[Robert] Erskine Childers (1879-1922)


Life >
[usu. Erskine Childers] b. 25 June 1870, London; son of English orientalist Robert Caesar Childers; orphaned at an early age; brought up at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, his mother’s home and that of his cousin Robert Barton; ed. Haileybury [var. Uppingham] and Trinity College, Cambridge; appt. Committee Clerk of House of Commons, 1894-1910; served in Boer War in Honorable Artillery Company; wounded and invalided; issued In the Ranks of CIV (City Imperial Volunteers ) (1900); issued The Riddle of the Sands (1903), a novel illustrating the possibility of a German invasion of England;
 

m. Mary Ellen [var. Alden; known as “Molly”] Osgood of Boston, 1904 [called a strong-willed Bostonian]; and received the Asgard, a 22 ft yacht designed and built by Colin Archer, as a wedding present from his parents-in-law, being delivered in 1905; ; contrib. to The Times History of the War in S. Africa (1905), writing volume V (1907), commending guerrilla tactics; issued War and the Arme Blanche (1910) and German Influence on British Cavalry (1911), further criticising the British Army; resigned from the House of Commons to follow Home-rule politics, 1910; issued The Framework of Home Rule (London 1911) and The Form and Purpose of Home Rule (1912);

 
accompanied by the Limerick Nationalist and friend of Douglas Hyde Mary Spring-Rice (dg. of Lord Monteagle), Gordon Shephard, and his wife, with two Donegal fishermen, he sailed the Asgard to Roetgen Lightship on 29 June to rendez-vous with a tug containing arms on 12 July, the arms having been purchased by Darrell Figgis; landed the arms at Howth, 26 July 1914, the remainder being landed by Sir Thomas Myles from his yacht Chotah at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow; believed that the Home Rule promise would be kept; served in Royal Navy as Intelligence Officer - i.e., observer in early seaplanes and torpedo boats in North Sea and the Dardanelles, 1914-18;
 
elected Hon. Sec. of the Legion of Frontiersmen, London; awarded DSC and promoted to Lieutenant-Commander in RNVR, 1916; served on Irish Convention Secretariat, 1917; settled in Dublin post-war, 1919; joined Sinn Féin and served as Publicity Dir. [official propagandist] for Revolutionary Govt., 1919-21; issued Military Rule in Ireland (1920), an indictment of the British Government; sought to represent Ireland at Versailles Peace Treaty; elected to Dáil Éireann for Kildare-Wicklow, 1921; appt. Minister of Propaganda;
 
issued Is Ireland a Danger to England? (1921) and issued The Constructive Works of Dáil Éireann (1921); ed. The Republic of Ireland on arrest of Desmond Fitzgerald; served as secretary-general for the Peace Delegation at Hans Place, London, 11 Oct.-6 Dec. 1921; permitte to table his personal belief that Ireland was of no strategic use to Britain in the submarine war at the conference with Churchill and Beatty, to the dismay of Collins and others; strongly opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and Oath of Allegiance; eulogised Collins at his death in An Phoblacht (Aug. 1922);
 
arrested by Free State forces at Glendalough House, Nov. 1922, en route to meet de Valera, and found to be in possession of an ivory handled .32 Spanish automatic pistol given him by Collins; later said he wore it so that the Free State judiciary would have some excuse for executing him; sentenced to death under Emergency Powers, 17 Nov.; shot in Beggar’s Bush, 24 Nov. 1922 while appeal still pending; shook hands with every member of the firing squad (‘Take a step or two forward, lads. It’ll be easier that way’); P. S. O’Hegarty prepared a bibliography in 1948; bur. Glasnevin Cemetery; the Asgard was rescued by the the Irish government and moved to Kilmainham Gaol after some years exposure in 1996, and later still refurbished; a training vessel of the Irish Navy is named Asgard II after it. DIW DIH DIB OCIL

