Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2016

July 31, 2016

Ste Murray’s photos of Féile Fáilte


Ste Murray has been documenting The Casement Project from the outset.  His photos of Féile Fáilte give a flavour of the atmosphere, activity and beauty of the day.

You can view a selection here

July 30, 2016

Press shots from Féile Fáilte

Having rehearsed until after 11pm the previous night and knowing that we would be active again until midnight that day, I was a little reluctant to get myself and the dancers to Banna for a press call at midday on the day of Féile Fáilte.  I knew the day would demand sustained energy and I didn’t want to find myself empty by the time we got to performing Butterflies and Bones.  However, as we drove out to the beach, in the sunshine and arrived to see our Féile Fáilte encampment, I was immediately energised.  And I was reassured that the press photographer was Clare Keogh, whose photographic collaborations with Laura Murphy I’ve admired at Firkin Crane over the years.  She knows dance, knows the artistic sensibilities of the choreographers that she is working with, and she knows what the media would like.  She cajoled us into something that felt true to the work, but was sufficiently glitzy for media attention.  And not just us either: John Scott’s IMDT, Siamsa Tíre, the Rusangano Family and some of our Casement Project and Project Arts Centre team too

You can view them here

July 17, 2016

‘We are Orlando and we keep dancing their dance’ by Theo Clinkard

Theo wrote a beautiful and thoughtful blog post for SoutheastDance about his response to the Orlando shootings and how it affected his dancing in Butterflies and Bones


Theo Clinkard on the shoulder of Philip Connaughton in Fearghus O’Conchuir’s The Casement Project. Photo by Stephen Wright.


We are Orlando and we keep dancing their dance
Written by Theo Clinkard

Omar Mateen’s unspeakably hateful act took place in Orlando but the repercussions were felt deeply around the globe by the LGBT community and those who know that love is love.

In the aftermath of events such as this, it appears that the wound deepens as the finer details emerge. Initially the numbing shock of it all was hard to compute; we reported it as ‘news’ to each other, citing the few abstract facts available to us; a location and a toll which gradually increased as the day went on. But as figures became names, names became people, people became lives, everything shifted; the tragic event was humanised and news became perceived experience. Hearts grew heavy before rage burned bright. Before long, forty nine gleeful and sassy Facebook selfies looked back at us from screens and newsprint. We learned about their jobs, their loves, their culture, their activism, their families and most painfully of all, their dreams, the ‘who’ of the thing appeared to reveal the true horror of these losses. The hashtag was right, we were and are them; our child who just graduated (Akyra), the brother we look up to (Juan), our uncle (Franky), our barista (Luis), our pharmacy technician (Stanley), our bouncer (KJ), our accountant (Eddie), our bartender (Dee Dee) and our mum to eleven children who survived breast and bone cancer and who regularly went dancing at Pulse with her gay son (Brenda).

The one detail that I can barely comprehend is the fact that they were killed dancing. Since it was Latin Night at Pulse, I imagine them dancing in couples, in each other’s arms; such an ultimate expression of love, sexuality, community, diversity, care, freedom and of trust.

How are we all implied and impacted by these events? How do we relate compassionately, without lessening the experience of the families who reel from the loss of those they loved? How do we respond as queers, as artists and simply as empathising humans? How do we continue to honour these people through the ongoing noise of 2016 and beyond? How do we dance now when dance’s nature is one of trust, freedom and ultimately, hope?

For me, the volatile world events of this last month have reframed the act of dancing. Dancing was exposed as an act devoid of shouty activism when it seemed so desperately needed. Its muteness was suddenly so apparent. I struggle to explain it, but simply launching into an improvisation at work seemed like the most idle thing to do. The freedom of my body in space almost insulting to those that died in the very act.


Theo Clinkard performing with Liv O’Donoghue in Fearghus O’Conchuir’s The Casement Project. Photo by Stephen Wright.


I was performing in London the day before and the day after the shooting. I was dancing the most glam queer voguing dance that has ever been asked of me as a performer; the kind that normally happens in a kitchen to a glittery pop song. Whilst I feel comfortable in my rainbow bright skin, it was a challenge to let myself flaunt it. It took trust to reveal that part of myself in a public place but it was liberating since, just like them, I was in a safe place. The fact that the term ‘safe place’ suddenly seems to ask me for quotation marks is a glaring reminder of how hate crime implies us all. To dance our dance we have to imagine we are safe. An arms flung in the air kind of safe.

As I prepared for the second performance, the opportunity gifted to me by being on stage became alarmingly clear, for I was visible. I could dance their dance in all its gay glory. A proud and defiant dance, needed today as much as ever before. Not just for Orlando, but for every marginalised community, LGBT or other. We are all of them. Dance continues to have a new found relevance for me these last few weeks. It is inherently empathetic, uniting, celebratory and hopeful.

Its ephemerality a distillation of this moment in time. To dance is to humanise and this is needed now more than ever before.

Kitchen dances, club dances, wedding dances, dad dances, private dances, queer dances, local dances, campfire dances, worldwide dances, miniature dances, sexy dances, video dances, watched dances, expansive dances, playground dances, beach dances, forest dances, pensioner dances, romantic dances, flashy dances, stage dances, shy dances, lyrical dances, spoken dances, imagined dances, free dances and non-violent dances. It is our responsibility to keep them all going.

Happy Brighton Pride to everyone. Be more fabulous than you ever dared and keep dancing their dance – I think it was probably a very sassy one!



July 04, 2016

After the premiere of Butterflies and Bones

Mikel, Bernadette, Philip in Butterflies and Bones. Photo Stephen Wright

Mikel, Bernadette, Philip in Butterflies and Bones. Photo Stephen Wright

People have compared creating a new artistic work to giving birth. Since I’ve never experienced child birth, it’s hard for me to know how useful the analogy is, but there is one aspect that I can imagine being particularly relevant: while the moment of birth is an exciting introduction to a new life, it’s not like you get to know everything about your child in that single moment. You live with her/him get to know her/him by interaction.

Mikel, Bernadette, Matthew, Liv, Theo in Butterflies and Bones Photo Stephen Wright

It feels similar with Butterflies and Bones. Being with an audience seeing it for the first time was an opportunity for me to meet the work afresh, having come to some sense of it in various studios in London and Dublin. But we don’t get to know everything about a work from that premiere. It evolves with each performance and reveals more about its potential. It surprises me, even as I begin to understand it more deeply. That, at least, is my aspiration when I’m making work and it is that hope to be surprised by the work and by the performers in it that gives Butterflies and Bones its openness, malleability and resistance to determinacy.

In the context of post-Brexit turmoil in the UK (and Ireland and Europe as a whole!) Jacqueline Rose’s analysis of the damage caused by a masculinist ‘certainty’ in politics confirms why I try to make choreography that asks its audiences to engage with complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty. It might not always be easy but it’s my way to protect against the oppression caused by certainty. She writes:

‘And it is a curse of male-dominated politics… that it tends to be the kiss of death for a politician to suggest things are uncertain. It is rarely wise to say that what we most need to do in political life, indeed not only political life, is hesitate, slow down and pause for thought; to allow space for the complexity of who we are. As Edward Said pointed out, there is only a short distance between believing you can subdue the mind and believing you can subdue the world.

The idea of control always presents itself as an island of self-sufficiency or a law unto itself. In fact, the idea of control is meaningless on its own. In a world of rampant inequality and injustice, I can only seize control at the expense of someone else. We succeed in controlling our borders; migrants drown at sea.’

