Naming ‘the nameless one’
On 28th April 1957 the Belfast Unionist MP, H. Montgomery Hyde (1) published a lengthy article in the Sunday Times arguing strongly for the authenticity of the Black Diaries. His article was intended as a review of a new book by Alfred Noyes entitled The Accusing Ghost or Justice for Casement which was due on sale the following day. Noyes argued that the diaries which he had never seen were forgeries. His was the first book to make the case for forgery since William Maloney’s 1936 volume The Forged Casement Diaries. M. Hyde’s review article presented evidence aimed at refuting the arguments set out by Noyes and closed with the following comment: ‘Finally, there is in the National Library of Ireland the manuscript of a poem by Casement, entitled “The Nameless One.” In my view it betrays strong homosexual feelings in its author. Those who may read it below can judge for themselves of this.’ The published poem consists of seven quatrains and does bear the interpretation indicated by M. Hyde. By simple inference readers would conclude that the author of the poem must also be the author of the diaries.
Only five days after publication the Sunday Times editor who commissioned the article contradicted M. Hyde’s published claim that there was such a manuscript in The National Library of Ireland (NLI). On 3rd May Leonard Russell, the literary editor, wrote ‘My information is that Casement wrote two poems under the same title, and that the one we published is on microfilm in the National Library of Ireland – it was given to the Library by the New York Public Library.’ In fact, M. Hyde did not state he had seen a manuscript; he alleged only the presence of a manuscript which he had not seen. In historical research and in legal procedures it is axiomatic that the provenance of disputed or contentious documents be securely established beyond all reasonable doubt.
Alfred Noyes was a retired professor of literature, a former Nobel Prize nominee and a respected poet and author. His name had been linked to the diaries controversy since 1916; while working in the News Department of the Foreign Office, he had seen the police typescripts at the height of the smear campaign. As an Englishman, a distinguished professor and well-known author, his voice could not be ignored.
Far from being ignored, Noyes’ book provoked extensive press attention with articles and letters in The Nation, The Economist, the New Statesman, The Tablet, The Sunday Press, the Observer, The Spectator, the Evening Herald and not least in the Sunday Times.
On the day following publication of M. Hyde’s article, a Dublin doctor, Herbert O. Mackey, visited NLI in Kildare Street and asked to see the manuscript of the poem published by M. Hyde. Staff brought him a manuscript of a poem entitled The Nameless One the text of which referred entirely to the Hamidian massacres of Armenians in 1895-6. (2) The poem consisted of six stanzas of six lines. Dr. Mackey was assured that this was the only manuscript poem of that name in the library.
Dr. Mackey was well known to library staff on account of his frequent visits to research Casement matters. He was chairman of The Casement Repatriation Committee which for years had sought the return to Ireland of Casement’s remains. On that Monday, 29th April, Dr. Mackey hand copied the text of the manuscript and also obtained a certified Photostat copy of the manuscript. He then wrote a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Times enclosing the hand copy of the poem and explained that this was a copy of the only manuscript in the library of that name. The letter was posted immediately.
Russell wrote on May 2nd to M. Hyde advising him of the letter and poem sent by Dr. Mackey and asking ‘What do I tell him?’ On the same day he replied to Dr. Mackey: ‘The only thing I can do is to pass your letter on to Mr. Montgomery Hyde, and write to you again when I have his answer.’ The answer came only a day later as cited above but the locution ‘my information is …’ conceals the identity of who gave Russell the information. It follows from the letter of 3rd May that M. Hyde did not take his version of The Nameless One from a manuscript when he visited NLI some ten days before publication of his article. Nonetheless, his article attests to the presence of a manuscript (A) while Russell’s letter of 3rd May attests to the presence of a different manuscript (B) of the same name. However, manuscript (A) was not present on 29th April when Dr. Mackey enquired for it. Therefore M. Hyde’s claim in his Sunday Times article is false. It is an undisputed fact that the purported NLI manuscript of the published poem has never been seen by anyone at any time. It remains to determine the provenance of the published text.