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Works
Fiction
  • The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service Recently Achieved [A novel, illustrating the possibility of a German invasion of England] (London: Nelson 1903, 1910, 1919), ix, 382pp.;
  • Do. as Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service (Harmonsworth: Penguin 1952), 384pp.;
  • Do. [Collin’s New Classics, No. 453] (London: Collins 1955), 384pp.;
  • Do. [Arnold’s English Literature Series: School Edn.] (London: Arnold 1931), viii. 289pp.;
  • Do. (London: Sidgwick & Jackson 1927 & edns.; rep. 1942), xi, 289pp., ill. [pls. & maps];
  • Do., intro. Hammond Innes (London & Glasgow: Collins; NY: Norton, 1955), 284pp. [and bibl.];
  • Do., with postscript by R. M. Bowker (Sussex: Bowker & Bertram 1976), x, 347pp.;
  • Do. (London: Blackie [1961]), 350pp.;
  • Do., [Children’s Illustrated Classics, No. 83 (London: Dent; NY: Dutton 1970), xiii, 336pp., ill. by Charles Mozley [line drawings], pl., map.;
  • Do. [ed. Erskine Childers]; introduction by Brig. E. F. Parker (Massachusetts: Imprint Society 1971), xxii, 261pp.: illus. [maps], 28cm;
  • Do. [abridged] (London: Heinemann 1973), 224pp.;
  • Do. [rep. of 1st Edn.], foreword by Erskine Hamilton Childers, intro. by Earl of Longford (London: Sidgwick & Jackson 1977), 287pp., ill. [map];
  • Do., (London: Granada 1979), xii, 260pp.;
  • Do, intro. Maldwin Drummond (London: Folio Society 1992), 296pp., ill. by Daniel Whistler;
  • Do., (Oxford: OUP 1981, 1995), 268pp. [bibl. p.xx]; Do., ed. & intro. by David Trotter, with notes by Anna Snaith [Oxford World’s Classics] (Oxford: OUP 1998), xxii, 277pp.;
  • Do. (London: Penguin 1999), 336pp.;
  • Do. [Bookworm; Elementary Readers] (Oxford: OUP 2003), 104pp.
  • Also Do., trans., by Jeanne Véron as L’enigme des sable [Nelson Collection] (Paris 1915), 318pp.
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Miscellaneous
  • In the Ranks of the C.I.V: A Narrative and Diary of Personal Experiences with the C.I.V. ( Honourable Artillery Company) in South Africa (London: Smith, Elder 1900), 301pp., ill., and Do. [facs. rep.] (Staplehurst: Spellmount 1999), xiv, 301pp.;
  • ed., with Basil Williams, The H.A.C. in South Africa: a record of the services rendered in the South African War by members of the Honourable Artillery Company (London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1903), 234pp., ill. [map];
  • with William Basil and L. S. Amery, The Times History of the War in South Africa 1899 [Vol. 3 of 7 vols.] (1905-) [also authored vol. , 1907].
  • War and the Arme Blanche, pref. by Earl Roberts (London: Arnold 1910), xvi, 379pp.;
  • German Influence on British Cavalry (London: Arnold 1911), viii, 215pp.;
  • The Framework of Home Rule (London: Arnold 1911), xvii, 354pp.;
  • The Form and Purpose of Home Rule: A Lecture [ &c. ] (Dublin; Simpkin, Marshall & Co.; London: E. Ponsonby 1912), 33pp.;
  • Military Rule in Ireland: a series of eight articles contributed to the Daily News, March-May 1920 (Dublin: Talbot Press 1920), 47pp., and Do. [rev. edn.] with Notes and an Additional Chapter (1920), 48pp. [Carty 1058];
  • The Constructive Works of Dáil Éireann (1921);
  • Clause by Clause: A Comparison between the Treaty and Document No. 2 (Dublin: The Equity Press [1922]), 15pp.

See also Spies and Secret Agents (London: Chancellor 1993), 534pp. [The Riddle of the Sand with works of John Buchan, William le Queux, and W. Somerset Maugham].


Gutenberg Project holds:

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Criticism
  • Arthur Frederic Basil Williams, Erskine Childers, 1870-1922: A Sketch (London: [priv.] 1926), 34pp.;
  • Andrew Boyle, The Riddle of Erskine Childers (London: Hutchinson 1971, 1977);
  • Michael McInerney, The Riddle of Erskine Childers: Unionist & Republican! [Men of Ireland Ser.] (Dublin: E. & T. O’Brien 1971), 88pp., ill. [line drawings by Patrick Keenan; 8pp. of plates; 1 facsim., ports.];
  • Burke Wilkinson, The Zeal of the Convert: The Life of Erskine Childers (NY: Second Chance Press 1985);
  • David Seed ‘The Adventure of Spying: Erskine Childers’s “The Riddle of the Sand”’, in Clive Bloom, Spy Thrillers: From Buchan to Le Carré (London & NY: Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press 1990), pp.28-34.
  • Jim Ring, Erskine Childers: A Biography (London: John Murray 1996), 288pp., ill. [16 photos]; reiss. 2012.
Bibliography
  • P. S. O’Hegarty, A Bibliography of the Books of Erskine Childers (Dublin: [the author] 1948), 6pp.

See Frank O’Connor, An Only Child (1961) and Claude Cockburn, Bestseller: The Books That Everyone Reads, 1900-1939 (London: Sidgwick & Jackson 1972).

See Sam Llewellyn, The Shadow in the Sands: Being an Account of the Cruise of the Yacht Gloria in the Frisian Islands in the April of 1903, and the conclusion of the events described by Ershine Childers in his narrative The Riddle of the Sands (London: Headline Feature 1998), 341pp., ill. [maps].