Liv O'Donoghue Photo Stephen Wright

Liv in Butterflies and Bones. Photo Stephen Wright

Phelim McDermott’s perspective on live theatre inspires me in this respect also. He says that what is magical in live performance is like a wild animal, something timid and cautious and untameable. If you’re building a performance you have two choices: you can either kill the animal, stuff it and put it on the stage each night or you can build the conditions which might encourage the wild animal to show up. The former choice guarantees you a facsimile of the animal that appears where and when you planned. But it also guarantees that the animal is dead. The latter is a risk, since you can’t predict if the animal will come or how it will perform. But how much more magical is the work when animal in its unpredictable liveness comes?

Obviously the latter choice is what I aspire to. And there is a considerable amount of choreography of different kinds that goes in to building the conditions that would welcome and encourage the appearance of the wild animal. But it’s not a choreography that can guarantee outcomes. And that requires me and everyone involved the work to be comfortable with the vulnerability of no guarantees.

Philip in Butterflies and Bones. Photo Stephen Wright

Philip in Butterflies and Bones. Photo Stephen Wright

On Sunday, when we performed Butterflies and Bones, news had broken of the shootings in Orlando where a gunman targeted people in an LGBTQ club. Seeing Philip dance his collapsing bones solo to the sound of gunshots, suddenly amplified and underlined a continuity between Casement, the precariousness of certain lives and the revolutionary defiance of dancing those lives in vigour, pleasure and fun. I wish the tragedy hadn’t made that continuity so painfully visible, but I’m grateful that we could continue to dance our insistence that all kinds of queer lives are viable and deserve respect.


Even more powerfully, at a vigil for the Orlando victims on Old Compton Street, London next evening, a trio of dancers brought their vogueing to the event:

JAY JAY: Vogue is a dance outlet that comes from the ballroom scene, and within the ballroom scene there’s many categories, but it was for the queer people of color, black, Latino, et cetera, to come together in this world — it was for queer people of color to create this feel of a ball. A place where everyone feels comfortable, a place where there’s no judgement. [Yesterday], I called everyone and was like, “let’s vogue down!” — because there’s so much upset and sadness and that is happening, and voguing is uplifting. It’s an outlet for pain.

D’RELLE: I think why it was so important to me was because I was in Florida only a week ago, and left my friends out there. We needed to do something to show our support and solidarity because although it was in Orlando, it could happen anywhere. I called Jay Jay and we both agreed we need to go down there and vogue. Why vogue? Vogue — like Pulse — was for the black and Latino gay community, and is an expression of strength, freedom, and unity.

JAY JAY: Vogue always brings people together, no matter if you can vogue or you can’t vogue, you always love it, you always find some kind of love for it. People come together as one community, and they forget about all the negatives. That’s what voguing does, and that’s why we brought it to Soho — it was such a sad day in the beginning, and we wanted it to not just be sadness and pain. It is sad, it is painful to see this, it’s painful to understand it. But we need to come together and empower.

Matthew, Bernadette, Theo, Mikel, Liv and Philip in Butterflies and Bones. Photo Stephen Wright

Matthew, Bernadette, Theo, Mikel, Liv and Philip in Butterflies and Bones. Photo Stephen Wright

July 02, 2016

Premiere of Butterflies and Bones

The Arts Council of Ireland hosted a reception before the opening of Butterflies and Bones and its director, Orlaith McBride gave a speech which makes clear the Arts Council’s understanding about what matters in The Casement Project.  Such an understanding is very encouraging for an artist and not something that can always be taken for granted.

Orlaith McBride, Director of Arts Council of Ireland and Fearghus

Orlaith McBride, Director of Arts Council of Ireland and Fearghus

“Ladies and gentlemen,

Tonight is it my great pleasure to welcome you to The Place for the performance of Butterflies and Bones, part of The Casement Project and one of Open Call commissions comprising Art:2016, the Arts Council’s programme for Ireland 2016.

Fifty years ago when Roger Casement was accorded the honour of a state funeral and reinterred in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, it seemed justice had been done. On that cold March day, snow lay on the ground and the tall cloaked figure of President de Valera paid his homage in saying that thenceforth “his name would be honoured, not merely here, but by oppressed peoples everywhere”.

This performance is his exhumation.

Matthew Morris, Philip Connaughton, Liv O'Donoghue, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Bernadette Iglich, Mikel Aristegui, Theo Clinkard

Matthew Morris, Philip Connaughton, Liv O’Donoghue, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Bernadette Iglich, Mikel Aristegui, Theo Clinkard

Roger Casement was a knight of the realm, a diplomat who was once hanged and buried in Pentonville Gaol as a traitor and reburied in Glasnevin Cemetery as a patriot.

He is exhumed tonight, as flesh and blood and an Irishman who was gay in dance; the most physical and the most ephemeral of arts forms.

In being buried in Pentonville he was condemned as a black traitor. Fifty years later, lying in state in Arbour Hill, accorded a solemn requiem at the Pro Cathedral, escorted by all the honours of the state to his resting place at Glasnevin, he was painted as a white knight, an Irish hero. But those honours were a burying alive of the real man.

Roger Casement was denied his full identity. In Glasnevin he is still in exile from his beloved Antrim, which he wanted to be his last resting place. These successive internments, the posthumous exiling’s from his own place and from his own self, are addressed beautifully in Butterflies and Bones.


Alma Kelliher, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Ciaran O'Melia

Alma Kelliher, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Ciaran O’Melia

Fearghus Ó Conchúir dances with the queer body of British knight, Irish rebel and international humanitarian Roger Casement. He imagines a national body that welcomes the stranger from beyond the border, as well as the one already inside. His choreography of bodies and ideas takes place across multiple boundaries, including national boundaries and boundaries of many forms to encompass a stage performance, a celebratory festival of dance, a short film, an academic symposium and a series of participatory events to address the legacy of 1916.

Dance as an art form and Fearghus Ó Conchúir as a choreographic talent are uniquely able to express the full truth of who Roger Casement was. The disinterment of his reputation from his physical self, is at last now addressed. In dance he is again flesh and blood.

In London, the city where Casement’s last stage were the gallows, on-stage tonight in The Place a fuller comprehension of this remarkable man, will be danced. His physicality will be resurrected. The physical sweat of the male body will remake him.

Butterflies and Bones is Fearghus Ó Conchúir’s work as choreographer. It is also a collaboration with Project Arts Centre as producer and with Dance Ireland as a key partner.

The Casement Project team: Annette Nugent, Kate O'Sullivan, Lian Bell and Cian O'Brien

The Casement Project team: Annette Nugent, Kate O’Sullivan, Lian Bell and Cian O’Brien

Tonight, in Butterflies and Bones we are making good on de Valera’s promise to Casement that “his name would be honoured”. It is an irony of Irish history that his execution in 1916 and his re-internment in 1966, were both forms of oppression. It is in art, the ultimate seeker and seer of truth, that we see the deposition of the true man. In death his body was stilled. In dance his body is risen and re-found.

Thank you.”

