A CASEMENT SOUVENIR

by ehistoryadmin on August 6, 2016

The Kildare Observer  20 May 1916

 

 A CASEMENT SOUVENIR

Dominican’s Delicate Position

The Priest Referred to by the Prisoner

A Story Full of Pathos

 (Special and Exclusive to “Kildare Observer”). 

 “I am Sir Roger Casement, and the only person to whom I revealed my identity was a priest in Tralee, Ireland.”  This is an extract from the evidence given by Inspector Sandycock, of the C.I.D., Scotland Yard, at Bow street, London, on Tuesday.  The Inspector deposed that the statement was made to him by Sir Roger Casement while he was conveying him to Brixton Prison.

            By a stroke of the purest journalistic luck I was afforded the privilege of a chat with the priest in question, the only priest or person in Ireland, apart from the police, with whom Sir Roger Casement had an opportunity of speaking after his arrest in “McKenna’s Fort,” lying between Ardfert and the bay of Ballyheige on the Kerry coast.

The Irish priest who had the unique distinction of speaking confidentially to the man, the incidents of whose life for the last two years would be almost worth a king’s ransom to the British Government, not to speak of the value of an interview to the Press, was none other than Rev. Father Ryan, who up to about three years ago was one of the Dominican Fathers at Newbridge.

I had not the pleasure of Father Ryan’s acquaintance during the period of his association with St. Thomas’ College, Newbridge, and the manner of my introduction was quite commonplace, and gave no indication of providing an interesting story of one of the chief characters in the most momentous period of Irish history.  It happened in this fashion:  I was driving through Newbridge on Thursday with a friend when there emerged from the Chapel grounds a dapper, active-looking young clergyman, who, recognising my companion, raised his umbrella.  The recognition was mutual, and the trap in which we were seated was hurriedly pulled up.  While the clergyman was coming towards the vehicle I had an opportunity of a more minute inspection.  I saw that he wore gold-rimmed pince-nez, and had a lively, open, prepossessing countenance which at once engaged my attention and made me feel instinctively that here was a minister of God in whom the erring sinner or the man of troubled mind would be impelled to confide with the well-founded assurance that his confidence would be respected, and that advice worth having would be given.  A “soggarth aroon to the finger tips; one young, yet of the old school sympathy.”  This was my mental and visual estimate of the priest, and one that my brief conversation but helped to strengthen.

After I had been introduced my companion spoke to Father Ryan as to an old and intimate friend.  His answer to one of the first questions as him by my vis-à-vis turned my thoughts at once to journalism, and carried my mind back to the extract from the evidence with which I opened this article.

“Where are you stationed now, Father?”  That was the question.

“Tralee.”  That was the answer which keenly excited an interest that was already more than casual in the priest before me.

Then I butted in with an interrogatory that was half bantering.

“You are not by any chance,” I ventured, “the priest in Tralee whom Sir Roger Casement revealed his identity?

“I am indeed, the very man,” was the reply that made me, very rudely, no doubt assume the direction of the conversation.

I started with a little anecdote.  I told Father Ryan of having met a gentleman who told me that at Tralee station he had seen a priest in conversation with Sir Roger, had heard that Casement wanted him to let the Sinn Feiners know that he was a prisoner, that he had refused to interfere in the matter, and had received from Sir Roger as a souvenir of his talk a silver pencil case with the crest or monogram of the donor, and that an air of verisimilitude was left to the narrative by my reading of Sir Roger Casement’s statement to the Scotland Yard Inspector.  “No doubt,” I suggested, “the yarn was untrue and my deductions consequently ill-founded?”

“It was partly true and partly twisted,” said Father Ryan, and then he told me the story of his meeting with Casement.

“Sir Roger,” he said, “as you may have read, gave his name to the police as Richard Morton.  While under arrest in Tralee police barrack he asked to see a priest, preferably a Dominican, as he had met a Dominican in Berlin.

“What do you want with a priest?” asked the Head-Constable.  “Aren’t you a Protestant?”

“Though Sir Roger had given his name as Morton,” Father Ryan continued, “the Head-Constable had recognised him by the comparison of his features and appearance with an official photograph.  To the Head-Constable he replied, “Yes, I am a Protestant, but my mother was a Catholic, and I wish to see a priest – a Dominican – rather than a parson.”

“After that,” Father Ryan continued, I was sent for and allowed to speak privately to with Sir Roger.  He told me his name, and, after some purely spiritual conversation, he said, “I want you to tell the Volunteers in the town and elsewhere to keep perfectly quiet.  Tell them I am a prisoner and that the rebellion will be a dismal, hopeless failure, as the help they expect will not arrive.”  “Sir Roger, I said,” pursued Father Ryan, “I came here because you asked for me as a chaplain and not as a political ambassador, and I must refuse to take any part in your plans.  If I were so inclined and did as you ask, having being permitted to see you as a priest, I should feel that I had violated the privilege extended to you and to me, nor should I feel conscience free myself if, having regard to the circumstances under which I have come to you, I were to act as a political ambassador.”

