On this day 100 years ago, Erskine Childers faced the firing squad. Like Emily Childers was vehemently opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and was quite vocal about it. In a dawn raid at his cousin Robert Barton’s home in County Wicklow by the National troops, a revolver was found. He and another man, David Robinson, were duly arrested.
Born in London in 1870, Erskine Childers was the second of five children. His father was Robert Childers, and his mother was Anna Childers (née Barton). Robert Childers (1838–1866), who was appointed to the Ceylon Civil Service in 1860, became the private secretary to Governor Sir Charles McCarthy. In his time there, he studied Sinhala (and possibly Pali) and became a student of Buddhism. After returning to the UK, he kept up his studies and, in 1872, published the first volume of the Pali dictionary. Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he died at the age of 38, leaving behind a young family. After his death his family moved to Co. Wicklow the ancestral home of his mother.
Young Erskine received a good education, taking classics and law at Trinity College and then Cambridge, where he studied law in which he came out with a first in the subject in June 1893. He also showed great literary promise and was editor of Cambridge Review. Childers took the civil service entrance exams and excelled, earning the position of joint assistant clerk at the House of Commons. When the Boer War broke out in 1898, he enlisted and volunteered as an artillery driver.
After he returned, his novel, Riddle of the Sands, was published. The novel, which he began in 1901, was loosely based on his own experiences. The book, often cited as one of the great works of espionage, is about the main character, who is invited by his friend to go on a yachting expedition, and their subsequent adventures. Childers, a keen sailor, was one of the crew of the Asgard. In May of that year, he traveled to Hamburg with Darrell Figgis to broker an arms deal there. They successfully sourced 1,500 Mauser Model 1871 rifles with 49,000 rounds of ammunition at a good price. In August, Childers and his wife, Molly Spring Rice, along with Gordon Shephard and two fishermen from Donegal, arrived at Howth with an arsenal of weapons.
The guns were purchased for the Irish Volunteers, who had it in mind to use them to defend Home Rule for Ireland, but they ended up arming the rebels for the 1916 Rising. Read more: https://www.rte.ie/news/2014/0725/633075-the-extraordinary-story-of-the-asgard/
Childers returned to London, where he served in the Royal Naval Volunteers for most of the Great War. In 1917, he was assigned as assistant secretary to the Irish convention, where he began to gravitate toward the Irish cause. In 1919, he relocated to Dublin and was elected to the Dáil in 1921. The same year, he was appointed Minister for Propaganda as well as Secretary to the Irish contingent of the treaty negotiating team. Childers, like Emily, was vehemently anti-Treaty and was quite vocal about it too. He was not fully trusted by either side and was suspected by the British and Irish provisional governments alike; it was only a matter of time until he was captured in November 1922. He was sentenced to death and executed at Beggars Bush Barracks. A true gentleman to the end, it was said that he shook hands with each member of the firing squad before he faced his death.
Thirty years later to the exact day Emily died in St. Mary’s Nursing Home. She too was buried near the Republician plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.
The Sphere 02 December 1922
Freeman’s Journal 11 November 1922
Freeman’s Journal 25 November 1922