Barbara Culinane, Deputy Ambassador Embassy of Ireland, London and Cian O'Brien, Artistic Director, Project Arts Centre

Barbara Culinane, Deputy Ambassador Embassy of Ireland, London and Cian O’Brien, Artistic Director, Project Arts Centre

Ciaran Smyth, Programme Manager Commemorations and Showcases, Culture Ireland, Fearghus  and Mary McCarthy, Chair, Culture Ireland

Ciaran Smyth, Programme Manager Commemorations and Showcases, Culture Ireland, Fearghus and Mary McCarthy, Chair, Culture Ireland

Sud Basu, Producer, 14-18Now, Fearghus and Jenny Waldman, Director 14-18Now

Sud Basu, Producer, 14-18Now, Fearghus and Jenny Waldman, Director 14-18Now

June 17, 2016

Jeffrey Dudgeon’s lecture for Hospitable Bodies: The Casement Symposium

Jeffrey Dudgeon (photo Pari Naderi)

Jeffrey Dudgeon (photo Pari Naderi)


Roger Casement in 1916

Friday 3 June 2016

British Library

Jeffrey Dudgeon


I am opening today’s session and have therefore to give you a crash course in the Casement diary controversy, and indicate where the ‘Hospitable Bodies’ are buried.

If I offend I apologise. The clue is in our title, but any offence taken may be of an unexpected kind.

I have to caution, there is an Irish view and a British view of Casement, contemporary and modern, as well as a gay and an Ulster one.

The contemporary British one was that the country was at war; Casement was a former diplomat and thus a traitor, also ‘a moral degenerate addicted to unmentionable practices,’ as the top Home Office lawyer, Sir Ernley Blackwell, told the Cabinet.

Those points would not be made now in London. Indeed there has been a recent call in the Irish Independent by Martina Devlin for Britain to apologise for its actions and attitudes, a demand which may gather pace and come to the capital.

The popular Irish view today is that Casement is a humanitarian hero brought down by British securocrats and homophobes.

A cheerful variation of this, common to most Irish writers, artists and commentators, is: Yes he was gay. Yes he wrote the diaries. Ireland can take it. This is the Ireland of the Equal Marriage referendum. Now move on.

The older Irish view, when it was declared (and leaders like Eamon de Valera advised people to keep clear of the subject) was that Casement was an Irish patriot and thus could not be a pervert, while the British had plainly used forged diaries to ruin his reputation.

Today, for that Irish minority, the diaries are still forged. But they no longer argue that they portray the author as a homosexual, rather, now, a paedophile. And for the same reason, Casement, the Irish revolutionary, who became a Catholic on the morning of his execution could not have written them or be that author.

Those who believed in forgery saw the British as devils incarnate while the charge of homosexuality was without parallel, in their view, being something utterly indecent and immoral. Casement, to many, took on the aura of a martyr saint, almost because of the accusation. That view lives on, in different forms, today.

This does create the danger, if the forgery theorists are proven wrong, that they have called their hero the worst thing in today’s world – a paedophile, someone who groomed boys.

Anti-revisionists who hold to the separatist position of Casement (and his colleagues in the Easter Rising) will not move on. Cannot move on. And they are gathering strength, as we speak – not unrelated to the centenary celebrations. Many are out of the US.

I quote here a description of me by Angus Mitchell, my publishing rival and the primary exponent of the forgery theory, to indicate the depth of his belief and the level of disagreement: “Jeff Dudgeon uses the Black Diaries to update the queer geographies of Ulster and to re-imagine Northern Protestant nationalism as some high camp drama driven by a cabal of queer crusaders.”

Casement is for many the key figure who wrote and articulated the anti-imperialist position, alongside Connolly – and they both acted it out, unto death. It is coherent and can convince. The First World War was such an unmitigated disaster for millions that the actions of one militarist are rarely worse than another’s.

But Casement had actually come to appreciate German imperialism. As I wrote: “He openly expressed an appreciation for Germany; one ironically shared by some of his Ulster opponents – for the same and other reasons. They all viewed united Germany as a fresh power untainted by cynicism or a long history. The problem, unrecognised by Casement, was that a rapidly developing power is only able to expand its frontiers through a belief in its own virtues and superiority. Else why bother. And new world powers without a history, and worse, untouched by experience, once in an expansionist mode, are not going to operate a humanitarian regime.”

The view on Casement seems to be cleanly and neatly split between the state and the cultural.
President Higgins, as he can, however came closest to breaking official ranks at Banna Strand last April by pointing out he landed to stop the Rising, along with Daniel Julien Bailey (or Beverley) who is no longer being written out of the history. His later story like those of John McGoey and Adler Christensen is one I deal with in my second edition.

Casement was also Anglophobic, which is less agreeable. As happens with the British left, unwisely, too many hate their own country much more than they love the working class. Casement hated his. Indeed he switched nationality which is at least honest.

Foolishly, anti-revisionist historians hold to the conspiracy theories around the diaries and are thus doomed to political disappointment because forgery is not a credible option. They rely too on the Irish forgetting, or failing to realise they (like the British) have interests, and must make messy compromises.

Angus Mitchell crosses over with his most recent remarks: The conjured-up “Black Diaries replace Casement’s clear, accusatory voice with ambiguity, exaggeration, innuendo and plenty of casual sex.”

The gay view would not be that Casement was an icon, or necessarily a hero, but that he was one of us, whose sexuality brought him to the gallows.

(I would demur, in so far as Casement was doomed to die – unless and until London’s mood changed, as it did by late 1916. Remember the Battle of the Somme was in July a few weeks before the execution, with thousands of Ulster Irish dead.)

He was however one of us, even if he showed no interest in trying to change the world, where homosexuals or lesbians were concerned.

It is not true as Angus Mitchell says in his recent GCN ‘Black Stain’ article[1] that his recognition as an “advocate of human rights is dwarfed by those who claim him predominantly as a sexual liberator”. In contrast, and I quote one, Tina O’Toole, some “queer scholars see his sexual identity as intrinsic to his humanitarian impulse.”

Casement lived a gay life to the full. It is not yet a crime to put the sex back into homosexual, even though some have accused me of prurience, because I, not only published the more expansive and erotic 1911 diary, but had the temerity to explain some of the sexual aspects. (It had been suppressed until 2002, and mine remains the only version.) The sceptics miss the human side of people, and don’t credit the interesting, often contradictory aspects, of lives lived.

The Ulster Protestant, or Unionist, view would, as always, be, both unyielding and, as it has to be, conservative: it is an existential struggle about survival. Casement threatened that survival and still does. Ethnic disputes are never resolved but can be subsumed, as those in Ireland are being now. For how long remains an open question.

Unionists however will not warm to Casement, even as a humanitarian. They will ploddingly remind you that the Foreign Office commissioned both of Casement’s reports on rubber slavery in the Congo and along the Amazon in Peru where it was more vicious and indeed approached genocide.

History will be written from these varying points of view but there is already a synthesis or majority view, one that will drive the future.

I say that whosoever gets the facts right and marshals the evidence, as opposed to making assertions, or simply lawyering, as so many diary deniers do, will produce the best and the most convincing history.

Can any history be objective? I have tried to be honest, and fair, and reasonable. But conspiracy theory and lawyering are outwith acceptable historiography. The verdict of history is not to be likened to judgments in a court of law. Nothing will ever be so absolute but one can sift the evidence and make reasonable deductions.

As Ulster Unionists are the most unloved and disrespected community in the West, or perhaps the second, except by a kindly section of southern Irish society, what I say will not make us any more loved or convince many nationalists, but I can live with that badge of honour.

Are Unionists ever sexy? Are they just gloomy, backward, and with no culture – without hope and without a future?

I think first of my hero Harford Montgomery Hyde, author of that unequalled history of homosexuality in these islands, ‘The Other Love’. An Ulster Unionist MP in the 1950s (for North Belfast) who majored in the House of Commons on homosexual law reform – when hardly any dared – and on Oscar Wilde and Roger Casement.