See Michael Collins: His Own Story, by Hayden Talbot (1923) - available at Collins website online; see also contemporary review of same in Spectator Archive for 11 May 1923 - online [containing account of Childers’s ‘argument’ for Irish independence at the Treaty meeting with Churchill and Beatty.]

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Commentary
Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal: the Irish Revolution in Literature from Parnell to the Death of Yeats, 1891-1939 (Gill & Macmillan 1977), pp.210-11: [In The Riddle of the Sands ] Childers talks about the unmistakable nature of the Englishman, an ironic comment on his own end . Childers was then a British patriot, and it was as a patriot that he first offered his services to Sinn Fein He was capable of the most rigorous analysis of political and economic problems, but when it came to action he became the romantic adventurer He was alleged to have blown up Mallow viaduct and destryed Valencia transatlantic cable, and to have conducted oterh raids, all of which he never did. He was not a gunman, but a publicist, a writer He stamped on the Republican papers he edited a high-pitched, high-minded and cutting style that persists in some of them to this day Like Dollman in his novel, he had changed his allegiance, but found he was mistrusted by those he wanted to help. In the end, this was the death of him.’ Costello further notes the Gogarty repeats the allegations against him ‘having failed to consult Frank O’Connor [on] Childers’s activities given in An Only Child .’ Note that Costello also cites Frank O’Connor’s memory of the moment when he heard of Childer’s execution and inscribed the date over Whitman’s lines on the death of Lincoln in a copy of Leaves of Grass he always carried. (An Only Child, 1961, p.166; Costello, pp.216-17.)

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Maurice Headlam, Irish Reminiscences (1914): ‘My complaint was that the book accepted the Nationalist view as fact, and the Unionist view as fiction - and I wanted something on the whole question which did not start by assuming the truth of one side in the dispute did not assume, further, that Home Rule would be perfectly safe “since nobody of sense, in or out of Ireland, supposes that her interest lies” in independence, I gave full consideration to the Ulster question - not merely part of some ten pages out of 350, which was all that Childers gave in The Framework of Home Rule. I have his letters, kindly, courteous, quite uncompromising, and absolutely unable to discuss calmly any point of view but his own. As I did not keep copies of mine I cannot publish his. Nor is there need to do so. For Childers, who would not “even consider” the point of Irish independence in his book, was killed by the Irish because he fought for what “nobody of sense supposes to be Ireland’s interest.” [Framework, p.109.] Peace to his ashes. With all his cleverness and bravery he was a simple soul, and I never failed, in our discussions, to make him “rise,” like an unsophisticated trout, by [133] using Mary Spring-Rice’s formula, and addressing him as “you English”. To which he would explain, at length, how much he had lived in Ireland, and that his mother had been Irish. At any rate, though he did his best to defame England - I have a French pamphlet of his on “English atrocities” - it was not the “English” who murdered him.’ (pp.133-34; passage quoted incls. 3 footnotes.)

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T. J. Binyon, review of Jim Ring, Erskine Childers (John Murray 1996), in Times Literary Supplement (May 24 1996), p.32: note bio-date, var. London 1870; 2nd son of Oriental scholar and compiler of Pali dictionary, Robert Caesar Childers; descended from Lord Chancellor Thomas Erskine, and the Bartons of Langoa and Léoville Barton in his mothers side; a cousin Hugh Childers was Sec. of State for War, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Home Sec., in 1886; raised by uncle and aunt in Glendalough estate after early death of parents; ed. Haileybury and Trinity College, Cambridge; placed third in Civil Service examination, 1894; Clerk of House of Commons; gives account of his involvement in sailing with a brother Henry, first in Shulah, then Marguerite, and then Vixen, then Thomas Chapman, a converted RNLI lifeboat which became the Dulcibella - named after his sister - in The riddle of the Sands; cruised Frisians and Baltic; towed through Kaiser Wilhelm canal lashed to Johannes schooner; served voluntarily with Hon. Artillery Company in Boer War, driving gun-carriage; wrote In the Ranks of the CIV (City of London Imperial Vols.) on his return; began work on Riddle, story of amateur spies, Davies and Carruthers who discover German plan for invasion of England; appeared in 1903 after revision an inclusion of heroine, Clara Dollmann; puzzled by its continuing popularity; regarded it as a clarion warning to the public and the War Office; exchanged Vixen for Sunbeam, and repeated the Baltic voyage; sailed with others of the HAC to America (Boston), where he fell in love with Molly Osgood, whom he married; settled in London; Asgard designed by Colin Archer, an ‘elegant forty-foot ketch’, given to the couple by her parents; her obituary in New York Times, 1964, alleged that Childers was the power behind de Valera, and that she was the power behind him; Robert Barton, his cousin, attested that he was never under her thumb and would never take an action against his conviction; passionate supporter of Home Rule; resigned Clerkship, became Lib. candidate for Devonport; published Framework for Home Rule (1911); with 1,523.19s.3d. raised by Irish Volunteers purchased 1,500 old Mauser rifles in Hamburg while pretending to be in Mexico; with Molly, Mary Spring-Rice, and Gordon Shephard as crew, and accompanied by Conor O’Brien in his small yacht Kelpie, met tug off Goodwin Sands, transhipped cargo and ran rifles ashore at Howth; commissioned in RNAS and served with seaplanes in North Sea, 1914-18; also at the Dardanelles and in Egypt; stationed at Dunkirk after transfer to torpedo boats; won DSC; ended war as a major in an RAF bomber squadron; offered services to Sinn Féin and sent to Paris Peace Conference; moved to Dublin; chronicled ‘policy of murder and terrorism’ by Black and Tans in Military Rule in Ireland, horrifying British public (though less troubled by actions of IRA); director of propaganda for de Valera; Minister of Publicity; member of de Valera’s delegation in London and then at the treaty talks as secretary without a vote; out-an-out Republican; ed. An Phoblacht na hEireann; denounced by Griffith as having ‘spent his life in England’s secret service’, and had to leave Dublin for South-west; on the run; refuged and arrested in Glendalough; Churchill expressed pleasure at arrest of ‘mischievous, murderous renegade’; executed by firing-squad, having shaken hands with each member and refused a blindfold, 24 Nov. 1922 (‘Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way’); Childers referred to ‘slow growth of [his] moral and intellectual conviction’; reviewer quotes Carruthers: ‘the cup of sparkling win whose essence is always the same: the gay pursuit of a perilous quest’.