Two years after the Sunday Times articles, the M. Hyde text of The Nameless One was published by Singleton-Gates in his Black Diaries of 1959 citing M. Hyde as source. The same text was republished by Brian Inglis in 1973 citing Singleton-Gates as source. Neither had seen a manuscript in NLI nor did they refer to a microfilm. This latter is explained by the fact that the purported microfilm source cited in Russell’s letter of May 3 remained private with Dr. Mackey and was discovered by this author only in February 2021.
Three microfilms of Casement documents in the Maloney collection were indeed made by NYPL in 1946 and were sent to NLI. Obviously, the poem published by M. Hyde did not come from either of the sources cited at the time. The fact that the source of the published poem was concealed in 1957 indicates that there was no option but concealment. It follows that there are solid grounds for suspicion that the published poem was not written by Casement.
The question which imposes itself at this point concerns the true provenance of the poem published by M. Hyde. The Ransom Centre at the University of Texas holds the papers of M. Hyde and these reveal the provenance to be former senator Frank MacDermot (3), barrister and journalist with the Sunday Times from 1938 to 1950. The poem typed on a single A4 page was sent from Dublin by MacDermot on 13 April directly to Leonard Russell at the Sunday Times. Therefore M. Hyde had no role whatsoever in sourcing and providing the poem for publication.
The papers in Texas also reveal that in early April 1957 MacDermot informed Russell of a “homosexual poem” which he could provide for the proposed article. MacDermot did not give Russell the source of the poem and this fact made Russell somewhat suspicious. On 15th April Russell wrote to M. Hyde confirming receipt of the typescript poem from MacDermot but asking M. Hyde to “authenticate its presence in the Casement material” on his visit to NLI. Obviously M. Hyde could not do this because there was no such manuscript in NLI. Nonetheless and without having seen any manuscript, Russell published the poem as a prize exhibit; it was a ‘scoop’ for the Sunday Times.
The Hyde papers also reveal that the proposal for the two Sunday Times articles came from MacDermot, not from M. Hyde, and that MacDermot did not wish his name to appear in print: ‘information is offered freely and gladly … provided my name is not mentioned.’ Nowhere in those papers is there an indication of how MacDermot came to be in possession of the text of the poem. However, the reference in Russell’s letter to Dr. Mackey of 3rd May to a microfilm sent to NLI from New York Public Library can safely be attributed to MacDermot since in a letter sent from his Paris address dated 15th January, 1960, recently found in Dr. Mackey’s papers, he stated that the source of the poem was a microfilm in NLI.
‘The poem I referred to was “The Nameless One” – not that given by Dr Mackey but that published in the Sunday Times by Mr. Montgomery Hyde. You can find it on one of the Casement microfilms in the National Library.’
This establishes as fact that MacDermot knew in April 1957 of these microfilms in NLI but did not inform M. Hyde of their existence and deceived him into believing the source was a non-existent NLI manuscript. It also establishes that MacDermot knew of the existence of a manuscript of the same name in NLI (the Ottoman poem) and also knew of the existence of a manuscript poem in NYPL with the title The Nameless One. The question which imposes itself at this point is very obvious; why before May 3rd did MacDermot conceal from Russell and M. Hyde the existence of the NY manuscript? A poem of that title was indeed listed in the file of Casement poems donated to NYPL by Dr. Maloney in December 1940. That MacDermot made no reference to it requires explanation and the only explanation which satisfies common sense and probability is that MacDermot knew the NY manuscript was another copy of the same Ottoman poem held in NLI. Casement often made more than one manuscript of his poems and manuscripts of several poems in NLI can also be found in the NYPL file.
MacDermot could not have foreseen the intervention of Dr. Mackey in NLI on 29th April or that he would send the Ottoman poem to Russell. This predicament constrained MacDermot to invent the implausible remedy of two poems with the same name. It is simply not credible far less probable that Casement wrote two poems with radically different themes and gave them the same title. They have nothing in common. There is no reason why any poet would do this anymore than a novelist would publish two utterly different novels with the same title.
In 1946 three microfilms of Casement documents in the Maloney Historical Papers were made by staff in New York Public Library. These were sent to NLI. A collection of poem mss attributed to Casement can now be found on one of the microfilms which are not listed in the main catalogue. Among these is a photograph of a ms poem with the mis-spelled title The Namless One. It is recorded that Dr. Maloney donated most of these mss to NYPL in December 1940. A typed contents list with the file in NY records a poem called The Nameless One as being part of the original donation. Other mss were added to the file on later dates.