By the way, two of the three gays on Belfast City Council are Unionists. Things advance even if Northern Ireland is a little behind, closer in proportion to the 40% in the south who voted against gay marriage. But if London insists on devolution, its advocates must accept that the locals have the right not to be progressive, in their terms. At least, I and others have ensured we will never go backwards.

Who knew Casement was gay, and I use that word carefully. He was living in an era when there was no word to describe what his state of being, his sexual orientation was? I have reasonably indicated – but the evidence is slim – that Sidney Parry, Alice Stopford Green, George Gavan Duffy knew, and probably his cousin Gertrude Parry (at least several playwrights have written accordingly).

To those who would argue that there is little or no eyewitness evidence of Casement’s homosexual activities, I quote the remark made to me on the steps of the Royal Irish Academy at the 2000 symposium, “When I came out, no one was more surprised than my wife.”

And to those who accept the diaries as genuine but cannot credit the extent of the sexual content, I can only point to what was said to me last night at the Irish Embassy reception by a prominent lawyer. “Only 300 yards from here, one night in Hyde Park, as a young man I was arrested and taken to court doing what Casement did, and as often.”

Casement never defined his status on the three occasions in his diaries that he remarked on the subject. Only the phase “terrible disease” was written in relation to the suicide of popular General Hector Macdonald because of his activities with Portuguese boys on a train in Ceylon.

‘Disease’ was a term used by reformers in the progressive medicalisation phase to get away from the criminal (bugger) and religious (sodomite) phrasing. The word homosexual which was coined in the mid-19th century only entered standard and official use between the wars.

Yet his diaries are the most concentrated and frank, if terse, exposition of a gay male lifestyle ever put on paper before the 1920s. As such, they are a social document of great interest, particularly to other gay men who come into the world without a history. The only historical record of our lives before then was the criminal record.

Why are the diaries authentic? Firstly because they give you that impression. They look real. They almost smell real over their 1,000 daily entries. And the more you know Roger Casement, the more authentic they obviously are, unless you are a career nitpicker or a republican lawyer.

The Irish author, Frank O’Connor, wrote of Casement that “the man was a maniac for scribbling.” Another Casement biographer, Roger Sawyer, noted his “compulsion” to write, an urge that seems to have been at least as strong as his sexual desires: “He was capable of writing no fewer than three versions of the same day’s events, working at his largely self-imposed task long into the night, and into the early hours of the following day.”

That is what the diaries tell, those four that remain due to falling into London’s hand after his capture. The others were destroyed, along with some political and most of Casement’s personal correspondence in 1915. They were stored in three cases at the house of FJ Bigger. George Gavan Duffy, later his solicitor at his 1916 trial, and Art O’Brien being asked to do the needful as I have recently discovered.

I mention here a recent article by Paul Hyde in Breac, a Notre Dame University interweb publication which lists the 20 unanswered questions that he says have the diaries failing the test of authenticity: the first three being how, when, and by whom were they found – a Mr WP Germain of Ebury Street brought them into Scotland Yard on 25 April 1916. If Mr Hyde had read my book he would find his questions answered, but I know they would not satisfy him.

That 700-page book with all the diaries, except the German one, was published in 2002; the second paperback and Kindle edition came out this centenary year. The German Diary is presently in production.

I have to quote from the playwright Arnold Thomas Fanning in the Irish Times in April: “This extraordinary book is a minute dissection and decoding of the Black Diaries, and the fullest and most thorough exploration of Casement’s private life as a gay man. As such, it is essential reading to get the full picture of who Casement was and how he thought.”

I don’t complain though I will mention it. I am excluded, most recently from the 2013 Tralee conference proceedings in Breac and those published after the 2000 Royal Irish Academy Symposium. In both conferences where I spoke, my submitted contribution was not printed. They were wordlessly omitted. Angus Mitchell however has monopolised certain ‘national’ outlets and that’s to be expected. Yet he attacks the academic historic community feeling he has not been admitted to it. Nor can he be, probably, as he uses different, post-modern, techniques.

People ask me innocently how did I come to Casement? I read the Black Diaries in the 1970s having bought Singleton Gates’s book, but only after the earlier works by René MacColl and Brian Inglis. I innocently thought at that time the authenticity debate was over but being gay and an avid reader on the subject from the 1960s, be it James Baldwin or John Rechy I was fascinated by this gay Irishman and of course the controversy attracted.

When the two disputing versions of the 1910 diary, by Roger Sawyer and Angus Mitchell, were published in 1997 my interest was re-whetted and has been ever since. This was the first fightback by the forgery school for 40 years. Angus Mitchell has been the motor since.

There are many similarities between myself and Casement which probably drew me to the subject, but there are, and certainly came to be, huge differences.

We are both Ulster Protestants – or was he? He was born in Dublin but brought up in London, in difficult, déclassé, circumstances (e.g. his court appearance for theft in London as a child), orphaned and sent to Ballymena at the age of 12 – to the heartland of the Ulster Scots Presbyterians. (Some were liberals but that was a dying tradition).

It must have been seriously difficult for a gay, teenager, a blow-in, an Anglican with an English accent, but his Ballymena teachers were the best, even if he pretended otherwise and he excelled academically. His better-off relatives however warred over his future and did not club together to pay for a university education. He then went to his uncle in Liverpool, to the shipping trade, and ultimately the consular service.

We were both radicals from something of a parental influence, and probably had a number of the resentments common to many LGBT people.

We were both therefore outsiders and campaigners. He was assiduous, industrious and dogged, far beyond my mode. And braver.

I was a political gay, where he was a sexual gay, he being gay in deed but not in words.

Neither of us are guilty Prods, as he went over entirely to separatism having been a teenage Parnellite. I returned early to my ethnicity as a war enveloped my city and life. One he had a part in starting. I am not a hater of the English, far from it.

So I am uniquely qualified to talk about Casement, and for those same reasons can be written off as prejudiced.

Am I able to be objective given my two positions of Unionist and gay, or is that too much for antagonists? If they can’t get me on one, then the other will do. But I can tell when and where the Emperor is naked or at least in threadbare clothes. I can say the unsayable. I am also instinctively antagonistic to conspiracy theories, be they relating to JFK, Kincora or Casement.

However the dispute or controversy can never end as it comes down eventually to belief. This is welcome news for my heirs as royalties from my 2nd and Kindle editions will continue to accrue, long after I’m gone.

Angus Mitchell, again in his Black Stain article in GCN, calls for “the question of Casement’s sexuality to be decoupled from the textual” adding, “This requires hard and rigorous questions concerning the Black Diaries to be asked, and answered, about provenance, motive and probability. It also requires us to engage with the murky aspects of the ‘Dark State’ and the long conflict in both Britain and Ireland against republicanism.”

 Partition is the ghost at the feast, the unmentioned subject in Casement discussions. His failure in that department was boundless yet goes undiscussed. But Angus Mitchell, despite the above will not engage on that terrain, any more than the diary deniers will fight on the facts.

Jeffrey Dudgeon, Caitriona Crowe and Gerry Kearns (Photo Pari Naderi)

Jeffrey Dudgeon, Caitriona Crowe and Gerry Kearns (Photo Pari Naderi)


[1] Gay Community News (GCN), pp. 20-22, Dublin March 2016. http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk//launch.aspx?eid=91c83c21-2e2c-44f6-ba5a-f77a3f13afaf

June 13, 2016

Gerard Howlin in The Irish Examiner on The Casement Project and the Arts in Ireland

13 June, 2016

Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Gerard Howlin
Art is served up piecemeal at home; but more generously abroad for special occasions, writes Gerard Howlin.


