Papers of Robert Erskine Childers and of his wife Mary Alden Childers

Repository: Trinity College Dublin

Identity Statement

TitlePapers of Robert Erskine Childers and of his wife Mary Alden Childers
Archive ReferenceIE TCD MSS/7781-7931
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates[c1890-1920]
Extent Medium48 Boxes; 2 boxes of photographs


Creator(s): Childers, Robert Erskine, 1870-1922, author and politician Childers, Mary Alden, née Osgood

  • Administrative History ↴

    Robert Erskine Childers was born on 25 June 1870 in Mayfair, London. He was the son of the orientalist Robert Caesar Childers. His parents died when he was young and he and his siblings were sent to his mother's family, the Bartons, in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. He received a BA from Trinity College Cambridge, and was a clerk in the House of Commons from 1895 to 1910. He served under the British in both the Boer War and the First World War, but between the beginning of the former and the end of the latter his attitude towards the British Empire and Ireland's place within it had completely changed. He had undergone a complete conversion to the cause of Home Rule for Ireland. He was assigned to the secretariat of Prime Minister Lloyd George's abortive Home Rule Convention initiative in Dublin Castle in 1917. The violent suppression of the Easter Rising by the British in 1916 had shocked Childers, and the proposal to introduce military conscription to Ireland in 1918 angered him further. Around this time he was introduced to both Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera. Soon after this, in 1919, the Sinn Féin leadership invited him to join the unofficial Irish delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, at which their 'Demand for Recognition' (of Ireland's right to self-determination) was not answered. Childers was a member for Co. Wicklow of the self-constituted Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) in 1921, and was the principal secretary to the Irish delegation which negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the British government. This agreement was soon to divide the country into two camps, Childers being anti-Treaty. The split resulted in the outbreak of the Civil War in 1922. The pro-Treaty camp had the upper hand and held control of government. Events such as the killing of Michael Collins led to the introduction of Emergency Powers legislation by the Dáil, and it was under this bill that Childers was arrested in November 1922. He was tried by a military court on the charge of possessing a semi-automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. The pistol had been a gift from Michael Collins while the two men had been on the same side. Childers was convicted by the military court and sentenced to death. He was shot by firing squad in Dublin on 24 November 1922 and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery. Childers was an enthusiastic sailor from his schooldays. Some of his sailing adventures were used as the basis of his most famous book The Riddle of the Sands, which he wrote in 1903. In 1914 he used the Asgard to smuggle arms to the Irish volunteers in Dublin. His wife Mary Alden ('Molly') Osgood shared his love of sailing. The pair met in the US in 1903 and were married the following year. Molly was an ardent Irish republican, and encouraged her husband in his anti-British stance.
  • Archival History ↴

    Presented by Erskine Childers' son Robert Alden Childers in 1977 with further additions in the 1980s.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Childers, Robert Erskine, 1870-1922, author and politician Childers, Mary Alden, née Osgood ↴

    The collection contains papers relating to Childers’ personal, political and literary affairs, as well as correspondence of his wife.
    The first section of the collection relates to the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations in 1921, and includes conference minutes, committee papers, drafts of the Treaty, memoranda, official correspondence, accounts, rough meeting minutes by Childers himself (TCD MSS 7781-7806). Other sections contain the correspondence: that of both Childers and his wife of a political and public nature (1919-25) (TCD MS 7808), correspondence between them (1903-22) (TCD MSS 7852-60), and between the Childers’ and other relatives (1884-1922) (TCD MSS 7861-63). Also included are other Osgood, Morris and Childers papers and correspondence (TCD MSS 7864-87), including the correspondence of Molly Childers (1894-7 and undated) (TCD MS 7864). Childers personal diaries spanning the years 1904-1922 are included (TCD MSS 7809-19), although the diaries for the period 1914-18 have been presented to the Imperial War Museum. Papers relating to Childers’ writings and publications include articles, presscuttings and correspondence with publishers (1901-27) (TCD MSS 7824-7826, 7826a, 7827), and papers relating to his trial, death and burial, including legal papers (TCD MSS 7829-30). Also included in the collection are photographs (TCD MS 7890); subjects include various nationalists and politicians who were contemporaries of Childers, such as Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, WT Cosgrave and others, events such as one of the first meetings of the first Dáil, an Irish delegation at Downing Street, and the fire at the Four Courts in 1922. Also included are photographs of Childers himself as a young boy and man, with his wife and family, and other members of the Childers and Osgood families, as well as photographs of various sailing trips involving ‘Sunbeam’ and ‘Asgard’. Another section is devoted to notes and papers belonging to Molly Childers for a biography of her husband (TCD MSS 7899-7900).

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    The collection is arranged as follows:
    Anglo-Irish Treaty Papers 7781-7806
    President’s committee-minutes (8 Jan 1922) 7807
    Correspondence mainly official/political 7808
    Diaries 7809-7819
    Autobiographical 7820-7822
    Writings and correspondence re. Publications 7824-7827
    Papers and correspondence re. various interests 7828-7844
    General correspondence and accounts 7845
    General correspondence 7847-7851
    Correspondence Erskine Childers with Mary Osgood Childers 7852-7860
    Correspondence with their relatives 7861-7863
    Mary Osgood Childers correspondence 7864
    Osgood papers 7865-7876
    Other Childers 7877-7883
    Barton, Morris, Childers 7884-7887

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Please contact in advance of your visit
Conditions Governing ReproductionPlease contact for guidance
Creation Dates[c1890-1920]
Extent Medium48 Boxes; 2 boxes of photographs
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids An item-level descriptive list complete is available to search online Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Related MaterialPapers of Robert Erskine Childers (1870-1922), author and politician, in Trinity College Library, Cambridge: GBR/0016/CHILDERS Yachting journals (1895-1914), The Caird Library, Manuscripts Section, National Maritime Museum, London: RCC/1-7 Diaries, 1914-18 (8 vols), The Imperial War Musem, London: 471 80/36/1 & PP/MCR/C28 Correspondence and papers (c1920-4), The National Library of Ireland, Dublin
Publication NoteRing, Jim, 'Erskine Childers' (London, 1996) Childers, Erskine, 'Riddle of the Sands' (London, 1903)

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteAdapted by Natalie Milne
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000. National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names. Chippenham: National Council on Archives, 1997. UK Archival Thesaurus (UKAT)
Date of DescriptionsMarch 2014.