Taoiseach Bertie Ahern urged UK prime minister Tony Blair to clarify speculation around Roger Casement’s “black diaries” in an effort to close “an unhappy period in Anglo-Irish relations”.
Casement was one of the nationalists executed for his attempt to import ammunition through Ireland’s south coast ahead of the 1916 Rising.
He was also renowned for his inquiries into slave trades in Peru and the Congo during his work as a British Foreign Office official.
The so-called black diaries allegedly give an extensive and detailed account of Casement’s personal relationships, and suggested that he led a secret life as a gay man.
The diaries, which comprise two office diaries, an army field notebook, a pocket diary and a 1911 cash ledger, were used by the British to weaken calls for clemency during Casement’s trial for treason in 1916.
He was executed in August 1916 and his body was repatriated to Ireland in 1965 where he was given a state funeral and buried with full military honours.
Despite a forensic analysis of the diaries in 2002, funded by RTE and the Taoiseach’s Department, concluding that they were genuine examples of Casement’s handwriting, the authenticity of the diaries are still contested.
In a short letter sent by Mr Ahern to Mr Blair dated December 23 1999, the taoiseach noted progress made on the Northern Ireland peace process, adding “we have all come too far to fail”.
He then stated that Mr Blair’s Labour government had made “an enormous difference” on those issues, but wanted to raise a matter “of largely historical interest”.
“Sir Roger Casement, whose remains were returned from Pentonville in a much appreciated gesture by Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in 1965, was a very distinguished British public servant, who was knighted,” Mr Ahern wrote.
He continued: “There is a heated ongoing historical controversy as to whether certain diaries he is alleged to have kept in addition to his conventional diaries are genuine.
“The so-called ‘black diaries’, which purport to relate to various homosexual experiences were supposedly discovered in his home by the intelligence services in 1916, and were discreetly used to discourage pleas for mercy.
“It remains a point of contention to this day, whether the additional diaries are genuine or forged.”
Mr Ahern then asks Mr Blair if it was possible that the Home Office or intelligence services could “throw some full light on the truth”.
“While I know that it is your position that the intelligence services do not comment on their activities, official histories have been written of the pre-World War II period, where the same restrictions clearly no longer apply.
“Putting the historical record straight and settling the issue one way or the other, which ought to be possible given that it is a question of fact rather than a value judgement, would be beneficial in closing an unhappy episode in Anglo-Irish relations, and would of course have significance for both traditions in Northern Ireland.
“I would appreciate any light that could still be shed from hidden recesses on your side,” he concluded, before wishing Mr Blair and his wife well over the Christmas period.
According to a history blog post, Mr Blair replied to Mr Ahern on February 11 2000 to say he had looked at the issue but that “nothing has been unearthed”.
The Casement “black diaries” are still held by the British National Archives.
The material can be viewed in the National Archives in file 2023/154/4