Roger Casement in the dock in May 1916. Art allows us build a facade of history in the contest for who owns memory.
Next Saturday, London will be alive with cries of God Save the Queen as the longest-reigning British monarch celebrates her official birthday. She was born on April 21, but monarchs may have two birthdays as they have two bodies — a body politic and a body natural. The body natural dies, but the body politic is inviolable, hence the cry at the death of the monarch of ‘the King is dead, long live the King’. Political succession passes seamlessly, though the natural bodies die.

Ireland will be on a London stage next Saturday night as her majesty’s realms are en fête. The bodies, natural and politic, of Roger Casement will be exhumed in The Place, the hub of contemporary dance in London, by Irish choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir. The premier of the dance performance Butterflies and Bones is part of the Casement Project, one of the Arts Council’s 16 commissions for 2016. The phenomenally political nature of Casement’s own body, successively hanged in Pentonville Gaol in 1916 and reinterred amidst the pomp of a State funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery in 1966, was in effect a double denial. Contesting narratives required his body, first on the gallows and then on a catafalque provided by the State, be dishonoured in different ways. In London, his homosexual body was blackguarded. Fifty years later in Dublin it was whitewashed. It is not just the bodies of kings that are contested; the politicisation of the body is a recurring Irish motif.

Butterflies and Bones is the deposition of Casement’s natural body, from the body politic, first one state and then another created for him. Through dance, in sweat and sinew, a sense of the true man will be recomposed. There is a limit to words and dance as an art form powerfully surpasses it. As Ó Conchúir remarked, “we know through Casement that where bodies go and what they do is political”. That was true of his journey as a champion of human rights in the Congo more than 100 years ago.

Roger Casement
It is true in the Mediterranean today. The State’s naval vessels continue work once the preserve of Irish foreign missionaries. They bring relief to the distressed there, ease our conscience here, where conspicuously we are unforthcoming in making room for outsiders. Charity is best performed away from home. Bodies are best washed up elsewhere.

Casement, diplomat, knight, and patriot was always, perhaps especially, an outsider among the powerful. The treatment of his physical body twice over is evidence of that. It is artists again who seek a unifying truth about the reality of our bodily lives. Reputations are enacted or written but the body, if it occasionally conforms when clothed, is frequently unamenable to the values posited on to it, from outside our natural life-force.

Tomorrow morning in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre the National Campaign for the Arts hosts What Next? a public meeting for the arts community. Shunted and side-lined, artists in Ireland are at the bottom of the European League for Government investment in Culture and the Arts. The Council of Europe data shows that in 2012 Ireland spent just 0.11% of GDP on the Arts and Culture, compared to a European average of 0.6% of GDP. What that means is misery among an arts community who comprise some of the most extraordinarily talented, committed people in the country.

One hundred years after the Rising, for his part in which Casement was hanged, it means a republic where encounters with art are doled out piecemeal at home, but occasionally served up more generously for special occasions abroad. It is truly good that Irish artists are occasionally supported in bringing their work abroad. It is a continuum and a counter point to celebration in London next weekend that, in dance, Casement is recused from State memorialising. But it is the State that routinely, cynically exploits artists to present a hinterland of culture, where little exists except commodification.

The commodification of art and of dead bodies alike play their part in desensitising our imagination, the one place we have, to live freely beyond boundaries.

It is not a coincidence that Project Arts Centre is an essential support, as producer, for next Saturday’s production. Founded 50 years ago in 1966, the year of Casement’s State funeral, it was a movement of imagination, challenging the lack of it. Its first outing included a reading by Edna O’Brien of her banned book The Country Girls. The separation of the body politic from the body natural is a continuing theme. The enactment of art, the nurture of artists, the years of trial and experiment by a man from the Ring Gaeltacht like Ó Conchúir and the talented dancers who perform his work, is a synthesis of many talents and arts forms besides their own. It is a cultural ecosystem which in Ireland is parched to the point of exhaustion. The recent diminution of the arts portfolio in government, is further demoralisation, yet again.

The interdependence and the fragility of the ecosystem supporting Irish artists is well exampled by Butterflies and Bones. Besides Project’s support, Dance Ireland has played an essential nurturing role for dance over 30 years, bringing it from the edge of cultural awareness as an art form, to the centre of the state’s programme of commemoration. It, too, is an essential support for Ó Conchúir’s work this weekend. The bigger picture is that essential arts resource organisations such as Dance Ireland are key to fostering artists and providing essential supports without which there will be ever fewer landmark events to celebrate. Lack of support for the arts is an impoverishment of the Irish imagination. It is the dumbing down that enables conniving silences be sustained. People who care about stopping that will be in Project tomorrow.

The metaphorical whitewashing of Casement’s body in plain sight of hundreds of thousands of people in 1966 repeated in pomp his burial in quicklime in 1916. Last Friday in the British Library a symposium, part of the same Casement project, heard an account of his exhumation written by Seán Ronan a department of Foreign Affairs official. It began at 4.50am and was only finished by noon.

Bits of bones were picked from wet soil. Memorialising is a fetish for honouring what has been dishonoured after the event.

There is an Irish tradition of relics. They were carefully stratified, into first class, being parts of the body; second class is an item used on the body; and third class, being anything touched by the revered person concerned. Casement’s belongings were destroyed, so unlike the scapulars of saints, relics could not proliferate. From the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa to the reburial of Kevin Barry in 2001 and of Thomas Kent in 2015 the political liturgy of the dead, is a recurring motif of our memorialising. Uniquely, it is art that allows us a way through the façade of history in the contest for who owns memory.

June 07, 2016

Our new trailer for Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project

We have a new trailer.

Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project has its world premiere this weekend at The Place, London.  I’ve invited lots of people to see the work as it develops but I also want to save some gorgeous surprises for the performance itself.  So it was a hard task we set José Miguel Jimenez to make this short trailer.  He’s done a great job in sharing glimpses of the work.

May 25, 2016

Colm Tóibín on Roger Casement

The Casement Project Rehearsals Photo by Ste Murray 5

I’ve been thinking about people who might be interested in the biography of Roger Casement.  As I’ve tried to make clear, Butterflies and Bones which we premiere next week in London is an imaginative response to the life and after-life of Roger Casement.   It draws on his complex and queer history for contemporary and future ends. We’re not presenting a Casement biographical-dance. But I realise that there are many people with an interest in that biography and so I asked Colm Tóibín, who’s written a great deal about Casement, if we could share some of his economically-written and imaginatively stimulating account of Casement’s life. I’ve selected a review he wrote in the London Review of Books in 1997 because it conveys a lot in a short and elegant space. Elsewhere Tóibín suggests that ‘From the very beginning, anyone who has written about [Casement] has brought their own prejudices or personal histories to bear on the story.’ I could add that those who dance about Casement are probably doing the same thing.

