Much though I love to walk around Dublin city’s history, I am wary of commemoration lest we only remember the things that hurt most and not forgive anything at all.
But with the impending centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising it is a good time to learn a little bit more and maybe, understand a little bit better.
With that in mind, I galloped along to Arbour Hill, final resting place of fourteen leaders of the 1916 Rising. But alas, I missed out. It was 4.03 pm and the gates were firmly shut.
I didn’t have a Plan B. But this is Dublin. Plan B isn’t needed when you’re always in spitting distance of some serious history.
As it happens, Arbour Hill backs on to Collins’ Barracks. And Collins’ Barracks houses the Museum of National History.
As I was heading for the main courtyard of Collins’ Barracks, I spied this on my right.
The “Asgard” belonged to Erskine Childers and was instrumental in struggling guns from Germany to the Irish Volunteers in 1914. Those arms were brought ashore at Howth, a fact that I was reminded of in my recent visit there.
Interest piqued, I headed for the Asgard Boat Museum. There is no entry fee and the attendant confirmed that flash free photography is allowed.
Robert Erskine Childers (more commonly known as Erskine) was an English born writer and Irish nationalist. He married Mary (Molly) Hamilton from Boston and, as a gift to the young couple, her parents offered to buy them a yacht. Nice, huh?
And it became even nicer because an apparently very well regarded Norwegian boat builder, Colin Archer, built it for the sum of £1,000. Not bad money at all for 1905.
As a result of a childhood accident, Molly had severe difficulties walking so Erskine Childers ensured that the boat was designed to best accommodate her needs.
Indeed, the end result is one of great beauty. More accustomed to seeing yachts bobbing in the distance, it really is lovely to walk around the entire structure to get a closer look at the workmanship involved. I had no idea the hulls were so deep, and even though walking on board the yacht is not permitted, the exterior of the yacht can be viewed from the ground floor and the first storey.
There are photographs throughout the exhibition telling of the Asgard`s history. The one above shows the Irish delegation at Anglo Irish Treaty talks in 1921. Eamonn De Valera is the tall chap. Childers stands to the right.
This picture shows Erskines’s wife, Molly on the left, with Mary Spring Rice. In 1914 the Asgard embarked on its most famous voyage when the Childerses sailed to Germany and smuggled 900 rifles back to Ireland for the Irish Volunteers.
It took forty five minutes for the guns to be unloaded at Howth Harbour. Mauser rifles, they were old but serviceable and there are a few of them on view in the exhibition area
The Asgard stayed in the Childers family until 1928. It was procured by the Irish government as a training vessel in 1961 but by 1974 it was left in Kilmainham Gaol as part of the museum exhibition there.
An extensive conservation project began in 2007 and the exhibition shows the various stages of that project.
This is how the boat looked before conservation.
And what of Childers himself?
English born and brought up in the Protestant Ascendancy class in Ireland, he came to support the Nationalist cause. With his degree in law, he worked preparing legislation in the British Parliament. He was a fought for Britain in the Boer War and World War One. But, encouraged by his American born wife, he also saw that Ireland needed to govern her own affairs.
He was appalled by the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising and their hurried burial in quick lime in Arbour Hill. This spurred him on to become more involved with Eamonn De Valera and Michael Collins.
After obtaining independence in 1921, Ireland was rent in two by Civil War and Childers fell foul of the nationalists then. He was found to be in possession of a small fire arm, tried and executed by the Free State forces in November 1922.
Before his death, he shook hands with each member of the firing squad. He also asked his 16 year old son to find the men who had signed his death warrant and shake hands with them.
His son, Erskine Hamilton Childers, went on to become a member of the Irish parliament from 1938 to 1973 and the fourth President of Ireland in 1974.
July 27th next marks the centenary of the arrival of the Asgard into Howth Harbour. A flotilla of boats will enter the harbour to mark the occasion. They will not be carrying guns. But memories of a beautiful yacht that sailed a hundred years before in the hopes of helping the Irish nationalist cause.
Lets hope they recall too Childers` insistence on forgiveness, and on healing old wounds.