23 November 2022
Dublin remembers executed Republicans
The demonisation and murder of Erskine Childers
The execution of Erskine Childers 100 years ago on 24 November 1922 marked the culmination of the demonisation of this principled, committed and talented Republican activist by both the British and Free State governments.
Following his arrest in Co. Wicklow, Winston Churchill, in a speech in Dundee, described Childers as a “mischief-making murderous renegade” and added: “Such as he is may all who hate us be.” Arthur Griffith had described Childers in the Dáil as a “damned Englishman”.
On the very day of his ‘trial’ by court martial on 17 November, Free State Minister Kevin O’Higgins in the Dáil painted a picture of Childers as a leader directing the anti-Treaty IRA campaign and misleading ‘dupes’, such as the four Dublin IRA Volunteers executed that morning, the first of the prison executions. In fact Childers was a publicity officer for the IRA, editing its bulletins and press statements.
• Erskine Childers
Robert Erskine Childers was born in London in June 1870. Reared at Glendalough House, Annamoe, County Wicklow, the home of his cousin, Robert Barton, he was educated at Haileybury and Trinity College, Cambridge and in 1894 secured employment as a committee clerk at the House of Commons in Westminster.
A skilled yachtsman, in 1903 Childers published ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, a fictional account of German pereparations to invade England, based on his experience of sailing holidays in the Baltic. The following year he married Mary Ellen Osgood of Boston and in 1910 he resigned from the House of Commons to devote himself to political work.
On the day of the Howth gun-running, 26 July 1914, Childers sailed into Howth harbour, County Dublin, in his yacht, the Asgard, with 900 rifles and 14,000 rounds of ammunition, purchased in Germany by Darrell Figgis for the Irish Volunteers.
He served in the British navy during the First World War, but after demobilisatuion he abandoned his earlier Home Rule sympathies and became totlly committed to the republican cause and the establishment of an Irish Republic.
Settling in Dublin in March 1919, he joined Sinn Féin and during the following months he worked closely with George Gavan Duffy and Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh in Paris in their efforts to secure for Ireland a hearing at the Peace Conference.
He was elected to Dáil Éireann for County Wicklow in 1921 and in March of the same year, following the arrest of Desmond Fitzgerald, he was appointed Minister for Publicity and editor of the Irish Bulletin, the Dáil newssheet founded in November 1919 to counter false British propaganda during the Tan War.
The principal secretary to the Irish delegation in London during the Treaty negotiations from October to December 1921, Childers strongly opposed the Treaty. He was editor of the short-lived newspaper, the Republic of Ireland - Poblacht na hÉireann in the first half of 1922.
While visiting Barton's home at Annamoe, County Wicklow, he was arrested by Free State troops. He was court-martialled in camera on 17 November on a charge of possession of a revolver which had been given to him by his former comrade, Michael Collins, and sentenced to death. A week later, while an appeal was pending in the High Court, he was shot by firing squad in Beggars Bush Barracks.
In his speech to the court martial he said:
“I have fought and worked for a sacred principle, the loyalty of a nation to its declared independence and repudiation of any voluntary surrender to conquest and inclusion in the British Empire.”
• Glasnevin, 20 November
On the centenary of Childers’ trial and the execution the same day, 17 November, of four young Dublin IRA Volunteers, Dublin Sinn Féin held a dawn vigil at Kilmainham Jail. The men’s last letters were read and there was a short re-enactment of their execution by firing squad. Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD chaired the event.
The following Sunday Dublin Sinn Féin held a wreath-laying and commemoration at the Republican Plot, Glasnevin, where the first ten Republican prisoners executed by the Free State are buried. It was chaired by Fingal County Councillor Ann Graves and Dessie Ellis TD was the main speaker. Sharon Kelly, relative of executed Volunteer Peter Cassidy attended.
• The Republican Plot
• Sharon Kelly (centre) relative of Peter Cassidy, one of the first four executed
• Dessie Ellis TD
• Ógra Shinn Féin members read the Roll of Honour
• Cllr Ann Graves
• (above and below) The dawn vigil at Kilmainham Jail