Colm Toibin Pic: Mark Condren June 2006

Colm Toibin
Pic: Mark Condren
June 2006

With permission of the author, an extract from Colm Tóibín’s review of Roger Casement’s Diaries. 1910 edited by Roger Sawyer and The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement edited by Angus Mitchell, which appeared in the London Review of Books, 2 October 1997

A Whale of a Time

Jessie Conrad [wife of novelist, Joseph Conrad] remembered his visit:

Sir Roger Casement, a fanatical Irish protestant, came to see us, remaining some two days our guest. He was a very handsome man with a thick, dark beard and piercing, restless eyes. His personality impressed me greatly. It was about the time when he was interested in bringing to light certain atrocities which were taking place in the Belgian Congo. Who could foresee his own terrible fate during the war as he stood in our drawing room passionately denouncing the cruelties he had seen?

Conrad’s biographer Frederick Karl is unsure when this visit took place, but if we are to believe Casement’s Black Diary – and Angus Mitchell, who has edited The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, thinks that we should not – it took place on 3 January 1904 and lasted only one day.

Joseph Conrad had met Casement first in 1889 or 1890 in the Congo, when Casement was working for the Congo Railway Company. ‘For some three weeks,’ Conrad wrote,

he lived in the same room in the Matadi Station of the Belgian Société du Haut-Congo. He was rather reticent as to the exact character of his connection with it; but the work he was busy about then was recruiting labour. He knew the coast languages well. I went with him several times on short expeditions to hold ‘palavers’ with neighbouring village chiefs. The object of them was recruiting porters for the Company’s caravans from Matadi to Leopoldville – or rather to Kinchassa (on Stanley Pool). Then I went up into the interior to take up my command of the stern-wheeler ‘Roi des Belges’ and he, apparently, remained on the coast.

The visit which was remembered by Jessie Conrad had a purpose. Casement had read Heart of Darkness and he wanted Conrad to support him in the case he was making against atrocities in the Congo. ‘I am glad you read the Heart of D., tho’ of course it’s an awful fudge,’ Conrad had written to him. Conrad had based Heart of Darkness on his impressions – he had very little hard, detailed evidence – but, in any case, he did not want to get involved. He wrote to his friend R.B. Cunninghame Graham:

He is a Protestant Irishman, pious too. But so was Pizarro. For the rest I can assure you that he is a limpid personality. There is a touch of the conquistador in him too; for I have seen him start off into an unspeakable wilderness swinging a crookhandled stick for all weapon with two bull-dogs, Paddy (white) and Biddy (brindle) at his heels and a Loanda boy carrying a bundle for all company. A few months afterwards it so happened that I saw him come out again, a little leaner, a little browner, with his stick, dogs and Loanda boy, and quietly serene as though he had been for a stroll in the park. He … lately seems to have been sent to the Congo on some sort of mission by the British government. I always thought some particle of Las Casas’ soul had found refuge in his indomitable body … I would help him but it is not in me. I am only a wretched novelist inventing wretched stories, and not even up to that miserable game … He could tell you things! Things I have tried to forget, things I never did know. He had as many years of Africa as I had months – almost

After Casement’s arrest in 1916, Conrad wrote to John Quinn in New York:

We never talked politics … He was a good companion: but already in Africa I judged that he was a man, properly speaking, of no mind at all. I don’t mean stupid. I mean that he was all emotion. By emotional force (Congo report, Putumayo etc) he made his way, and sheer emotionalism has undone him. A creature of sheer temperament – a truly tragic personality: all but the greatness of which he had not a trace. Only vanity. But in the Congo it was not visible yet.

Roger Casement was born in Ireland in 1864, of a prosperous Protestant family. He was brought up mainly in Northern Ireland. At the age of 20 he went to Africa, where he worked with various commercial interests in the Congo and then in what later became Nigeria. Subsequently, he found employment with the British Consular Service and in 1900 returned to the Congo, part of which was under the direct control of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. He began to investigate allegations of brutality in the region; his work was thorough and conscientious, and he was personally responsible for the decision of the Foreign Office to undertake a serious investigation of what was happening in the Congo.

In 1906 Casement began to work in the British Consular Service in South America: in Santos, Rio de Janeiro and then in Pará at the mouth of the Amazon. In 1910 he investigated allegations of atrocities against the Amazon Indians. He was knighted for his work. By the time he resigned from the Consular Service in 1913, he had become a fervent Irish nationalist; and on his return to Ireland he was made treasurer of the Irish Volunteers. He was a glittering prize for the new movement: a Protestant, a knight, an internationally-known humanitarian and anti-imperialist. He worked for the Irish cause in the United States and Germany, raising funds in the United States and trying to start an Irish Brigade with prisoners of war in Germany. He landed from Germany, after much adventure, on the coast of county Kerry on Good Friday 1916 in a German submarine, but the guns which were to come as well failed to arrive. He was captured and taken to London, where he was charged with treason. He was found guilty. His diaries, in particular his ‘Black’ Diaries – which consisted of diaries for 1903, 1910, 1911 and a ledger for 1911, and gave accounts of homosexual encounters in Africa and South America – were used to prevent a reprieve. He was hanged. After his death, there was great controversy about the diaries. Were they forged? Were they real? How could an Irish patriot be homosexual? Many books have been published on the subject. These two new books deal with Casement’s legacy: one of them believes that the diaries are genuine, the other does not.

Casement’s bones, or what was left of them – he had been buried without a coffin in quicklime – were returned to Ireland by Harold Wilson’s government in February 1965. The first request had been made to Ramsay MacDonald’s government sometime between 1929 and 1931. This was refused, as were de Valera’s requests to Stanley Baldwin and Churchill, and Sean Lemass’s request to Harold Macmillan. In her account of the discussions between the two governments about Casement’s body, and indeed Casement’s diaries, in the spring 1996 edition of Irish Archives, from which this information was taken, Deirdre McMahon writes: ‘Exasperated British ministers and officials were apt to attribute malice to de Valera’s concern for Casement: but in fact the controversy revealed the cultural chasm in Irish and British attitudes to death. What to the Irish was respect for the dead, to the British was a distasteful and morbid obsession.’

The exhumation took place after dark in Pentonville Prison: Casement had not been buried, as had been believed, beside Dr Crippen, according to the documents which the British officials had, but between two men called Kuhn and Robinson. The lower jaw, eight ribs, several vertebrae, arm bones, shoulder bones, a number of smaller bones and the skull, virtually intact and still covered with bits of the shroud, were found and put into a coffin. The bones belonged to a man of exceptional height – Casement was tall. The British paid for the coffin. (‘It was a gesture which they felt they should make and were glad to make,’ an Irish official said.) There was a state funeral in Dublin. The coffin was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery beside others who had fought and suffered for the cause of Ireland: Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Paddy Dignam.

Although there is a large collection of Casement documents in the National Library in Dublin (and other items which he brought back from Africa and South America – including costumes and a butterfly collection – in the National Museum and the Natural History Museum), his diaries remain in England. They were seen by Michael Collins and Eamon Duggan during the 1921 Treaty negotiations. In the early Thirties Duggan wrote:

Michael Collins and I saw the Casement Diary by arrangement with Lord Birkenhead. We read it. I did not know Casement’s handwriting. Collins did. He said it was his. The diary was in two parts – bound volumes – repeating ad nauseam details of sex perversion – of the personal appearance and beauty of native boys – with special reference to a certain portion of their anatomy. It was disgusting.

De Valera was careful not to become involved in the controversy about the diaries which erupted at regular intervals during his time in office, and he refused to ask the British Government to allow his representative to check their authenticity. When the diaries were published in Paris and New York in 1959, a British official asked a diplomat at the Irish Embassy in London what the reaction in Ireland would be to the release of the diaries, adding that ‘in view of the present attitude in Britain to homosexuality, few people now in this country would attach much importance to Casement’s failings in this respect.’ The Irish diplomat had to reveal that here perhaps was another cultural chasm between Ireland and Britain: ‘Opinion in Ireland had not moved so far and would probably not be much different from what it was in this country when Casement was on trial.’

