By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A new attempt is planned to try to end decades of speculation about whether the so-called "black" diaries of Sir Roger Casement, the patriot and human rights crusader who was executed for treason after the Easter 1916 Rising, are genuine or forgeries.
A series of scientific tests could solve the long-running controversy about whether British intelligence forged the notorious diaries detailing homosexual activity and circulated them in an effort to smear Casement’s reputation.
The new plan has been drawn up by a London-based Irish academic and the Public record Office in Kew, which holds the five diaries.
Last year, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern backed a Royal Irish Academy symposium with a £13,000 grant in the hope it would throw new light on the row.
At the taoiseach’s request, Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered a new trawl of British archives, but nothing was unearthed that contained "any reference to the authenticity of the diaries."
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"It is genuinely the case that the information we have on the diaries is already in the public domain," a letter from Blair said. That ended speculation that information about a "dirty tricks" forgery plot had been concealed.
Dr. Bill McCormack, professor of Literary History at the University of London’s Goldsmiths College, hopes that a series of scientific tests may shed new light on the controversy.
However, a joint application for educational funding from the College and the Public Record office, has lost out to other research projects deemed more important and new sources of finance are being sought.
The tests will cost about £25,000 and it is also hoped to publish complete facsimile copies of the five diaries.
McCormack says it would be a mistake to believe that the tests on the diaries are certain to give a definite yes or know verdict on their authenticity.
He holds out most hope for comprehensive handwriting tests and an analysis of the material used such as the paper and inks.
When working with the British colonial service, Casement was knighted after he gained an international reputation for his humanitarian work. He exposed the exploitation and slaughter of native workers by European employers in Africa and South America.
McCormack says tests for pollens from Africa or South America wouldn’t necessarily provide a clear-cut verdict.
"If no pollens were found, it would not conclusively mean that Casement had not had them with him," he said.
Tests for DNA traces on the diaries might also be unsuccessful.
"These diaries have been handled by so many people over the years," McCormack said. "Ordinary readers handle them fairly regularly in the Public Record Office and they have also been handled by people like police officers and scholars."
Born into the Irish Protestant ascendancy in Dublin, Casement strongly supported Irish nationalism and sought a German invasion force to aid the 1916 Rising.
When he could only get arms and not men from Berlin, Casement landed in Kerry from a German submarine three days before the Rising to warn the organizers. He was arrested almost immediately.
At the same time, a shipload of guns from Germany was scuttled when it was intercepted by the British Navy.
Prominent figures, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad and T.E. Lawrence, backed a campaign for clemency after the death sentence.
In 1965, Casement’s remains were returned to Ireland and they received a state funeral.