Howth guns

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—I enjoyed Conor Nelson’s article on Erskine Childers and the Howth gunrunning and Joe Connell’s ‘Countdown to 2016’ piece on the same topic (HI 22.3, May/June 2014). However, I feel the need to clarify a couple of points in the latter. 

Firstly, Joe is obviously conflating the Asgard arms landing of 1914 with the failed Aud shipment of 1916. The latter was carrying rifles captured from the Russians by the Germans in various actions since 1914. These were largely Russian Moisin Nagant 1891 rifles. Obviously, the Asgard could not have been carrying captured Russian weapons, as the war had not yet begun in July 1914.
Secondly, the rifles actually landed at Howth have been misidentified as the Mauser Gewehr ’98s. This is a common enough mistake and Howth rifles are frequently misidentified as such in literature on the Rising. They were in fact the Mauser model 1871, a cheaper but obsolete rifle. They were single-shot rifles, firing an 11mm black powder cartridge, and were a generation behind, in firearms development terms, to the weapons used by the British Army in Dublin in 1916.

I have actually fired surviving examples of the ‘Howth rifle’ as part of a project re-evaluating the performance of the weapons of 1916. This is the Mount Street 1916 Project under the direction of Lt Alan Kearney of the Defence Forces. I can confirm that these rifles have a considerable recoil and create a large cloud of smoke when fired, giving away the position of the firer. Considering the negative qualities of the ‘Howth rifle’, it makes the performance of the Volunteers at several locations in 1916, particularly Mount Street, all the more remarkable. 

The Mount Street 1916 Project plans to hold a conference, open to the general public, in November 2014, in which their findings will be discussed. Some of these weapons will be fired, along with others used in the Rising, as a means of providing a clearer picture of some of the engagements that took place in 1916.—Yours etc.,

NUI Maynooth


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