A full State commemoration for Roger Casement was led by President Michael D Higgins at Banna Strand near Tralee yesterday.
The day of commemorations marked the arrival by German U-boat of Casement at the spot 100 years ago for what President Higgins described as the last stand of the patriot and international humanitarian.
Tricolours lined the route from Tralee and up to to 4,000 people attended the 90-minute long ceremony involving the navy, army, and air corps. The audience included pupils from several schools, with the public thronging the sand dunes at the rear of the main area to catch a glimpse of the historic occasion.
Casement, along with two others — Captain Robert Monteith and Daniel Bailey, members of the Irish Brigade — had hoped to rendezvous with the Aud, a ship carrying 20,000 rifles from Germany which Casement had organised for the Easter Rising.
However, the plan failed, and the Aud and its cargo were scuttled by its German captain Karl Spindler while being escorted by the British navy through Cork Harbour.
Personnel on the Navy vessel the LÉ Niamh stood to attention around a mile off shore, as President Higgins laid a wreath at the recovered anchor from the Aud, which was on display at the strand.
A piper sounded a lament, the tricolour was raised, the last post was sounded, the Military Band from Collins Barracks played the national anthem, and there was a dramatic fly past just over the wreath-laying scene by the Irish Air Corps from Baldonnell’s Casement Aerodrome.
The Proclamation was read by Lieutenant Dermot Considine of the 12th Infantry Battalion in Sarsfield Barracks.
Extracts from Casement’s speech from the dock, after he was found guilty of treason, were movingly read by actor Declan McCarthy from West Cork.
Delivering the key note address, for which he got a standing ovation, President Higgins said Casement’s contribution was not only to Irish freedom but to the universal struggle for justice and human dignity.
“Roger Casement was not just a great Irish patriot, he was also one of the great humanitarians of the early 20th century, a man who is remembered fondly by so many people across the world for his courageous work in exposing the darkness that lay at the heart of European imperialism,” the President said, referring to Casement’s work in exposing exploitation in the Congo and in South America.
Describing him as “a complex figure” and a man of considerable charm and distinction, the President said that Casement’s legacy, 100 years on, is being fully realised.
“This afternoon, as we come together at the location of Roger Casement’s last stand as an activist and Irish revolutionary, it is appropriate that we recall the crucial part that he played in the lead-up to the Easter Rising of 1916,” said President Higgins.
The President, who had earlier visited the gaelscoil in Tralee, Scoil Mhic Easmainn, named after Casement, also paid tribute to Casement’s battle against the subjugation of the Irish language and culture.
Casement’s vision was for “a true republic”, one that included all the people of all religions, north and south, said the President.
The honour guard and military band were drawn from the 12th Infantry Battalion in Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick, while the Captains Escort of Honour was from 2 Cavalry Squadron at Cathal Brugha Barracks.
Christopher Farrington, great grand-nephew of Casement, who travelled from Melbourne, Australia, said it was his third visit to the Casement site and he said he was proud of his relative.
Lesley McNaughton, great grand-niece of Casement, has studied his speeches, as well as Irish history.
“He died for Ireland,” she said of her ancestor.
Relatives of Robert Monteith were also present.
Also, just off shore at Banna, about a mile south of the Aud’s capture, was the Celtic Mist, Charlie Haughey’s yacht, now owned by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.
Earlier, a ceremony took place at Ballykissane pier near Killorglin to mark the first casualties of the Easter Rising on Good Friday 1916. The President also opened an exhibition dedicated to Casement at the Kerry County Museum yesterday afternoon.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved