IT WAS A “determining moment in Ireland’s revolutionary period,” as President Michael D Higgins described it.
He was speaking in Howth in Dublin this afternoon at an event to mark the centenary of the landing of the Asgard.
It is exactly one hundred years since the boat arrived at Howth carrying a shipment of arms which was to play a key role in the 1916 Rising – but the landing was not without casualties.
On 26 July 1914, the boat, which was owned by writer Erskine Childers, sailed into Howth harbour with a shipment of 900 rifles and 19,000 cartridges for the Irish Volunteers.
The weapons had been bought in Hamburg with funds raised by senior figures involved in the Irish Volunteers, including Roger Casement and Alice Stopford Green.
Members of the Irish Volunteers and Na Fianna Éireann unloaded the weapons at Howth. However, as the weapons were being brought into Dublin city, members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and a regiment of the British Army tried to seize them.
The officers failed – but hours later, as the regiment returned to Collins Barracks where it was stationed, soldiers opened fired on a hostile but unarmed crowd at Bachelor’s Walk in Dublin city centre. Three civilians were killed while a fourth died later. A further 80 people were injured.
Despite this, most of the weapons from the Asgard avoided being seized, and were later used in the Easter Rising in 1916.
Today, the official commemoration was held at Howth to mark 100 years since the boat landed.
A replica of the boat sailed into Howth harbour, while President Higgins laid a wreath at the site and a local group carried out a re-enactment of the landing.
Newly-appointed Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys laid a wreath at Glasnevin Cemetery to remember the four people who died at Bachelor’s Walk, all of whom are buried in the graveyard.
Independent MEP Nessa Childers, who is the grandchild of Erskine Childers, said the gun running “was a symbolic and bold gesture intended to give confidence to Irish nationalists”.
“Although the guns were used in combat, my grandfather would have viewed their importance as primarily for propaganda purposes,” she said. “We would now describe the event as armed politics, intended to put political pressure on the British government and opponents of Irish independence”.