HUNDREDS of items of historical importance relating to World War One were brought to the Hunt Museum this week by relatives of those who fought in the war nearly 100 years ago.
But it was a black and white photograph of a man in a stylish white suit, presented by local man Tony O’Brien, which caused the most excitement amongst staff at the National Library of Ireland.
The photograph is believed to show Roger Casement attempting to recruit Irish volunteers at the German prisoner of war camp in Limburg near Frankfurt, to fight against the British at home.
Aged 17, Tony’s father Thomas, who fought with the Munster Fusiliers, was captured at the Battle of Mons, the opening battle of the war in August 1914, and spent four years in Limburg, and a final year in Switzerland in the care of the Red Cross. He brought home a collection of items with him, including this photograph, which is believed to have been taken by him and may be the only photograph in existence of Casement in the camp.
“I was only 11 when my father died, and wish now I knew more about his involvement in the war. He never really spoke about it.
Tony said he “rescued” the items from the family home, fearing that they might not be protected as they should. He was among over 50 people who brought their items to the memorabilia roadshow, where all items were photographed for archival purposes as part of a European project as the centenary approaches.
“There’s been great interest in this [today], and we’re not absolutely certain, but it looks like Casement with the white suit and the beard. All the Irish prisoners were brought in to Limburg, but Casement wasn’t too successful in getting them to come home. I couldn’t put my hand on it and go in to the High Court and say that’s Roger Casement, but he was in Limburg and did speak to the people,” he said. Out of 2,200 Irish soldiers who were moved to Limburg by the Germans, Casement managed to recruit just 55.
Also curious to learn more about his discovery was Timmy Hourigan, from Prospect, who found a book dating from this period when he was clearing out a cellar on O’Connell Street.
The book, entitled Specifications for Building Works, is dated March 25, 1918 and bears the stamp mark from Colberg, another prisoner of war camp.
The book, which he said is now “a bit fragile”, states that when the prisoner is finished with the book they should give it to other men in camp library. He also wished to document an eye mask from World War II, which was handed out to people in London incase of gas attacks.
Frank Shannon, from Kilrush, lined-up with a letter written to the mother of his second cousin, John Shannon, who was born in New York and subsequently came back to Clare with his family.
“It’s the saddest letter you ever saw,” he said, opening his folder of documents. The letter was posted from Malta from the commanding officer of the ship to John’s mother, informing her of his death on July 10, 1914 after he fell ill on board. “If he hadn’t died then he would most certainly have died two years later,” he said.
John was aboard the HMS Defence, which was subsequently sunk in the Battle of Jetland in May 1916.
Katherine McSharry, of the National Library, said they are still reviewing in detail all the material forwarded in Limerick, but believe the Casement photograph may be the most important yield. This was the second roadshow in the country, and a further roadshow is planned for Cork.