18th December

A ‘preserved’ Asgard is unveiled to the public but continues to prompt debate

Tim Magennis

The Chinese, they say, have a way of putting it when they declare, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ There are, I admit, a number of interpretations that may be put on that particular statement.

At the unveiling of Asgard on August 8 in Collins Barracks was a very special guest – and indeed for her, and her distinguished family, these are interesting times.  She was Carainn Childers, grand-daughter of Robert Erskine Childers of Asgard fame and daughter of the late President Erskine Childers.
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Photo: Tim Magennis speaking at the annual Poolbeg Yacht Club regatta

Background

Asgard is one of the most iconic items of recent Irish history. She was pivotal in the 1914 Howth gun-running and her later use as Ireland’s first national sail-training vessel under skipper Capt. Eric Healy.

Asgard’s future however has been a major topic of debate for decades. For 22 years from March 1979 to March 2001, Asgard lay virtually forgotten by the public at large, filling a lonely corner inside the walls of Kilmainham Jail. From time to time during those years, individuals and small groups of concerned people would refer to her deteriorating condition and express astonishment and sadness that our State institutions were content to preside over such neglect of a national treasure. Some promised to do something about it but their efforts came to nought.

Eventually the condition of Ireland’s singular maritime treasure – and one to which Norway can quite rightly also make a claim – became a matter of much concern for a group who shared a passion not only for sailing but above all, where possible, the restoration of classic and traditional craft - and always at their own expense.  They called themselves the Asgard Restoration Project and they had an inspired leader in Arthur Hughes – elder gaffer of the OGA and founder of the DBOGA. They set about the substantial task of creating public awareness of Asgard’s sad condition among a population that had all but forgotten both vessel and her famous owner and originator.

They succeeded in making Asgard a cause of national concern and also in securing her release from the neglect of Kilmainham Jail. These two achievements constitute the proudest claims of the ARP for had they failed, who knows what would have been her fate.

Today, the Asgard Exhibition is a major shrine bestowing honour on the vessel herself, her designer Colin Archer, Erskine Childers and Asgard’s crew and John Kearon – master shipwright in charge of her rebuild. The ARP’s initial contribution to his final happy outcome should not, I believe, be overlooked. 

Annual regatta
Following the unveiling, Carainn Childers and her husband Colin took time out from their busy schedule to present the Asgard Perpetual Trophy at the annual Poolbeg Yacht Club Regatta to Sean Walsh and his speedy Tir na nÓg. 

The couple were welcomed by Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association (DBOGA) members and on behalf of Poolbeg Yacht and Boat Club by Commodore Peter Tobin.  John Kearon was also acknowledged for designing, making the trophy and presenting it to DBOGA. Indeed this is a precious item, being the only trophy composed of original and new Asgard timber.  It is on permanent display at the Poolbeg Club.

Isn’t it strange how situations change? Howth will forever feature in the Asgard saga as the place where Erskine and Molly Childers landed the guns in 1914, but now what do we have?  

A transposition of primary interest to the Liffey; the exhibition only a stone’s throw from the river and a unique trophy in a yacht club sharing water with Dublin Port. Could they be any closer to the heart centre of our capital city?

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