Robert Erskine Childers, British writer universally known as Erskine Childers and whose mother is from County Clare, is born on June 25, 1870 in Mayfair, London, England. His works include the influential novel The Riddle of the Sands. He is the second son of Robert Caesar Childers, a translator and oriental scholar from an ecclesiastical family, and Anna Mary Henrietta, née Barton, from an Anglo-Irish landowning family of Glendalough House, Annamoe, County Wicklow. He is also the cousin of Hugh Childers and Robert Barton, and the father of the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Hamilton Childers.
Childers is raised at the home of family members at Glendalough, County Wicklow. At the recommendation of his grandfather, Canon Charles Childers, he is sent to Haileybury College. There he wins an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studies the classical tripos and then law. He distinguishes himself as the editor of Cambridge Review, the university magazine.
Childers’s first published work is some light detective stories he contributes to the Cambridge Review while he is editor. His first book is In the Ranks of the C. I. V., an account of his experiences in the Boer War, but he writes it without any thought of publication.
After serving in the British army during the Boer War he becomes an Irish nationalist. In 1914, Childers smuggles a cargo of 900 Mauser Model 1871 rifles and 29,000 black powder cartridges to the Irish Volunteers movement at the fishing village of Howth, County Dublin on his yacht, Asgard.
Though he serves as the principal secretary to Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith at the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, Childers opposes the treaty, supporting the anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. Childers is captured with a pistol by Free Staters in November 1922 shortly after the Free State has passed legislation making such possession a capital offence. Ironically, the revolver Childers possesses is a gift from former comrade Michael Collins, who led the Free State until his death in an ambush three months earlier.
Childers is put on trial by a military court on the charge of possessing a small Spanish-made Gaztanaga Destroyer .32 calibre semi-automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. Childers is convicted by the military court and sentenced to death on November 20, 1922.
While his appeal against the sentence is still pending, Childers is executed on November 24, 1922 by firing squad at the Beggar’s Bush Barracks in Dublin. Before his execution he shakes hands with each member of the firing squad. He also obtains a promise from his then 16-year-old son, the future President Erskine Hamilton Childers, to seek out and shake the hand of every man who has signed his death sentence. His final words, spoken to the firing squad, are, “Take a step or two forward, lads, it will be easier that way.”
Robert Erskine Childers is buried at Beggar’s Bush Barracks until 1923, when his body is exhumed and reburied in the republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.