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The Howth Gun Running

The organisation of arms for the 1916 Easter Rising was a complicated affair with arrangements to obtain the necessary weapons taking place years in advance.

Shortly after the formation of the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the British Parliament banned the importation of weapons into Ireland.

In April 1914 the Ulster Volunteers successfully imported 24,000 rifles into Larne. Patrick Pearse famously replied that ‘the Orangeman with a gun is not as laughable as the nationalist without one’. So plans were made to import a shipment of arms from Germany.

Robert Erskine Childers, his wife Molly, and a small crew agreed to collect part of the haul in their 51ft yacht, Asgard, transporting 900 rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition from Hamburg to Howth, north of Dublin. They landed at Howth on 26 July 1914 and were met by a large gathering of enthusiastic volunteers. The arms were later used during the Rising.

Somehow they also found time to take photographs to record their mission. TCD MS 7890/8 includes pictures of the writer and political activist, Darell Figgis, hailing Asgard from the German tug Gladiator (TCD MS 7890/8/45), Mary Spring Rice and Molly Childers with guns aboard Asgard (TCD MS 7890/8/55) and a number of the Irish volunteers at Howth assembled to receive the shipment (TCD MS 7890/8/64,69,73,74).

These images are all from the papers of Robert Erskine Childers (1870-1922), Irish nationalist, writer and father of the president of the same name. The papers are held in M&ARL and also contain other material relating to the gun running mission and relevant to 1916 research. For further information on this collection, please see the MARLOC online catalogue.

Additional images of the yacht Asgard have been digitised and are available on Digital Collections.

Estelle Gittins

Manuscripts & Archives Research Library