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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Execution of Robert Erskine Childers

During the Irish Civil War, British writer and Irish republican Robert Erskine Childers is executed by the Irish Free State government at the Beggars Bush Barracks in Dublin on November 24, 1922.

The London-born son of a British scholar and an Irish mother, Childers is a lifelong Protestant, itself an anomaly since Irish nationalism maps strongly to Catholicism. In his early years his loyalty was with the British Empire. In his twenties, Childers volunteers for the Second Boer War, and he later says the rank savagery and underlying injustice of England’s war “changed the whole current of my life and made me a Liberal and a Nationalist.”

Laying down the sword, Childers takes up the pen and writes several books of military history. He also writes a novel, The Riddle of the Sands, that has a claim of being the first spy novel. The Riddle of the Sands has never gone out of print since it was published in 1903.

Both in fiction and nonfiction, Childers’ warnings against the German challenge to British hegemony are prophetic, but he is himself becoming a man divided. In 1914 he runs German guns to Irish nationalists aboard his yacht Asgard and then signs up for the royal navy when World War I erupts. The British crackdown on the Easter Rising during the war completes his radicalization. He moves to Dublin and turns his eloquence against the British.

Childers is swept into the tragedy of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War that follows. Although both he and Michael Collins are in the delegation that produces the contentious Anglo-Irish Treaty, Childers breaks with Collins over it and backs the Irish Republican Army (IRA) nationalists who fight the Irish Free State.

After Collins’s assassination, emergency laws promulgate the death sentence for anyone caught armed without authorization. Childers is a writer, not a partisan, but he is arrested in early November with a small sidearm, a gift Collins had given him back when they were on the same side. It is a time of bloody justice and they throw the book at him.

Childers knows as well as Collins had that the internecine conflict would have to end. He faces his execution with awe-inspiring forgiveness. Summoning his 16-year-old son to prison the night before his execution, Childers extracts a promise from the boy that he will find everyone who signed his death warrant and shake their hands. This son, young Erskine Hamilton Childers, eventually becomes President of Ireland.

Childers himself likewise shakes the hands of his own firing squad, one by one. His last words, reported in a number of slightly different variations, are lightheartedly addressed to them: “Take a step or two forwards, lads. It will be easier that way.”

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Death of Erskine Hamilton Childers, 4th President of Ireland

Erskine Hamilton Childers, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as the 4th President of Ireland, dies on November 17, 1974. He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health from 1969 to 1973, Minister for Transport and Power from 1959 to 1969, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1951 to 1954 and 1966 to 1969. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1938 to 1973.

Childers is born on December 11, 1905, in the Embankment Gardens, London, to a Protestant family originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow. He is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge. In 1922, when Childers is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically inspired charges of gun-possession. After attending his father’s funeral, Childers returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge.

After finishing his education, Childers works for a period in a tourism board in Paris. In 1931, Éamon de Valera invites him to work for his recently founded newspaper, The Irish Press, where Childers becomes advertising manager. He becomes a naturalised Irish citizen in 1938. That same year, he is first elected as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Athlone–Longford. He remains in the Dáil Éireann until 1973, when he resigns to become President.

Childers joins the cabinet in 1951 as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the de Valera government. He then serves as Minister for Lands in de Valera’s 1957–59 cabinet, as Minister for Transport and Power under Seán Lemass, and, successively, as Transport Minister, Posts and Telegraphs Minister, and Health Minister under Jack Lynch. He becomes Tánaiste in 1969.

Fine Gael TD Tom O’Higgins, who had almost won the 1966 presidential election, is widely expected to win the 1973 election when he is again the Fine Gael nominee. Childers is nominated by Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous, and in a political upset, Childers is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating O’Higgins by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers had campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Garret FitzGerald.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers’ daughter Nessa believes that he plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict, reporting that former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O’Neill meets secretly with her father at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desired, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin is attended by world leaders including the Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Birth of Robert Erskine Childers, Writer & Fenian

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.


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Birth of Constance Georgine Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz)

countess-markieviczConstance Georgine Gore-Booth is born on February 4, 1868 at Buckingham Gate, London, the eldest daughter of Arctic explorer and philanthropist Sir Henry Gore-Booth and Georgina May Hill.

