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Letter from Roger Casement to Dr. Séamus Ó Beirn
In this letter of November 4, 1911, Roger Casement thanks the parents of Dr. Séamus Ó Beirn for having hosted him at their home in the east Galway area of Tawin. A year earlier, Casement had made a donation to support the revival of Irish language teaching in the local national school, an initiative spearheaded by Ó Beirn, who first met Casement in 1904, the year before he qualified as a doctor.
In that year he won a prize in the Oireactas for his bilingual two-act play “An Dochtúir” which cleverly captured the folly of appointing a country doctor who had absolutely no Irish to Irish-speaking Dispensary Districts. In the introduction to the play re-edited in 1924, Séamus states that the play was performed four hundred times and it had travelled to London and New York.
The play was performed in the Town Hall, Galway in 1904 by the “Tawin Players” and Roger Casement was in the audience. This led to a friendship developing between Casement and the Ó Beirn family in Tawin. In 1906 Dr. Séamus Ó Beirn conducted his anti-tuberculosis and hygiene education campaign throughout Connemara, Galway, accompanied by Roger Casement. Two years after this successful initiative, the Tuberculosis Act was passed and Ó Beirn's brother Bartley was appointed the first Tuberculosis Officer in County Galway. The play was subsequently performed in An Taibhdhearc (Irish Language) Theatre, Galway on June 6, 1933. Séamus was one of the theatre’s principal founders. An oil painting portrait of him as a young man currently hangs in the foyer there.
Roger Casement was an Irish humanitarian and Irish nationalist. Originally born in Dublin, he was raised in Co.Antrim, before working as a British Consul in the Congo for close to fifteen years. At the end of his time in Africa, he published a government white paper which condemned the treatment and oppression of the native peoples. His findings were confirmed by an international commission appointed by the king, and his report was one of several pressures that led the Belgian government to take over the administration of the Congo in 1908.
Casement retired from the Foreign Office in 1913, having grown increasingly nationalist, as well as disillusioned with his work.