When Sean Lemass came to power in 1959, he was anxious to have the diaries as well as the body, and the Irish Cabinet agreed that the diaries should be given to the Irish Government, with no copy being kept by the British, but Maurice Moynihan, secretary to the Government and secretary to the Department of the Taoiseach, was against this. Did the Government intend to keep them, to burn them, to publish them? he asked. In his opinion, the Irish Government should have nothing to do with them. Lemass eventually agreed with him. On 23 July, R.A. Butler announced that the diaries would be deposited in the Public Record Office in London, where they could be viewed by scholars and historians. Southern Ireland wanted Casement’s bones since they held no secrets and could not speak, but the diaries were, and still are, dynamite, and the English, as we all know, are better at handling that sort of thing.

The Black Diaries first became available in 1959. The Black Diaries: An Account of Roger Casement’s Life and Times, with a Collection of His Diaries and Public Writings, by Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias, published by Grove Press in New York and the Olympia Press in Paris, was an extraordinary book. It included potted histories of Ireland, the Congo and the Putumayo in the Amazon basin, an account of Casement’s life and death, his report on the Congo, his report on the Putumayo, his diary from the Congo in 1903 and his diary from the Putumayo in 1910. The diary entries were placed facing the reports, so that on the left-hand page you got clear, factual statements about brutality, and accounts of Casement’s investigations often laced with his indignation, and on the right-hand page you got cryptic notes, times, money spent, meetings registered, the weather, news, opinions. On 17 April 1903 he noted Sir Hector Macdonald’s suicide in Paris – Macdonald was charged with homosexual activities in Ceylon – and wrote: ‘The reasons given are pitiably sad. The most distressing case this surely of its kind and one that may awake the national mind to saner methods of curing a terrible disease than by criminal legislation.’ On 19 and 30 April Casement made further references to Hector Macdonald’s suicide.

In March in the same diary, as Casement’s ship made various stops on the way to the Congo, there were references to Agostinho, 171⁄2 (‘Agostinho kissed many times,’ on 13 March), to X (‘not shaved, about 21 or 22’), to Pepe (‘17, bought cigarettes’). The very first entry of the diary for 1910, 13 January, Thursday, opened: ‘Gabriel Ramos – X Deep to hilt’ and ended ‘in very deep thrusts’. The next entry simply said: ‘Veldemiro – $20’. On 2 March he was in São Paulo: ‘Breathed – quick enormous push. Loved mightily. To Hilt Deep X.’ By 12 March he was in Buenos Aires: ‘Splendid erections. Ramon 7$ 10” at least. X In.’ By 28 March he was in Belfast: ‘Rode gloriously – splendid steed. Huge – told of many – “Grand”.’ Like many Edwardian men of his class he was, or at least these diaries say that he was, having a whale of a time. The above entries are merely a small sample.

We are asked to believe by those who say that these diaries were not forged that Casement kept two diaries during his long trips to the Congo and the Putumayo: one long and detailed for public consumption, and also for his own later use when he came to write his reports (the White Diaries), the other short and private, less than a hundred and fifty words per day (the Black Diaries).

This seems to me eminently possible. It would also seem probable that there would be odd inconsistencies between the two diaries: different spellings of names – Casement was not good at spelling names; a few items appearing on the wrong day; some items in one diary not being mentioned in the other at all; a different tone. On the Putumayo trip, when Casement’s eyes began to trouble him, he wrote in pencil and his handwriting deteriorated, but this only happened in the White Diary, the Black Diary was written in pen and the writing did not deteriorate. This can be explained, maybe, by the fact that work on the Black Diaries took only a few minutes, whereas work on the White Diaries was a strain. On the other hand, if I were a forger working on the Black Diaries, using the White Diaries for directions, I would have moved into pencil too, and made the handwriting deteriorate. The fact that the inconsistency remained suggests that no forger was involved.

To decide to leave the discrepancy you would have to be a very clever and confident forger; but it is clear that if the Black Diaries were forged, then the forger was very clever indeed – a genius. Because there is not one howler in the Black Diaries, there is no entry which could have been placed there only because a forger absolutely and clearly misunderstood a passage in the White Diaries. Although there are discrepancies which come close to being howlers, there is no moment in the Black Diaries which settles the argument either way.

Basil Thomson, who was the chief of the Special Branch created at Scotland Yard at the beginning of the First World War for the detection of enemy spies, interrogated Casement for three days after his capture. Thomson left five differing accounts of how the diaries – both Black and White – were found. In some of them, the diaries were discovered only after Casement’s capture, but in one account Thomson said that he was in possession of the diaries for some time before that. Casement’s cousin has insisted that Thomson had the diaries 16 months before the trial. But this confusion does not amount to very much, and certainly does not help us to know whether the Black Diaries were forged or not.

How would the idea of Casement as an Edwardian sex tourist have entered the forger’s head? There are some interesting passages in the White Diaries which Thomson had in his possession and could not have forged – were he the forger. Casement wrote with ease in the White Putumayo Diary about ‘the bronzed beautiful limbs of these men’ and ‘soft gentle eyes, a beautiful mouth’, to take just two examples. A forger looking at these innocent remarks could get the idea that this was how you could best stitch Casement up.

A possible forger, then, had the White Diaries to use, so he or she knew where Casement was every day, what he was doing and thinking. The Black Diaries would therefore have been easy to forge. It would have taken patience – there are weeks on end in the 1903 and the 1910 Black Diary where there is no mention of sex (the 1911 Black Diary is, I understand, a different matter, but this has not been published) [the 1911 Black Diaries have since been published in Jeffrey Dudgeon’s Roger Casement: The Black Diaries (2002) and are indeed the most sexually explicit] , and this either convinces us that they are not forged because a forger would have put sex on every page to serve his darker purpose, or that they are, in fact, forged since a good forger would have known the correct balance between sex and context.

Brian Inglis, in his 1973 biography of Casement, did not believe the diaries were forged. ‘The case against the forgery theory remains unshaken,’ he wrote.

No person or persons, in their right mind, would have gone to so much trouble and expense to damn a traitor when a single diary would have sufficed. To ask the forger to fake the other two diaries and the cash register (and if one was forged all of them were) would have been simply to ask for detection, because a single mistake in any of them would have destroyed the whole ugly enterprise. Besides, where could the money have been found? Government servants may sometimes be unscrupulous, but they are always tight-fisted.

The diaries, in any case, black and white, forged or otherwise, were in the hands of Casement’s prosecution team, led by F.E. Smith (later Lord Birkenhead), in the summer of 1916. Smith would have taken a rather personal interest in Casement, having himself been a fervent supporter of the Unionist cause. During the trial, the prosecution gave the defence a copy of a selection of Black Diary entries, wondering if the defence would like to use them as a basis for a Guilty but Insane plea. However, this may have been a manoeuvre on the part of Smith, who wanted the diaries made public in the trial but could not make them public himself. The defence refused the offer.

Casement was found guilty of treason and sentenced to hang.

Sixteen days before his execution, the Cabinet was presented with two memoranda by the legal adviser to the Home Office:

Casement’s diaries and his ledger entries, covering many pages of closely typed matter, show that he has for years been addicted to the grossest sodomitical practices. Of late years he seems to have completed the full cycle of sexual degeneracy and from a pervert has become an invert – a woman or pathic who derives his satisfaction from attracting men and inducing them to use him.

