“Lovely Banna Strand”


A German ship is bringing 20,000 rifles for the Irish rebels, but the car which was to meet the Germans crashes. The rifles are not delivered, and Sir Roger Casement, who planned the affair, is hanged


During the bloody stalemate of 1915-1917, both sides in the First World War sought ways out of the dilemma. Britain tried "peripheral strategies" (her reward being the Gallipoli campaign); Germany dabbled with submarine warfare.

The Casement Affair was another of these sideshows. Ireland wanted freedom (they had been granted Home Rule in 1914, but the war and the disturbances halted its implementation; that plus the absence of many loyalists in the trenches caused a slow but steady increase among forces devoted to rebellion); the Germans wanted to distract the British. It was an ideal match.

Roger Casement (1864-1916) was a Protestant who was knighted for his investigations into European cruelty in Africa. Despite this, he became an Irish patriot in the decade before World War One. One might almost think this disturbed his reason.

In 1914, Casement went to Germany and negotiated a "treaty." Among its other provisions, it offered to form Irish prisoners of war into an "Irish Brigade" to fight for Germany. (It turned out to be more of an Irish Platoon; a total of 55 soldiers chose to join it. See Robert Kee, _The Bold Fenian Men_, being volume II of _The Green Flag_, pp. 246-250.) In exchange, Germany would recognize Ireland. It would also, "[i]n the event of a German naval victory affording a means of reaching the coast of Ireland," send forces to Ireland.

Of course, the British navy was much larger than the German, and the Germans never won their victory. They only made one attempt -- at Jutland -- and while more British than German ships went down there, it was a clear British strategic victory. The German navy acted like a whipped cur for the rest of the war, and the sailors actually revolted rather than go to sea in 1918.

In 1916, Casement was still in Germany, being ignored by all parties. Indeed, he had spent time in a sanatorium (Kee, p. 264), and plans were made to retire him to America. Then came the news of the Easter Rising. Germany decided to give this some very elementary support -- a tramp steamer carrying 20,000 rifles captured from the Russians (and probably not in very good condition), with minimal ammunition and a handful of machine guns.

Casement was horrified at this pinch-penny scheme; it was too little too late. No troops were to be sent, only the weapons. His protests achieved one thing: He was sent along with the arms. On April 9, 1916, the weapons set sail on the _Aud_ (also known, to the Germans at least, as the _Libau_; Kee, p. 266), a ship so cheap that she did not have a radio; she was disguised as a Norwegian freighter. Casement was to come on a submarine.

The Irish never made contact with the _Aud_; the ship showed up in Tralee Bay, but no one was expecting her until later. She waited a day for someone to meet her, was ignored, and left. Eventually the British (who knew many details of the plot) found the ship. Ordered to head for Queenstown, the _Aud's_ captain blew her up before she arrived in harbor (April 22).

Casement had set out by submarine on April 12. Somehow the sub (U19) and the _Aud_ failed to make contact. So the boat's captain put Casement ashore at Banna Strand. He was captured on Good Friday and recognized; on April 22 -- the same day the _Aud_ was blown up -- he was sent to London. He was hanged for treason on August 3, 1916.

The Casement affair incidentally put another nail in the coffin of the Easter Rebellion. The rebels desperately needed weapons, and Casement failed to deliver. What's more, the rebels were only a minority even within the Irish Volunteer movement -- and the official and public leader of the Volunteers, Eoin MacNeill, didn't like the idea. He was left out of the initial planning, told only at the last minute, and convinced to go along with the help of forged documents. (MacNeill was something of a figurehead; Michael Foy and Brian Barton, _The Easter Rising_, p. 5, note that he was a university professor with the moderate leanings one would expect of such a man; Bulmer Hobson -- himself too moderate for the fire-eaters -- found him as someone who looked respectable. MacNeill never did really control the Volunteers -- but a lot of the moderate Volunteers thought he did, which would lead to much confusion in 1916.)

When the Casement affair came out, MacNeill went all out to stop the Rebellion. It didn't stop the Dublin rebels -- but it kept the rest of the country quiet. Rather than helping rebellion, Casement's cloak-and-dagger-and-puffery operation hurt it (Kee, p. 262).

His death, however, proved very valuable to the rebel cause. After a series of quick executions following the Easter Rising, the British govenment halted the shootings and simply imprisoned the surviving rebels. But Casement was treated as a separate case. He was tried and convicted, and the British parliament saw no reason to halt his execution, which took place on August 3. The British also released his diary; this seemed to show that he was homosexual (though charges were made that the references were interpolations). In any case, his death seemed to confirm that the British still were abusing the Irish. (See Kee, _Ourselves Alone_, being volume III of _The Green Flag_, pp. 12-14). - RBW

Historical references

  • 1916 - The Casement affair (also the Easter Rising)


  1. Munnelly/Deasy-Lenihan 45, "Lonely Banna Strand" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. PGalvin, pp. 57-58, "Lovely Banna Strand" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Roud #5234
  4. BI, PGa057


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1962 (Galvin)
Found in: Ireland