Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fr Niall and the Casement commemoration

When the contribution by Roger Casement to international human rights is marked by an Open Day at Casement Aerodrome on Wednesday next, it will be a very special occasion for Kilcullen’s Parish Administrator, Fr Niall Mackey, writes Brian Byrne.

Because it was the efforts of his father, Dr Herbert O Mackey, which were largely responsible for the repatriation of Roger Casement's remains to Ireland in 1966.

Casement, a Crown diplomat, became an Irish nationalist and was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London in 1916. The upcoming event at Casement Aerodrome, headquarters of the Irish Air Corps, is a marking of the 100th anniversary of his death.

Dr Mackey was a Dublin dermatologist who became involved in the effort to have Casement's remains brought back to Ireland. From the mid-1950s, he wrote a series of books and pamphlets about the life of the patriot, and was the chairman of the Casement Repatriation Committee. His ‘The Truth about the Forged Diaries’ listed what he believed was evidence of forgery in Casement’s diaries purporting him as a sexual pervert.

“He regularly wrote to newspapers and politicians about Casement’s case, and I have a memory of being sent to post a letter addressed to the Right Honourable Harold Macmillan,” Fr Mackey says. Macmillan was the British premier from 1957-1963.

On 23 February 1965, Casement’s remains were on their way in an Irish plane across the Irish Sea when the fact was announced simultaneously in the UK Parliament and the Dail. They had been secretly exhumed in Pentonville Prison the day before. The repatriation had been assisted by the then prime minister of the UK, Harold Wilson, who believed it would help with improving relations between the Republic and the United Kingdom.

“On the day, my father got a call to come to Baldonnel Aerodrome. There was no explanation. When he got there, he was brought on board the plane to England. It was directed to RAF Northolt, where the coffin with Casement’s remains were put on board.”

Five days afterwards that coffin was driven through the streets of Dublin on a gun carriage, watched by thousands of people, before being buried in Glasnevin Cemetary.

A year later, Dr Mackey spoke at an event in Banna Strand, at the erection of a monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attempted landing of armaments from a German submarine, during which Roger Casement was captured.

A British diplomat and humanitarian activist, Casement had received a knighthood and other honours for his work in human rights investigations in the Congo and Peru. Prior to his execution for treason for his 1916 activities, he was stripped of all of these.

In August 1966, Dr Mackey presented a portrait of Casement to Col William J Keane, OC Irish Air Corps, to hang in the Officers Mess at Casement Aerodrome.

At the Open Day on Wednesday, organised jointly by Irish Aid and the Defence Forces, there will be market stalls, picnic areas, play areas for children, a display of military vehicles, vintage aircraft and rare memorabilia. Military capability displays will be given by members of the Air Corps and Defence Forces.

A programme of exhibitions and talks on Casement, his life and legacy, will take place throughout the day.

(Picture of Roger Casement from National Library of Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons.)