Image of Erskine Childers


Lifetime: 1870 - 1922 Passed: ≈ 101 years ago


Author, Soldier, Novelist



Erskine Childers

Robert Erskine was an English-born Irish writer, whose works included the influential novel The Riddle of the Sands. He became a supporter of Irish Republicanism and smuggled guns into Ireland in his sailing yacht Asgard. He was executed by the authorities of the nascent Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War. He was the son of British Orientalist scholar Robert Caesar Childers; the cousin of Hugh Childers and Robert Barton; and the father of the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Hamilton Childers.

Childers was born in Mayfair, London, in 1870.He was the second son of Robert Caesar Childers, a translator and oriental scholar from an ecclesiastical family, and Anna Mary Henrietta Barton, from an Anglo-Irish landowning family of Glendalough House, Annamoe, County Wicklow, with interests in France such as the winery that bears their name. His great-grandmother was Selina Eardley. When Erskine was six, his father died from tuberculosis and, although seemingly healthy, Anna was confined to an isolation hospital, where she died six years later. The five children were sent to the Bartons, the family of their mother's uncle, at Glendalough, County Wicklow. They were treated kindly there and Erskine grew up knowing and loving Ireland, albeit at that stage from the comfortable viewpoint of the "Protestant Ascendancy".

At the recommendation of his grandfather, Canon Charles Childers, he was sent to Haileybury College. There he won an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied the classical tripos and then law. He distinguished himself as the editor of Cambridge Review, the university magazine. Notwithstanding his unattractive voice and poor debating skills, he became president of the Trinity College Debating Society (the "Magpie and Stump" society). Although Erskine was an admirer of his cousin Hugh Childers, a member of the British Cabinet working for Irish home rule, at this stage he spoke vehemently against the policy in college debates. A sciatic injury sustained while hillwalking in the summer before he went up, and which was to dog him for the rest of his life, left him slightly lame and he was unable to pursue his intention of earning a rugby blue, but he became a proficient rower.

Having gained his degree in law, and planning to one day follow his cousin Hugh into the British Parliament as an MP, Childers sat the competitive entry examination to become a parliamentary official, and early in 1895 he became a junior committee clerk in the House of Commons, with responsibility for preparing formal and legally sound bills from the proposals of the government of the day.

Books by Erskine Childers

The Riddle of the Sands  Cover image

The Riddle of the Sands

Fiction Political Science War
Military Spy Thriller Influential Suspense Espionage political Modern

The book, which enjoyed immense popularity in the years before World War I, is an early example of the espionage novel and was extremely influential in the genre of spy fiction. It has been made into feature-length films for both cinema and televisio...