How the Rising and Casement fell victim to Murphy’s Law in Kerry

AT the 1975 Munster football final in Killarney the much-fancied Cork team were being hammered, and many Cork supporters began to bail out early.

A Kerry supporter shouted at them, “Leaving early, can’t take ye’r beating!”

One of the fleeing Cork crowd shouted back: “What do ye mean ‘leaving’? Ye bastards, ye left Casement on Banna Strand!”

In the midst of all the hype about 1916 the story of what happened in Kerry has been largely overlooked. It was a weekend in Kerry during which Murphy’s Law ruled. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

The Germans arrived in Tralee Bay on Thursday in the Aud with an arms shipment for the Rising, but there was no one there to meet them.

At the time the only person in the area who knew about plans for the Rising was Austin Stack, the local brigadier of the Irish Volunteers and head centre of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

On Good Friday three men were sent from Dublin to seize a radio transmitter in Caherciveen and set up a transmitting station in Tralee to get in touch with the Aud. Two of them were drowned when their driver took a wrong turn and drove off the end of the short pier at Ballykissane.

Some later contended that this tragic accident undermined the whole Rising, but it really made no difference whatsoever because even if they had got the transmitter and set it up, they would not have been able to contact the Aud, which had no radio.

Leaders in Dublin had changed the date on which the Aud should arrive to Easter Sunday after it had sailed, so the Germans had no means of contacting the ship. Roger Casement set out from Germany on a submarine with that information, but it had engine trouble and had to return to port, so vital days were lost on getting another submarine.

It arrived in Tralee Bay in the early hours of Good Friday while the Aud was still waiting impatiently for a signal from the shore.

As Casement and two colleagues were coming ashore their boat capsized and they were thrown into the water. Casement was suffering from malaria and after being soaked, he was in no condition to walk the six miles to Tralee. The other two went for help, but he was captured before the help arrived. The Germans were convinced that Casement came back to Ireland to take part in the rebellion, but he was really trying to prevent it. “The one hope I clung to,” he later told his solicitor George Gavan Duffy, “was that I might arrive in Ireland in time to stop the Rising.”

When Casement was brought into the RIC barracks in Tralee he was put in the billiards room and a fire was lit for him. Head Constable John A Kearney sent for a local doctor, Mikey Shanahan, who was known to have Sinn Féin sympathies.

Shanahan was allowed to see Casement by himself.

Kearney knew the prisoner was Casement. The head constable hoped Casement would identify himself to Dr Shanahan and have the local volunteers rescue him. Before the doctor left the station Kearney showed him a photograph of Casement saying he was the prisoner. He wished to make sure that Shanahan would tell the volunteers the RIC knew who it was holding.

But Stack pretended not to believe the doctor. He insisted that the RIC had only arrested a Norwegian sailor.

Meanwhile, Kearney invited Casement up to his residence for a meal. “I would love nothing better than a good steak,” Casement said when asked what he would like to eat.

Kearney’s wife went out to purchase steak from a local butcher because they had no meat in the residence as it was Good Friday. She cooked him the meal, and Kearney sent out for some Jameson whiskey for the prisoner.

Before bringing Casement back down to the billiards room, where he was left unrestrained with the front door unlocked so that a rescue party could just walk in, the head constable told his wife to keep their children upstairs as he expected the volunteers to rescue the prisoner.

Casement asked Kearney to send for a priest. Fr Frank Ryan was summoned from the nearby Dominican Church.

In Fr Ryan’s presence, Kearney asked Casement: “What do you want with a priest? Aren’t you a Protestant?”

Kearney then left Fr Ryan alone with Casement, who identified himself and asked the priest to get a message to the volunteers.

“Tell them I am a prisoner,” he said, “and that the rebellion will be a dismal, hopeless failure, as the help they expect will not arrive.”

THE priest was taken aback. He had come on a spiritual mission and had no desire to get involved in this kind of politics.

“Do what I ask,” Casement pleaded, “and you will bring God’s blessing on the country and on everyone concerned.”

Then “after deep and mature reflection”, Fr Ryan realised that “it would be the best thing not alone for the police, but also for the volunteers and the country, that I should convey the message to the volunteers and thereby be the means through which bloodshed and suffering might be avoided. I saw the leader of the volunteers in Tralee and give him the message. He assured me he would do his best to keep the volunteers quiet.”

One can only imagine Stack’s state of mind when Fr Ryan told him that Casement wanted the rebellion called off. He was supposed to be the only person in the area to know about the plans. Now he was being told about it by a priest who had no involvement in the movement.

What was worse, Fr Ryan told more than Stack that Casement wanted the rebellion called off.

“I also told the head constable of the steps I had taken, and my reasons for it, and he agreed with me that it was perhaps the wisest course to follow,” Fr Ryan noted.

At this point Kearney sent Stack a message that Con Collins, a friend arrested earlier in the day, wished to see him at the RIC barracks.

Paddy J Cahill, the deputy brigadier, advised Stack not to go, or at least make sure he had nothing incriminating on him. Stack handed over his revolver and supposedly checked his belongings to ensure he had nothing else of importance.

When he was searched at the RIC station, however, he was carrying a massive bundle of letters from people like Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly, Bulmer Hobson and a circular from Eoin MacNeill urging the volunteers to resist forcefully any attempt by the Crown authorities to suppress or disarm them. He was promptly arrested.

Stack later wrote to his brother, Nicholas, that he was carrying “a large number of letters, ie, fully 20 or 30 letters, I imagine”. The count at the barracks was 52 letters. Somebody might carry that many letters in a briefcase, but has anyone ever carried that number on their person.

One must ask why was Stack carrying so many letters when he went to the barracks? With things obviously going so badly wrong in relation to the plans for the rebellion, it looked suspiciously like he wanted to be arrested so that he would be in custody when the balloon went up?

It is about time people began examining the record for what it was, not what it should have been.

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