Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Travel back in time with the yacht Asgard

On the grounds of Collins Barracks
the building which houses Asgard.
When I was in Dublin in January I had the opportunity to view the completely restored yacht Asgard, which is housed in its own building at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. Originally commissioned as a wedding gift for Erskine Childers and his wife Molly, the yacht Asgard is historically significant because it was used in July of 1914 in an event which is best known as the Howth Gun-running.

In order to begin arming the Irish Volunteers, writer and Sinn Féin activist Darrell Figgis travelled to Belgium to negotiate the purchase of 1,500 Mauser rifles and about 45,000 rounds of ammunition. Once the deal was made, Eskine Childers and Conor O'Brien agreed to divide the arms and transport them back to Ireland onboard their respective yachts. Figgis hired a tug boat and met Childers and O'Brien at a previously arranged point in the North Sea, where the weapons and ammunition were loaded onto the yachts.

With a skeleton crew, which included his wife Molly Childers and their friend the Honorable Mary Spring Rice, Childers sailed the Asgard with 900 rifles and about 30,000 rounds of ammunition onboard, landing at Howth, County Dublin, Ireland on 26 July 1914. Conor O'Brien, who captained the second yacht called Kelpie, took the remaining 600 rifles and about 15,000 rounds of ammunition for transport. His cache of guns and ammunition was ultimately transferred to a third yacht and landed in August at Kilcoole.

With respect to my family history, the yacht Asgard is significant because members of my family were involved in the gun-running at Howth, including my relative Laurence J. Kettle, who was a founding member of the provisional committee which oversaw the Volunteers, and my paternal granduncle Michael Magee, who was one of the young men who carried guns away from Howth on that July day. In his witness statement, Frank Henderson, one of the participants from the Dublin Brigade, said of that day,

We were fairly near the ship, the 'Asgard', when she arrived, about two hundred yards away, I suppose. It was very well timed. Just as the head of the column got to the end of the pier, she sailed into the harbour...The guns were passed out from hand to hand from the ship and we held on to them...I suppose we were about an hour or more on the pier. The idea of the organisers was to get away as soon as possible because we had to march back to Dublin.

Asgard has been beautifully restored with special attention paid to conserve as much as of the original yacht as possible. For a detailed look at the conservation and restoration of this vessel see Conserving Asgard on the Classic Boat website.

In the hall where Asgard rests, the walls are lined with boards on which is detailed
the history of the yacht, and of the gun-running to Howth.
The bow of the Asgard seen from the upper viewing platform.
A close view of the yacht from the upper platform.
A view from the stern. Unfortunately the window glass installed at this end of the platform slightly distorts the image.
The body of the yacht. From this viewpoint you can see how beautifully constructed the yacht is.
The stern with the yacht's name embellished across her.
The Asgard viewed from floor level.
On the left: young men reaching for guns from the yacht Asgard.
On the right: Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice onboard Asgard,
displaying some of the Mausers they were transporting.

Martin, Francis Xavier, ed. The Irish Volunteers 1913 - 1915, Duffy and Company, Dublin, Ireland, 1963.
Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement #53: Bulmer Hobson.
Bureau of Military History, Witness Statement #249: Frank Henderson.


  1. That is some piece of history your associated with and the Yacht is so well restored.

    1. Hello Bill,

      Thanks for your comments; as always, they are much appreciated. Asgard certainly is an extraordinary piece of history, and I'm glad the Irish government supported the restoration and displaying of it. It gives the history a definite immediacy.


  2. I wasn't familiar with the Asgard or the gun running at Howth. Thanks for sharing this fascinating history. Your perspective and photos, as always, are lovely.

    1. Hello Linda,

      Thanks very much for your comments. They are always much appreciated. I am glad to be able to give you this brief introduction to the Asgard.



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