The second memorandum ended: ‘So far as I can judge, it would be far wiser from every point of view to allow the law to take its course and, by judicious means, to use these diaries to prevent Casement attaining martyrdom.’ The obvious implication of the first memorandum was that instead of Casement fucking the Africans and the Amazon Indians they had begun to fuck him. The British Cabinet at the time would have realised that this was not in keeping with the aims of the Empire. In any case, they agreed that he should be hanged.

Basil Thomson and his associates set about showing the diaries to influential people. The King saw them; so did several senior clergymen. American opinion was vital, especially after the shocked and indignant reaction to the executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. (These had happened in May. Casement was hanged on 3 August.) American journalists, including the representative of Associated Press, were shown the diaries. The American Ambassador saw them. They were shown to the Anti-Slavery Society, who sent the Foreign Office a six-point memorandum on the issue, one of which is worth quoting here: ‘It is unthinkable that a man of Casement’s intelligence would under normal circumstances record such grave charges in a form in which they might at any time fall into the hands of his enemies.’ Despite the government campaign to vilify Casement, there was a public commission demanding a reprieve, spearheaded by Arthur Conan Doyle. The signatories included Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, J.G. Frazer, John Galsworthy, Jerome K. Jerome, John Masefield and Beatrice and Sidney Webb. George Bernard Shaw also petitioned for a pardon – in fact, it would be hard to imagine such a campaign without him. In 1937 he wrote to the Irish Press:

The trial occurred at a time when the writings of Sigmund Freud had made psychopathy grotesquely fashionable. Everybody was expected to have a secret history unfit for publication except in the consulting rooms of the psychoanalysts. If it had been announced that among the papers of Queen Victoria a diary had been found revealing that her severe respectability masked the daydreams of a Messalina it would have been received with eager credulity and without the least reprobation by the intelligentsia. It was in that atmosphere innocents like Alfred Noyes and [John] Redmond were shocked, the rest of us were easily credulous: but we associated no general depravity with psychopathic eccentricities, and we were determined not to be put off by it in our efforts to secure a pardon.

The diaries were effective: they prevented a serious campaign for a reprieve; they may have affected the Cabinet decision; they seriously damaged Casement’s reputation and legacy. Now, eighty years later, they beggar belief: how could a forger have gone to so much trouble and made no mistakes? How, on the other hand, could Casement have been so stupid as to have left them to be found? It is easy to imagine the forger at work: the entries are short, it must have been fun burying the sexual adventures in all that boring detail. It is also easy to imagine Casement writing these little entries down, his secret life, his private moments which needed to be preserved somewhere, and then almost wanting to be caught, something in his psyche waving away natural caution.

The British had used forgery against Parnell, trying to implicate him in terrorist acts. And nationalist Ireland believed that this is what they did with Casement.

Afraid they might be beaten

Before the bench of Time,

They turned the trick by forgery

And blackened his good name


Yeats wrote in 1937. And now, it seems, the battle is still going on….



‘A Whale of a Time’, Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books, Vol. 19 No. 19 · 2 October 1997, pp. 24-27


Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project, will be performed at The Place, London,  8pm 11 June, 4pm 12 June.  Book Here





May 17, 2016

Butterflies and Bones: After rehearsals in Dancehouse

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

Each phase of rehearsal has been important, but I knew that this past two weeks would be especially significant. I was confident that we had the material of the piece but I needed to find out its shape, to let its contours reveal itself as we assembled, disassembled and reassembled material and tested it under the influences of music, set and costume.

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

It was essential to have Dance Ireland’s Creation Studio to make that process possible. In the past, I’ve rehearsed in spaces where we needed to clear away our belongings each evening. That necessity discourages bolder scenic experiments that you’d want to leave in place over a rehearsal period. And I loved arriving into the studio on my own early each morning and feeling the world that we were building already in place, waiting for the dancers to inhabit it.

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

One thing that became clear as soon as we started to work with the design elements that Ciaran had brought in to the room was that we would need to continue working with those elements in the final phase of rehearsal that remains for us just before the premiere at The Place next month. Though it’s been inconvenient and an additional expense to find alternative rehearsal space to what had been provided by generously The Place (their space wouldn’t allow us to work with the design elements), I was pleased to be discovering what the piece demanded of us. It was letting us know what its requirements would be and how we would need to respond to them.

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

Similarly, it became clear to me that the piece could have a distinct name now. Butterflies and Bones is a title that Matthew suggested some time ago and which appealed to me immediately. However, I wasn’t sure at the time how the work would grow. By last week, I could see that Butterflies and Bones was ideal, bringing together the shimmer and shade of Casement’s life and of the lives of most people I know. He collected butterflies in the Amazon while documenting the human rights abuses against the local people there. One mind could, maybe had to, find beauty alongside the tragedy.

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

The validity of the new title is an inconvenient realisation. We’ve already gone to print with the existing title of The Casement Project for this stage work and for the most part, we’ll have to stick with it – for the London shows at least. But because I choreograph by enquiry rather than fiat, I’ve had to be patient and trust we’ve built in sufficient flexibility to cope with these later discoveries. It’s also how I work with the performers and creative team:  keeping an open structure in the creation until what is necessary reveals itself, and leaving open to change that which isn’t necessary today.  I sometimes (often?) feel guilty that I don’t have more definitive answers for the performers and for the creative team, that I don’t just say, ‘it’s like this and this and this. Step ball change, Beyoncé, Beyoncé and hold!’. But the not knowing on my part is also what keeps me interested in choreography. I’m learning from the dancers, from the creative team and from the work itself. It confounds my expectations, points out that what I thought would happen isn’t appropriate, and offers delightful compensations alongside the humbling lessons.

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

After rehearsals at The Place, I had two related questions, in response to feedback from people who saw our work-in-progress: what would I tell people about Casement and how much text would be in the work? As someone who wants to use Casement as a way to reflect on contemporary questions of belonging and becoming, I don’t want to make the dance biographical. Having seen Arnold Thomas Fanning’s Mc Kenna’s Fort – an excellent one-man show based on Casement’s life and filled with historical detail – it occurred to me that most people think of historical facts as a list of dates, names and places that can be written down and tabulated. But these facts don’t communicate what the water felt like when Casement swam in Amazon, what a uniform felt like when he accepted a knighthood, what it was to experience the thrill of cruising in Las Palmas, or the sensation of playing billiards with an old friend with whom he hoped to have sex within the hour. These sensations are physical facts that bodies retain and that bodies communicate from one to another. These embodied facts (physical, neurological, endocrinal, muscular, energetic) shape cultures and get passed on from generation to generation. In dancing with this legacy, especially through the articulate, intelligent bodies of these gifted performers, I think we are engaging with our own personal and cultural histories, processing historical facts that are most often neglected in considerations of what counts as History.

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

As for text, in the end there is more of it than I had expected, though it’s not text that defines or explains the movement. It is allusive and associative. It dances. For those that are interested in biography, I can point to the wealth of research that has informed the work and to the symposia engage with Casement in an academic way. The Casement Project is designed to welcome those approaches too.

Photo Ste Murray

Photo Ste Murray

At the end of these two weeks, I can recognise what Butterflies and Bones has become. Thanks to feedback from people who came to see our showing on the final day, I have refinements and clarification to think about, and the final design elements that will add new energies. I’m excited to meet them all.