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Daring Asgard plot still reads like a Hollywood thriller 100 years on

The arrival of a consignment of arms into Howth harbour on the Asgard yacht a hundred years ago had all the makings of a Hollywood thriller.

The yacht arrived into the harbour laden down with a consignment of guns which were bought in Germany.

It arrived just before 1pm on July 26, 1914 amid much excitement, after its crew, including two women, had spent weeks at sea.

The boat and its audacious journey - braving tremendous storms, while over-laden - holds an enduring place in the annals of Irish history.

The famous delivery to the Irish Volunteers by the Asgard and its owners Erskine and Molly Childers, will be commemorated this Sunday in the north Dublin town.

Childers and his wife, with the aid of a small crew, famously made the crossing on the 51ft ketch which had been a wedding present from Molly's father.


The yacht, which arrived at Howth Pier on a Sunday afternoon, contained 900 Mauser rifles and 26,000 rounds of ammunition, purchased in Hamburg, and which had been transferred from the tug Gladiator off the Dutch coast.

The weapons were unloaded at Howth by members of the Irish Volunteers and Na Fianna Eireann,

Such were the crowds waiting, the massive haul of rifles and ammunition were unloaded in less than an hour and spirited away into Dublin by the Irish volunteers.

Meanwhile, a smaller cargo of weapons was landed at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow a few days late from another vessel called the Kelpie, owned by Conor O'Brien.

Today, the Asgard takes pride of place at a popular exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks - it was meticulously restored to its original splendour by John Kearon, a traditional boat conservator.

In addition, local volunteers in Howth built, assembled and partly funded the rigging and spars used in the Asgard.

The boat itself was built in 1905 by Colin Archer, the celebrated Norwegian naval architect.

Its story is linked with many of the wider historical events that were to influence and shape the course of Irish history in the 20th century.

Sandra Heise, curator of historical collections at the national museum told the Herald of the historical context.

"The arming of the UVF as a reaction to the impending introduction of Home Rule reinforced the impression that everybody could arm except the Irish volunteers," she said.

The nationalists were very much impeded by that proclamation that had been brought in against the importation of arms in December 1913, she said.


Sandra said that the practical idea for the gun running came from the honourable Mary Spring Rice, who approached her friend Erskine Childers and asked him to oversee the running of the guns in a fishing boat that was going to be based in Limerick.

He found that unsuitable and offered the use of the Asgard yacht instead, according to Sandra.

"Mary Spring Rice's cousin, Conor O'Brien, who was also an expert yachtsman and navigator like Erskine Childers and was skipper of his own yacht, Kelpie, was also brought in on it to hopefully carry half of the load of guns," she said.

Erskine Childers and Darrell Figgis, a journalist, went to Hamburg to negotiate the purchase of the arms.

It was an arms firm identified by 'The O'Rahilly', who was Director of Arms for the Irish Volunteers. A total of 15,000 rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition were purchased.

When it was time for the plan to be executed, the Asgard set sail from what was then known as Conway, in Wales on July 3, 1914, meeting up with the crew of the Kelpie en route.

"The rendezvous point was the Rotigen lightship off the Belgian coast, and July 12 was the date set."

The Kelpie vessel got there first, and took 600 rifles, and the Asgard took the remainder from the Gladiator tugboat that had been commissioned by Darrell Figgis in Hamburg, according to Sandra.

Both vessels set off back toward the English coast about a week before World War 1 broke out.

The crew aboard the Asgard were Erskine Childers, Molly Childers, Mary Spring Rice, Gordon Shephard, and two Gola fisherman and sailors who were Patrick McGinley and Charles Duggan.

"They were 24 days at sea with no communication between themselves and the volunteers at that time. They were trusting to the arrangements that had been made at the time, which was that the volunteers would be marched out to Howth to meet the yacht at 1 o'clock.

"The Asgard actually made it at 12.45pm, so they pretty much arrived simultaneously," Sandra added.