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Léon Ó Bróin, Protestant Nationalists (1985): relates how Childers joins IRB, learns Irish, is imprisoned with Pim (pp.39-45); resigns from IRB (p.119); becomes director of Trade & Commerce (p.188); works for Irish language revival (pp.208-09); also connection with Abbey Theatre - poss. his son (p.218).

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Quotations
The Riddle of the Sands (1903): ‘A few persons (English as well as German) hold that Germany is strong enough now to meet us single-handed, and throw an army on our shores. The memorandum rejects this view, deferring isolated action for at least a decade; and supposing, for present purposes, a coalition of three Powers against Great Britain. And subsequent researches through the usual channels place it beyond dispute that this condition was relied on by the German Government in adopting the scheme. They realised that even if, owing to our widely scattered forces, they gained that temporary command of the North Sea which would be essential for a successful landing, they would inevitably lose it when our standing fleets were concentrated and our reserve ships mobilised. With its sea-communications cut, the prospects of the invading army would be too dubious. I state it in that mild way, for it seems not to have been held that failure was absolutely certain; and rightly, I think, in spite of the dogmas of the strategists - for the ease transcends all experience. No man can calculate the effect on our delicate economic fabric of a well-timed, well-planned blow at the industrial heart of the kingdom, the great northern and midland towns, with their teeming populations of peaceful wage-earners. In this instance, however, joint action (the occasion for which is perhaps not difficult to guess) was distinctly contemplated, and Germany’s rôle in the coalition was exclusively that of invader. Her fleet was to be kept intact, and she herself to remain ostensibly neutral until the first shock was over, and our own battle-fleets either beaten, or, the much more likely event, so crippled by a hard-won victory as to be incapable of withstanding compact and unscathed forces. Then, holding the balance of power, she would strike. And the blow? It was not till I read this memorandum that I grasped the full merits of that daring scheme, under which every advantage, moral, material, and geographical, possessed by Germany, is utilised to the utmost, and every disadvantage of our own turned to account against us. / Two root principles pervade it: perfect organization; perfect secrecy. […;’ for longer extract, see infra; for full text on internert at the “Rob Roy” web site [online].

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Last words [before his execution by firing squad]: ‘I die loving England and praying that she may change finally and completely towards Ireland.’ (Quoted in Lord Longford Five Lives, 1964).

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References
Belfast Central Public Library holds The Framework of Home Rule (1911); In the Ranks of the C.I.V. (1900); The Riddle of the Sands [1949 edn].

Cathach Books (1996-97) lists Clause by Clause: A Comparison between the Treaty and Document No. 2 (Dublin: The Equity Press [n.d.]), 15pp.

Emerald Isle Books (1995) lists The Framework of Home Rule (London: Arnold 1911), 354pp.

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Notes
Dedication: Diarmid Coffey, O’Neill & Ormond: A Chapter in Irish History (Dublin & London: Maunsel & Co. 1914), xvi, 246pp., ded. Erskine Childers.

At home: Barton family home of Straffan became the premisses of the K Club associated with Michael Smurfit and host to international golf tournaments.

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