The Gore-Booths are known as model landlords in  County Sligo as they provide free food for the tenants on their estate. Perhaps being raised in this atmosphere of concern for the common man has something to do with the way Constance and her younger sister, Eva, conduct their later lives.

Gore-Booth decides to train as a painter and, in 1892, she enters the Slade School of Art in London because, at the time, only one art school in Dublin accepts female students. While in school in London Gore-Booth first becomes politically active and joins the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

She later moves to Paris and enrolls at the prestigious Académie Julian where she meets her future husband, Count Casimir Markievicz. They are married in London on September 29, 1900 making her Countess Markievicz. The Markieviczes relocate to Dublin in 1903 and move in artistic and literary circles, with Constance being instrumental in founding the United Artists Club.

In 1908, Markievicz becomes actively involved in nationalist politics in Ireland and joins Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), a revolutionary women’s movement founded by Maud Gonne. In the same year, Markievicz plays a dramatic role in the women’s suffrage campaigners’ tactic of opposing Winston Churchill‘s election to Parliament during the Manchester North West by-election. Churchill ultimately loses the election to Conservative candidate William Joynson-Hicks.

In 1909, Markievicz founds Fianna Éireann, a para-military nationalist scouts organisation that instructs teenage boys and girls in the use of firearms. Patrick Pearse says that the creation of Fianna Éireann is as important as the creation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. She is jailed for the first time in 1911 for speaking at an Irish Republican Brotherhood demonstration organised to protest against George V’s visit to Ireland.

Markievicz joins James Connolly‘s socialist Irish Citizen Army, a small volunteer force formed in response to the lock-out of 1913, to defend the demonstrating workers from the police. During the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914, Irish Citizen Army members led by Markievicz, and including Thomas MacDonagh, Bulmer Hobson, Douglas Hyde and Darrell Figgis, unload arms from Erskine Childers‘ yacht Asgard in Howth harbour with hand carts and wheelbarrows.

As a member of the Irish Citizen Army, Markievicz takes part in the 1916 Easter Rising. Under Michael Mallin and Christopher Poole, she supervises the erection of barricades as the Rising begins and is in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen’s Green. Mallin and Poole and their men and women, including Markievicz, hold out for six days, ending the engagement when the British bring them a copy of Patrick Pearse’s surrender order.

They are taken to Dublin Castle and Markievicz is transported to Kilmainham Gaol, where she is the only one of 70 women prisoners who is put into solitary confinement. At her court martial on May 4, 1916, Markievicz is sentenced to death, but General Maxwell commutes this to life in prison on “account of the prisoner’s sex.” It is widely reported that she tells the court, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” Markievicz is transferred to Mountjoy Prison and then to Aylesbury Prison in England in July 1916. She is released from prison in 1917, along with others involved in the Rising.

In the 1918 general election, Markievicz is elected for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s, making her the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat in the House of Commons. She is re-elected to the Second Dáil in the elections of 1921. Markievicz serves as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, holding cabinet rank from April to August 1919, becoming both the first Irish female Cabinet Minister and only the second female government minister in Europe.

Markievicz leaves government in January 1922 along with Éamon de Valera and others in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She fights actively for the Republican cause in the Irish Civil War. She is returned in the 1923 general election for the Dublin South constituency but again, in common with other Republican candidates, she does not take her seat.

She joins Fianna Fáil on its foundation in 1926, chairing the inaugural meeting of the new party in La Scala Theatre. In the June 1927 general election, she is re-elected to the 5th Dáil as a candidate for the new Fianna Fáil party, which is pledged to return to Dáil Éireann.

Before she can take up her seat, Markievicz dies at the age of 59 on July 15, 1927, in a public ward “among the poor where she wanted to be” of complications related to appendicitis. One of the doctors attending her is her revolutionary colleague, Kathleen Lynn. Also at her bedside are Casimir and Stanislas Markievicz, Éamon de Valera, and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Refused a state funeral by the Free State government, Markievicz is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, and de Valera gives the funeral oration.