Asgard… August 20, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
This happened while I was on holiday, but the Asgard is now on display in Collins Barracks in Dublin. As the Irish Times noted:
The yacht, owned by Erskine Childers, the father and namesake of the fourth president of Ireland, played a pivotal role in the 1914 Howth gun-running.
And it’s been a remarkable process of conservation of a very specific part of the history of the Independence struggle. Further details on the Asgard and its role can be found here (at least as a first stop).
But the process of conservation in and of itself is fascinating.
John Kearon, Asgard project manager and lead conservator who is a master shipwright and ship and boat conservator, said the final touches to the yacht, which will contain replica upholstery and mattresses, were ongoing ahead of the opening. Mr Kearon, who has been involved in the restoration process for more than 20 years, said “ground breaking” techniques had been used to save as much of the boat’s original material as possible.
“We are now approaching the end of that conservation process and have saved some 70 per cent of the original hull and deck. We have also re-created the missing original accommodation and deckhouses. Asgard now is exactly like when she was first built in 1905.”
On a slight tangent I’m always fascinated by the constructed (in this case literally) elements of historical research. And it raises interesting questions about authenticity, though 70 per cent plus of the original is fairly convincing. But I think the iconic and symbolic significance is no small thing either. During the past few weeks I was at Tangmere Military Aviation Museum in the south of England which is focused largely, though not exclusively, on the World War Two period, and the role of Tangmere airfield and the RAF during that conflict. Much of what was on display was replica, indeed there was a prototype Spitfire that was a full size replica. the Museum itself suggests that the replica is “99% the original prototype”, though precisely how they determine that figure is difficult to assess from a cursory examination of the website. But whether 100% the original or not that detracted in no way from the impact of the overall exhibition (though I have to admit I was as impressed, if not more so, by the Lightning interceptor on display. I’d never realised how big those aircraft were, and they’re big).
Anyway the historical significance of the Asgard is self-evident:
On May 28th, 1914, Darrell Figgis, the Irish writer and political activist, and Erskine Childers, a writer and republican, travelled to Hamburg where they negotiated the purchase of 1,500 rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition from arms firm Moritz Magnus jnr.
With Roger Casement acting as liaison between the London committee and the Irish Volunteers in Dublin, it was arranged that Childers would collect the arms shipment in his yacht Asgard.
Although half the shipment was to be collected by the yacht Kelpie, in the event Asgard transported 900 rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition, with Kelpie taking the rest.
Interestingly the yacht became the national sail training vessel. The overall exhibition is entitled, Asgard: The 1914 Howth Gun-Running Vessel Conserved and well worth a visit.
For a further interesting take on this here’s the text of Labour M.E.P Nessa Childer’s words at the opening.
The Asgard has travelled a long way to be here, as have many members of my family. I am delighted to see them. The restoration has a importance for the Childers family that is unique to us. Each family member has a different perspective in relation to the Asgard and my grandfather. I can only speak for myself. The baby of the family and the third public representative. I do not have the same detailed historical knowledge of the others because there was a curious silence around these issues. Not unusual it seems, in some families who were participants in those turbulent times.
However the part that is alive for me is from the perspective of being a politician in a part of history which is, in it’s own way, as intense and even dangerous as the place in history that grandfather lived and died in. It is hard to describe how difficult and painful it is to preside over the loss of sovereignty and onset of poverty that we the elected, are now responsible for. As such I can’t help but see the similarities between then and now. This is not insignificant. Every person is, at least in part, influenced by their political and cultural past. We must therefore interrogate that past. Once again we have been threatened by overwhelming forces and retreated .Twice. One of those threats indeed, was an unpopular Treaty. What can we learn from similar events in our history? For one thing that a price is always paid for choosing between stability and freedom. The compromise of 1921 had such a price. For ourselves and others across the border. And for my family.
What of the Asgard and its pivotal place in history? For me it seems that it was fundamentally a bold gesture. A signal to others of confidence and defiance. The act of an Englishman who possessed perhaps an imperial hubris which had its own place. We talk a lot about signals these days. Many of them have been gestures of cooperation and compliance in the cause of stability . We need to ask ourselves if at some point the price of peace will be too high. If the answer to that is “yes”, another bold and radical act will be needed by an Irish government. That much is certain. I am proud to be the descendent of Robert Erskine Childers and to see the Asgard take its place for another generation to see.