plunder sovereign countries and carve them up and create false borders as they divide up their spoils only grief and oppression awaits the indigenous people, Ireland included. Leopold’s greed in The Congo Free State was merciless. He enslaved the Congolese people in the rubber plantations and the ivory collections. He ruled by Belgium officers and recruited mercenaries. They set rubber quotas too high. If a man did not collect enough he ordered a hand or a foot to be chopped off his wife or child. They were whipped to death and starved in camps.

These findings and horror stories only came to light after Roger Casement was sent as a consul in 1900 to investigate rumours. His report was made in 1904 which led to the setting up of The Congo Reform Association. Leopold was removed from control of the region but Belgium refused to investigate. An estimated 10 million people died as a direct result of his terror.

Over the next few decades’ inhuman practices continued under Belgian control. The Congo was only emancipated from Belgium in 1960. You may well ask why when these imperialist relatives started to war with each other over greed and control in 1914. Why the ordinary men and women volunteered in such huge numbers across Europe to die by the hand of their fellow workers in this rich man’s war while they were destitute under the cosh of empire in their own countries. In Ireland the aforementioned queen Victoria presided over genocide by starvation 67 years pre the call to war while the logs on ships documented from ports all over the country showed food in abundance flowing from our ports.

The living conditions of people in the Dublin tenements were the worst in Europe. The 1911 Wexford Lockout and Dublin 1913, when Connolly and Larkin organised the workforce in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union to offset the struggle on starvation wages, was brutally resisted by the twin enemy - British interests and Irish big business necessitated the forming of the Irish Citizens Army to protect them.

John Redmond nationalist M.P. and leader of the Home Rule movement was urging the volunteers to join in the war and fight for the British Empire. Connolly taunted him and said “full steam ahead, John Redmond said that all is well chum, Home Rule will come when we’re all dead and buried in Belgium”. Connolly had a large banner draped across Liberty Hall “WE SERVE NEITHER KING NOR KAIZER BUT IRELAND”. 

I find it astonishing that Britain managed to sell the concept to an occupied country, their victim, that they were fighting for defence of small countries - the right of small nations to self-determination. Part of Roger Casement’s speech from The Dock sums it up better than I could ever express of this misdirected terrible loss of life and missed opportunity:

We have been told, we have been asked to hope, that after this war Ireland will get home rule, as a reward for the lifeblood shed in a cause which whoever else its success may benefit can surely not benefit Ireland. And what will home rule be in return for what its vague promise has taken and still hopes to take away from Ireland? 

It is not necessary to climb the painful stairs of Irish history that treadmill of a nation whose labours are in vain for her own uplifting as the convicts exertions are for his redemption to review the long list of British promises made only to be broken of Irish hopes raised only to be dashed to the ground. Home Rule when it comes if come it does will find an Ireland that is drained of all that is vital to its very existence unless it be that unquenchable hopes that we build on the graves of our dead. We are told that if Irishmen go by their thousands to die not for Ireland but for Flanders, for Belgium for a patch of sand on the deserts of Mesopotamia or a rocky trench on the heights of Gallipoli they are winning self government for Ireland”.

But if they dare to lay down their lives on their native soil if they dare to dream even that freedom can be won only at home by men resolved to fight for it there, then they are traitors to their country, and their dream and their deaths alike are phases of a dishonourable fantasy.

But it is no fantasy. It is said that truth is stranger than fiction. The aforementioned is sadly reality. We must expose those as Connolly described the British as “ruling by fooling with great Irish fools to practice on”. We must focus; identify causes worthy of our liberation struggle.

If we’re not enlightened with the use of hindsight then illegal wars and oppression such as Gaza will continue to shame humanity. To hell with their warped hypocritical values that might is right and the lesser is a terrorist philosophy. In Gaza hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, thousands of the civilian population women and children murdered and the recent audacious land grab of a thousand acres of the West Bank taken for another Israeli settlement.

From Obama and the major powers not a murmur: business as usual for the Israelis kidnappings, firing on fishermen, continued harassment and restrictions of movement for Palestinians in Gaza.

Real change will only come when there is solidarity amongst oppressed people unilaterally. An offence to one is an injury to all and collective action based on our true sense of justice that is burning in the heart and soul and threatening the sanity of all those who cherish the right of people to enjoy the fruits of their own labour, free from national exploitation and foreign domination. Multinational transnational and corporations are our 21st century oppressors. We must collectively fight for people’s welfare and take back what was taken.

In 1914 Connolly draped a banner across Liberty Hall in Dublin which read “We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland” suggest wording for 2014; “We serve neither the debts of banks, bondholders and speculators but the welfare of the Irish people”.


  1. Lets not omit, forget or sweep into the closet that anti-gay bigotry also killed Roger Casement.
    Irish republicans in the US and England abandoned him once they heard he was a gay man. Some of his diaries about his sexual relations with other men were,not suprisingly, used by the English and sent to US members of Congress to stop any US comment or resistance to his execution. Throughout his 'trial' the only recorded supporters in the court room were two lesbians.
    Roger Casement should be honored! But part of that honoring demands we take a good look at our comrades and check ourselves- bumps and all. Certainly we should commit not to silence or write out of our history lesbians and gay men.

  2. We are lucky to have had such progressive, forward thinking leaders to lead the way in 1916. Human rights based and arguably more in favour of equality and the emancipation of women than anywhere else.

    Casement gave up a lot for what he believed in. What difference does his homosexuality mean for us today? Hopefully we will cherish him because of his sexual orientation and not in spite of it.

    As for the conservative Nationalists and Republicans who shunned and shun him that is mainly down to a conservative society and the influence of the Church. Sure didn't the Ancient Order of Hibernians campaign against the IRB because of the latter's secularism?

    It boggles the mind that a Church and society who in part turned against Casement did so whilst they covered up sexual and other violence against children, unwed mothers and other vulnerable people.

    The British blackened Casement's name through forged diaries although his other diaries are accepted as genuine.

    Casement turned against the oppressor as was his nature. The Irish turned against the Republic in the hope of Home Rule.

    There was a history of Irish joining the British Army and the prospect of sending wages home meant a lot to them. Connolly said something I couldn't find a reference to about the Irish being great fighters but that they fight for any country but their own. However, he did say something to which Casement was (in some senses and laudibly so) the exception to the rule:

    "If these men must die, would it not be better to die in their own country fighting for freedom for their own class, and for the abolition of war, than to go forth to strange countries and die slaughtering and slaughtered by their own brothers that tyrants and profiteers might live?"

  3. i will go rooting through some old notes i have in relation to one of the spooks who framed casement with the diaries. apparently he was caught exposing himself in hyde park or some public place at a later date.