Today in that NY file there is a ms of The Nameless One, with the title mis-spelled, and on the reverse of the ms there is a handwritten inscription which gives the date and place of composition which seems to authenticate the ms as being written by Casement. The NLI microfilm does not contain a photograph of this reverse inscription. The text on the NLI microfilm corresponds to the ms held today in NYPL but neither corresponds to the text printed by M. Hyde in the Sunday Times; there are several differences although they do not alter the overall meaning of the poem. The reverse inscription was not published by M. Hyde and his line 18 differs from that line in both the NLI microfilm and the present ms in NYPL.
The text published by M. Hyde was sent to him by Russell of the Sunday Times who had received it in the form of a typed A4 page from Frank MacDermot who by then was a retired journalist living in Paris. Much of the mystery about this poem and its suspect provenance arises from MacDermot’s enigmatic role in its publication. It follows that MacDermot did not obtain his text from either the microfilm or the ms now in NYPL. Where MacDermot obtained his text remains a matter of speculation.
MacDermot had long nourished an antipathy towards Casement which he himself admitted. ‘I dislike and disapprove of Casement quite apart from his sex life.’ (Letter of May 5th, 1956 to M. Hyde.) According to his letter to Russell of 13th April, 1957 his interest in the diaries ‘began with the publication of Maloney’s worthless but mischievous book,’ in 1936 when he contacted Malcolm MacDonald, then Dominions Secretary, asking him to verify that the diaries were authentic and received ‘a written assurance (marked private and personal) … but he did not say that he had seen them or that they still existed.’ This was reported in MacColl’s 1956 book (page 290) without naming MacDermot who was described as ‘…a former member of the Dail. He has an unimpeachable record for disinterestedness and honesty.’ MacColl cited the un-named MacDermot; ‘But it enrages me that in Ireland and the U.S.A. the diary is now frequently referred to as an ignoble forgery.’ It was this antipathy which induced him to give credibility to the preposterous allegations made by Serjeant Sullivan whom he interviewed more than once.
Here are some of the anomalies in MacDermot’s role:
- Although MacDermot proposed the articles and poem to Russell, and although he was an experienced journalist known to Sunday Times readers, he was reluctant to write the articles and preferred M. Hyde as author.
- He did not name the poem when promising to supply it and referred only to a ‘homosexual poem’ which he allowed Russell to infer was a manuscript in NLI.
- Although MacDermot already knew of the 3 NLI microfilms of Casement documents he did not mention a microfilm as the source of the poem.
- He made it a condition of giving the poem text for publication that his name would not appear.
- MacDermot knew there was no ms of the poem in NLI but he did not tell Montgomery Hyde.
- In his letter of May 5th in the Sunday Times he did not comment on the false claim about a ms source in NLI.
- Only when asked on May 2nd about provenance did MacDermot tell Russell about a microfilm.
It is clear from these verified points that MacDermot intended to conceal his source from both his former colleague and his ‘old friend’ M. Hyde. That he did not name the poem when discussing the articles with Russell can only be explained by his not knowing the name. Since it is unthinkable that MacDermot had seen the poem he was proposing but had forgotten its name, this implies he had not seen the poem at that time. It follows that if he had not seen it he could not know that it was a ‘homosexual poem’ unless someone had told him of its topic. That unknown someone was almost certainly the person who gave the text to MacDermot. Unsurprisingly Russell was suspicious about its provenance but he managed to set aside his suspicion in order to obtain a ‘scoop’.
Two further facts must be considered. Before April 1957 there is no evidence that anyone had ever heard of this poem in any form and MacDermot was the first to refer to it. Secondly, Russell claimed in his letter of May 3rd, ‘Casement wrote two poems under the same title …’; the other poem is the Ottoman poem of 1898. But this is very unusual. Without Dr. Mackey’s intervention, MacDermot would never have made the improbable claim about two poems of the same title and the microfilm. Even then only Dr. Mackey was informed – privately – of the microfilm and no other researcher since 1957 has been aware of it. It requires to be explained why MacDermot intended to conceal the microfilm as his source.
