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Centenary of Asgard Gun–Running Commemorated at Howth & Kilcoole

28th July 2014
asgard 1
The famous ketch Asgard as she is today, conserved in the National Museum at Collins Barracks.
Centenary of Asgard Gun–Running Commemorated at Howth & Kilcoole

#asgard – The successful shipment of 1500 German-made Mauser rifles in 1914 by Erskine Childers and his associates in support of the Irish Volunteers and their defence of Home Rule was commemorated in a re-enactment yesterday at Howth attended by President Higgins. There were further ceremonies at Kilcoole in County Wicklow, where 600 of the rifles were later landed.

The 1905 Asgard, designed and built by Colin Archer in Norway to be a wedding present for Erskine Childers and his American bride Molly Osgood, is now conserved as a permanent exhibition at the National Museum in Collins Barracks. Yesterday, a modern ketch provided a useful stand-in for Asgard's most famous role in which – despite arriving in Howth on July 26th 1914 in a near-gale from the northwest – 900 rifles were quickly unloaded by the Volunteers and marched into Dublin.

It was only in the city centre at Bachelolors Walk that serious trouble erupted a hundred years ago, when British soldiers fired on a hostile crowd as the guns were being spirited away into hiding. The shots resulted in four civilian deaths, and their loss was mourned and honoured in yesterday's ceremonies.

The remarkable contribution by Erskine Childers and his family to Irish life for more than a hundred years was marked by the presence in Howth of Nessa Childers MEP and her brother Rory, the latter taking part personally in the re-enactment. President Higgins spoke movingly of the bravery of their grandparents in putting their lives at risk in taking action in support of a cause in which they passionately believed, their action playing a pivotal role in subsequent events.
The complexity of the gun running project became clear as the events surrounding it were outlined in Kilcoole. Originally, the 1500 guns were collected by Asgard and noted voyager Conor O'Brien's yacht Kelpie from a German tug with which they rendezvoused off the Belgian coast. Then while Asgard's entire cargo was sailed to Howth, most of the Kelpie's cargo was transferred off the Welsh coast to the 60ft yacht Chotah owned by the surgeon Sir Thomas Myles, who in his time was both the leader of the Irish Protestant Nationalist Association, and President of the Royal College of Surgeons.

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Chotah was brought into the project as it was felt her auxiliary engine would facilitate the landing straight onto the beach across St George's Channel channel at Kilcoole, where she was assisted by the McLaughlin family's fishing boat Nugget. In all, as an exercise in both gesture politics and guerilla activity, the mission was a remarkable success. But it paled into significance within days, as the outbreak of World War I swept events great and small aside. Many of those personally involved in the gun running were soon to see active service with the British forces, and Gordon Shephard, sailing shipmate and close friend of Erskine and Molly Childers for several years, and a leading figure in the Asgard episode in Howth, was to die on service as the youngest Brigadier in the British Army.

With Asgard now preserved as a national monument and never to sail again, several modern Asgard volunteers felt that an appropriately peaceful contribution would be to build a re-construction of Asgard's original little clinker-built sailing dinghy, as there are several photos of Erskine and Molly Childers in happier times with this little boat, which has long since disappeared. Thanks to basic drawings by Colin Archer, the boat could be exactly replicated, and lead organiser Pat Murphy and his team commissioned a reconstruction from boatbuilder Larry Archer (no relation), resulting in a new traditional boat which proved to be one of the stars of the show in Howth.

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Happier days – Molly and Erskine Childers with the original Asgard dinghy

Published in Historic Boats
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