Robert Erskine Childers (1870–1922)
Robert Erskine Childers was born in London on 25 June 1870, the youngest son of Anna (née Barton) and Robert Caesar Childers. With both parents dying of tuberculosis before he was ten years of age, he and his siblings grew up in Co. Wicklow at the family home of his first cousin, Robert Barton. Childers reads Law at Trinity College, Cambridge, and briefly studied for the Bar in 1893 before being accepted for clerkship in the House of Commons in January 1895. A staunch believer in Irish Home Rule, he served in the Boer War in 1899, and upon his return immersed himself in the literary world and published The Riddle of the Sands in 1903.
In 1904 he married Bostonian Mary ‘Molly’ Alden Osgood and they had two sons. Helping the Irish Volunteers in 1914, Childers landed arms at Howth, Co. Dublin. One month later, he volunteered into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and during WWI clocked over two hundred hours of flight as an aerial observer. In 1919 he and his wife decided to devote their energies initially to the achievement of Home Rule, and subsequently to independence. The family moved to Dublin, with Childers then formally offering his skills to Sinn Féin. Within months he was working as a publicist in their Dublin office, and briefly took charge of the Irish Bulletin. In July 1921, Childers was part of the first Irish delegation to London. From the outset, he thought that any formal meeting with a Prime Minister would be a mistake, suggesting that acceptance of an Irish Republic by the British Cabinet, with safeguards for Ulster, should be agreed before further negotiations. Childers was familiar with the machinery of Westminster and had studied the political and diplomatic stratagems of earlier colonial negotiations.
As Chief Secretary to the Treaty Conference in October, Childers was in a unique position among the Irish side, as he had previous acquaintance with Churchill and Lloyd George from his WWI service, and a school friendship with Churchill’s secretary. He also was on friendly terms with most of the newspaper editors in London.
Childers would later describe the Treaty as a 'vast trap' and became one of its fiercest public opponents. As he remarked to Robert Brennan (just months before his death) ‘Griffith was deceived by Lloyd-George […] The British can sign and find a way to repudiate their signatures […] They are opportunists.’ Arrested by the National Army at the Barton estate in November 1922, Childers was charged with possession of a small pistol, actually given to him as a keepsake by Collins, and executed in Dublin on 24 November.
Author: Erskine Childers
Sources: DIB: Michael A. Hopkinson; RIA; The Robert Erskine Childers papers, TCD; NLI; UCD Library; The Erskine C. Childers family papers; Brennan (1950).
Erskine Childers (1922)
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