There are strong reasons for thinking that when MacDermot first proposed the unknown poem to Russell in late March he was proposing a ‘work in progress’ – bait for a ‘scoop’. Indeed the second article filled an entire page of the newspaper and provoked dozens of readers’ letters. Among the very few published were two from MacDermot printed on 5th and 19th May. The first referred to the article of 28th April. In neither letter did this man with the ‘unimpeachable record for disinterestedness and honesty’ correct M. Hyde’s false claim about a manuscript in NLI. Nor did he refer to a microfilm from NYPL as source of the poem. Instead he allowed the falsehood to deceive hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide.
At this point one question imposes itself upon the rational inquirer; why did MacDermot not give as his source the ms entitled The Namless One now held in NYPL?
The published poem did not come from a ms in NLI as alleged. It did not come from a microfilm in NLI as alleged. It did not come from a ms in NYPL. Therefore it came from somewhere else and its true provenance in 1957 was concealed and this concealment was intentional and therefore necessary. There is only one explanation for the necessary concealment of its provenance – the poem was not composed by Casement. It follows that the ms entitled The Namless One now in NYPL was not written by Casement.
The mss on the microfilm are accompanied by anonymous handwritten notes which purport to authenticate the calligraphy as Casement’s hand. This writer has inspected many hundreds of Casement mss over several years and none of them bear any note purporting to authenticate the handwriting. It is a fact that archives do not assume responsibility for the authenticity of the documents deposited with them. Their task is simply to conserve and make them available to the public. Therefore, these side-notes on the NLI microfilm deserve the maximum suspicion because they are unique. Some special circumstance attaching to these poems made it necessary to add the side-notes. Since the notes are intended to authenticate the mss on the microfilm, that circumstance was the apprehension by the writer of the notes that some of the mss might arouse suspicion that they were not genuine. The notes were intended to respond to anticipated suspicion about the poems in the future. Therefore some circumstance was known to the writer of the notes when they were written. But since the notes are unsigned, the writer remains unidentified, therefore without authority to authenticate anything. Indeed, not only are the notes worthless as authentication but their presence itself signals that at least one of the mss will come under suspicion as not genuine. The poem which did come under suspicion from 1957 onwards was The Nameless One and that suspicion arose from its publication in the Sunday Times. Prior to publication that poem was unknown. There is evidence in the side-notes on the microfilm that this poem deserved ‘special attention’. The notes referring to the other poems simply claim the ms is in Casement’s handwriting. But the note for The Nameless One gives the following; ‘The Nameless One. lines written in very great dejection at Genoa, Nov. 15, 1900 by Roger Casement in Casement’s handwriting.’ These twenty words about time, place and mood cannot be derived from the text of the poem. This side-note is almost twice the average length of the notes for the other mss. This ‘authenticating’ detail did not appear with the Sunday Times version which demonstrates that MacDermot did not obtain his text from the NLI microfilm. Since it is unthinkable that MacDermot would have concealed or ignored these ‘authenticating’ details, it can be deduced that he had not seen these details when he sent his text to Russell. Nonetheless, a version of this ‘authenticating’ side-note does appear on the reverse of the ms now held in NYPL. That version concludes with the words ‘before sailing on “Sirio” for Barcelona’ which are missing from the microfilm.
It can be reasonably concluded that the note-writer’s apprehension of suspicion concerned The Namless One rather than the other mss. That particular apprehension can only be explained by the writer’s awareness that a version of this poem was intended for publication as a prize exhibit in the Sunday Times. Thus it became necessary before publication to ‘authenticate’ all the poems on the microfilm.
Staff in NYPL have verified that none of these side-notes purporting to authenticate the mss can be found today in NYPL. There is, therefore, no evidence today that the side-notes existed in 1946 when the microfilms were made. Library staff today have never seen them. Readers must decide if they find it credible that curators of the Casement papers in NYPL were authorized to destroy documents which purport to authenticate the poem mss entrusted to their care. If a credible motive for this extraordinary destruction cannot be found, it follows that the side-notes were not destroyed and could not be destroyed because there were no side-notes in NYPL. This leaves only one explanation for their existence today on the NLI microfilm. In 1957 the microfilm was manipulated to include the forged side-notes and the forged version of The Namless One.
