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


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Birth of Erskine B. Childers, Writer, Correspondent & Civil Servant

erskine-barton-childersErskine Barton Childers, Irish writer, BBC correspondent and United Nations senior civil servant, is born in Dublin on March 11, 1929.

Childers is born to Erskine Hamilton Childers (Ireland’s fourth President) and his first wife Ruth Ellen Dow. He grows up in a multi-cultural atmosphere which influences his whole life. From an early age, he has an obvious fascination with history and world affairs. He studies at Newtown School, Waterford and much later on at Trinity College, Dublin and Stanford University. At Stanford he is actively involved with the National Student Association and rises to Vice-President of the organisation by 1949.

By 1960, Childers is in London working for the BBC in both radio and television. His broadcasts from the BBC World Service range on varying topics from the Suez Crisis and Palestine to the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963. He is one of the first presenters at the start of the BBC TV show The Money Programme in 1966. The Suez Canal and Palestine issues later form the basis of his writing on the subjects.

Childers is distinguished as one of the first mainstream writers in the West to systematically challenge the contention that Palestinian Arab refugees of the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War fled their homes primarily from Arab broadcast evacuation orders, rather than from the use of force and terror by armed forces of the newly forming state of Israel.

Childers specialises in UN issues, even serving as a periodic consultant including a special mission in the Congo for Secretary-General U Thant. In 1967, under the leadership of Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr., he is hired to lead a United Nations, UNICEF and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) programme called Development Support Communication. In 1968 he co-authors a paper with United Nations colleague Mallica Vajrathon called “Project Support Communication,” later published in an important anthology about social change.

From 1975 to 1988, Childers is based in New York as Director of Information for UNDP. By his retirement in 1989 after 22 years of service as Senior Advisor to the UN Director General for Development and International Economic Co-operation, Childers had worked with most of the organisations of the UN system, at all levels and in all regions.

After his retirement, Childers continues to strive relentlessly for the ideals for which he had worked so hard. He co-authors several notable books for the Ford Foundation and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation on the reform of the United Nations with his colleague and equally devoted United Nations civil servant, Sir Brian Urquhart. The best known of these publications is A World in Need of Leadership. He continues writing on United Nations matters while traveling constantly and lecturing on the Organisation and the many challenges confronting it, such as globalisation and democracy, conflict prevention and peace-keeping, humanitarian assistance, human rights, famine, ageing and development, health, financial arrangement of the United Nations, citizen’s rights, female participation, design and perceptions, education, the North South divide and world economy. In 1995 he co-authors a paper with his international law colleague Marjolijn Snippe called The Agenda for Peace and the Law of the Sea, for Pacem in Maribus XXIII, the Annual Conference of the International Ocean Institute, that is held in Costa Rica, December 1995.

Childers becomes Secretary General of the World Federation of United Nations Associations in March 1996. Having served for only five months, he dies on August 25, 1996 during the organisation’s fiftieth anniversary congress. He is buried in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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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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Erskine Childers Elected Fourth President of Ireland

In a political upset, Erskine Hamilton Childers defeats Tom O’Higgins by a very narrow margin and is elected as the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973.

Incumbent president Éamon de Valera is 90 years old and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His party, Fianna Fáil, seeks to get former Tánaiste Frank Aiken to run for the presidency, but he declines. Under pressure, former Tánaiste Erskine H. Childers agrees to run. The odds-on favourite is Fine Gael deputy leader, Tom O’Higgins, who had come within 1% of defeating Éamon de Valera in the 1966 presidential election.

Childers 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. In a political upset, Erskine H. Childers wins the presidency by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers, though 67, 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 has 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. He refuses to co-operate with Childers’ first priority upon taking office, the establishment of a think tank within Áras an Uachtaráin to plan the country’s future. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Foreign Minister, Garret FitzGerald. However, Childers remains detached from the government. Whereas previously, presidents had been briefed by taoisigh once a month, Cosgrave briefs President Childers and his successor, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, on average once every six months.

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

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, 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 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 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.