Childers, Robert Erskine

views updated May 17 2018

Childers, Robert Erskine (1870–1922). Childers was a prim civil servant with a taste for high adventure. He was born in London and educated at Haileybury and Trinity College, Cambridge. His father, a distinguished oriental scholar, died when he was 6, and Childers was brought up by his mother, whose family came from Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains. From 1895 to 1910 Childers was a clerk in the House of Commons. At the outbreak of the Boer War he volunteered and wrote two books on his experiences. In 1903 he achieved a sensational success with a brilliant novel, The Riddle of the Sands, about two yachtsmen who stumbled on German preparations, in the shelter of the Frisian Islands, for a barge-invasion of England: it touched public anxiety and sold copiously. From 1910 Childers became more involved in the Irish nationalist cause and in 1914 ran a quantity of arms to Howth in his yacht Asgard. During the Great War he worked as an intelligence officer and took part in the air raid on Zeppelin bases at Cuxhaven in November 1914—his old stamping-ground. He was secretary to the Irish delegation in 1921 but joined de Valera in 1922 in opposition to the treaty and was shot by the new government of the Irish Free State. He died with composure, shaking hands with the firing squad. His son Erskine was president of Eire from 1973 to 1975.

J. A. Cannon