Some readers will understandably find this exposition challenging and perhaps confusing. They might attribute this to human weakness, indeed to a certain carelessness on the part of the principal actor, MacDermot, whose behaviour is difficult to rationalize. But MacDermot was an Oxford trained barrister, a banker, journalist and a politician who founded a very successful political party and whose Dail and Seanad orations were considered models of lucidity and coherence as were his journalistic writings. It is unlikely that his anomalous conduct was due to mere carelessness.
Whatever the motive for MacDermot’s conduct, publication of the poem in a mass-circulation newspaper reaching over a million readers in single day clearly served to overwhelm the arguments in Noyes’ book. This result would have been shared by British intelligence with considerable satisfaction. It can be reasonably discounted that MacDermot, a seventy-one-year-old retired journalist living in Paris, acted entirely on his own initiative. Moreover, there is no evidence that MacDermot had the literary skills and experience required to compose a well-made poem. Those who doubt that British intelligence was capable of producing the twenty eight lines of poetic ventriloquism seriously underestimate their ingenuity, experience and modus operandi.
It seems improbable that MacDermot was motivated exclusively by his acknowledged hostility to Casement and his lifelong pro-British sentiment. Certainly he was close to the British establishment and MI5 would not have felt awkward about approaching him. His undercover role in providing the poem and the timing of its publication strongly suggest that this was an intelligence services exercise. The anomaly of two very different poems with the same title is resolved as follows. It was necessary to give the false poem the name of a ms already listed in the NY Casement file so that it would appear to be part of the original Maloney donation. The Ottoman ms entitled The Nameless One seemed appropriate and this ms was removed and the forged Namless One was inserted where it remains today. Of the fifty Casement poems published in 1958 the Ottoman poem is the only one which has an endnote giving place and date of composition; the forged ms in NYPL also gives place and date of composition. Coincidences do happen but they cannot be made to happen.
Now at last the nameless one has a name – Frank MacDermot. No doubt he knew the names of other ‘nameless ones’.
The author wishes to thank Dr. Philip O’ Connor for his vital research in NLI and Meredith Mann for his extensive and patient research in NYPL. Thanks are also due to the Mackey family for permitting access to their grandfather’s papers.
1 – Montgomery Hyde (1907-1989), born in Belfast to a merchant family, was schooled in England, took a history degree at Queens, Belfast before studying law at Magdalen College, Oxford. He worked as a barrister and a private librarian until WW2 when he became an intelligence officer operating in New York, Gibraltar and Bermuda. From the early 30’s he was a prolific author. After a false start, he won the North Belfast Unionist parliamentary seat in 1950 which he held for nine years. He became active in law reform, particularly homosexual law reform and published on Oscar Wilde, the Casement trial, homosexuality, pornography and on his secret service experiences. He had a long term interest in the Casement story and was a steadfast proponent of the authenticity of the diaries even before he saw them on August 10th, 1959 when invited by the PRO along with René MacColl to witness the ‘first’ viewing.
2 – The Nameless One (the Ottoman poem) was written by Casement in November 1898 and the manuscript is held in NLI. Readers are referred to Dr. Pat Walsh’s explanatory article in Irish Foreign Affairs Volume 14, Number 2, June 2021, which elucidates the somewhat obscure references.
3 – MacDermot (1886-1975), described as an anglophile cosmopolitan, was born in Dublin, a son of the attorney general of Ireland. He was educated at Downside School in Somerset and studied law at Oxford. During WW1 he served in the Royal Army Service Corps and reached the rank of major. After several years as a banker in New York he returned to Ireland and entered politics, becoming founder and co-leader of the National Centre Party which merged with Fine Gael of which he became vice-president. Despite his opposition to Fianna Fáil and to De Valera, he joined Fianna Fáil in 1937, becoming a senator in 1938. He opposed the new constitution, the official status of Irish and was a critic of neutrality during WW2. In 1938 he became US correspondent for the Sunday Times, later moving to New York where he spent the remaining war years. In 1945 he became Paris correspondent for the Sunday Times where he continued to live after his retiral in 1950.