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

“The logic of his reasoning, and all that the situation might mean,” Father Ryan continued, “appealed to me, but I said I would promise nothing beyond saying I would think the matter over.”  I did think this over, and I came to the conclusion, after mature and deep reflection, that it would be the best thing, not alone for the police, but 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 gave him the message.  He assured me he would do his best to keep the Volunteers quiet.  I also told the Head-Constable the step I had taken, informing him of the belief I have already described, that it was as much in the interest of the police as in that of the Volunteers that trouble should be avoided, and he agreed with me that it was perhaps, the wisest course.”

“Before I left Sir Roger Casement,” Father Ryan concluded, “the poor fellow asked me if, in the event of his death, I would write to inform two people, and he gave me two addresses, one in Berlin and one in London.  I had no pencil with which to write the addresses, and Sir Roger handed me his.  When I had finished writing I handed it back to him, but he did not take it.  “Keep it” he said, “as a souvenir.”

“That,” said Father Ryan, producing a small silver pencil-case, holding about an inch of pencil, “is the souvenir.”

I examined it.  It bore no crest or monogram, as I had been told it did.  It was just a flat, chased pencil-case with a silver hallmark – but a souvenir of a momentous occasion and of a famous man, and I venture to say Father Ryan would not part with it for a good deal.  Nor should I if it came into my possession in a similar manner.

 

The Kildare Observer  3 June 1916

“A CASEMENT SOUVENIR.”

Tralee Priests Story

A Question of Authenticity 

Under the above heading we published in our issue of the week before last an article over the signature “D,” being the story, as told to the writer by Rev. Father Ryan, O.P., the priest whom Sir Roger Casement revealed his identity while a prisoner at Tralee.  Writing to a local contemporary last week, Father Ryan says:  “The interview is utterly unauthentic.”  The writer of the article had addressed the following letter to Father Ryan: –

Naas

26th May, 1916

Rev, Sir, – I read with considerable amazement your telegram to the “Freeman’s Journal” in which the substance of my conversation with you in Newbridge on Thursday, 17th inst., in reference to your interview with Sir Roger Casement did not appear, as well as to the “Evening Mail” in which it did.  Yet, as you have doubtless, observed, principally for the reason that I had no wish to enter into a newspaper discussion, I took no steps to vindicate my honour as a journalist, thus seriously questioned, though, I confess, I have more than once wondered what your reason could have been for desiring than an important incident in the recent calamitous outbreak, in which you played so useful and, may I say, honourable part, should not appear in print, in view of the fact that you spoke so fully and freely on the subject to one who was a total stranger to you.  In this connection may I remind you that when I ascertained that you were the priest referred to by Sir Roger Casement I informed you that I had already published a story as told to me by another, of your meeting with the prisoner, and of his having given you a pencil case as a souvenir, which story was substantially the same as that you thereupon told me in full detail and which I afterwards published in the “Kildare Observer” as well as the “Evening Mail.”  From these circumstances I inferred – quite naturally, it appears to me – that you would have no objection to the publication of the real facts as narrated by you, who were the central figure in the affair.  It seems in this respect I was wrong.  The reason for your objection is a matter that concerns you alone, my honour and veracity, you will admit, are matters which have a vital concern to me.

“Had your repudiation ended with the telegrams I have mentioned, it was my intention to extend to it the charity of silence, even though it involved aspersion on my honour as a journalist, but the fact that you, emboldened, I take it, by my silence addressed a letter to the “Leinster Leader,” in which you describe the interview as “utterly unauthentic,” has altered my opinion of the situation, and impels me to the conclusion that it is not alone fitting, but essential, that I should in justice to myself, take steps to vindicate my action.  I shall, just now, make no more than a passing reference to the somewhat striking fact that, while you addressed you letter of repudiation to the “Leinster Leader,” in which no reference to your story appeared, the “Kildare Observer” in which it was circulated received no communication whatever from you on the subject.

“You and I know that it might be contended that the use of the term “unauthentic” in your letter merely meant that you did not specifically authorise the publication of you story.  But you and I also know that the public reading your letter is not likely to go out of its way for the purpose of drawing subtle distinctions, and that another, and quite different meaning can and will be read into it.  It is quite unnecessary for me, I am sure, to point out to you that the article written by me, and published, is an absolutely and unquestionably correct reproduction of your story in every detail, as the gentleman by whom I was introduced to you can testify.

“I intend to publish this letter, a step I feel reluctantly compelled to take, with the one and only object of clearing my character which has never been challenged in the matter of veracity and straightforwardness, attributes I cherish as religiously as you do your honour as a priest. – Very faithfully yours,  Frede V. Devere.

Rev. F. M. Ryan, O.P.,

Holycross, Tralee

(Re-typed by Jennifer O’Connor)

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