Nationalist, Robert Erskine Childers, author of Riddle of the Sands, arms smuggler, father of the fourth president of Ireland Erskine Childers was executed by Free State government for carrying an unlawful weapon at 7am in Dublin (as well as eight other IRA members). Childers supported the Anti-Treaty forces in the vicious Irish civil war which plagued the country from 1921-1923. Ironically, the weapon in question was a gift from one time friend and colleague Michael Collins. In his book The Riddle of Erskine Childers, Andrew Boyle states that Childers’ final words to his executioners, before he was to be shot were ‘Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way.’
Although Childers vehemently disagreed with the signing of the Treaty by Michael Collins, he was still able to say positive things about ‘The Big Fella’ during the vitriolic Treaty debate in December 1921. ‘I think everybody will agree that we have listened to a most able and eloquent speech. I most heartily agree to it, though I am in profound disagreement with the conclusions of the speaker. He has said many things which I admire and respect, he has said others that I profoundly regret. All of us agree, I think, that we have listened to a manly, eloquent, and worthy speech from the Minister for Finance.’
After Collins’s assassination, emergency laws promulgated the death sentence for anyone caught armed without authorisation. Childers was a writer, not a partisan, but he was arrested in early November with a small sidearm — a gift Michael Collins had given him. It was a time of bloody justice, and they threw the book at him.
Childers knew as well as Collins had that the internecine conflict would have to end. He checked out with awe-inspiring forgiveness; summoning his 16-year-old son to prison the night before his execution, Childers extracted a promise that the boy would find everyone who signed his death warrant and shake their hands. Young Erskine Hamilton Childers eventually became President of Ireland.
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