‘Pixilated’ pistol puts in a timely reappearance

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Winter 1995), News, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 3

No Taoiseach. No British prime minister. No armed security. No jostlinghordes of press. Not even one international jurist was presentyesterday to witness the decommissioning ceremony in a south Dublinhouse.
There was just one weapon, bearing little resemblance to a late20th-century Armalite. ‘Destroyer’ read the inscription on the barrel.Wrapped in tissue and blue cardboard, the .32 Spanish automatic pistolwas once an innocent present  from Michael Collins that led to theowner’s tragic execution.
That was all of seventy-three years ago, when Erskine Childers, TDfor Wicklow and owner of the yacht Asgard, was shot by firing squad atBeggars Bush Barracks on a November morning.
Not a fortnight previously, he had been seized by Free State troopsat his cousin’s house in Annamoe, County Wicklow. He was charged,tried, found guilty and sentenced to death for unlawful possession ofthe little Spanish gun.
Yesterday the military historian, Col. John P. Duggan, could notbelieve his eyes. After years of research into the whereabouts of theweapon, he had received a telephone call in response to a letter he hadsent to The Irish Times. ‘It is trouble,’ Col. Duggan had written in alast, desperate appeal to the unknown holder. It had ‘pixilatedpoltergeistic potential’, he warned.
To discover that it was only a pistol-shot away from his house leftthe colonel speechless. Mrs Rita Childers, wife of the late Presidentand daughter-in-law of the gun’s owner, had located it this week in anItalian walnut cabinet at home. She had been under the impression thatit was with her step-son, also Erskine, who is a retired United Nationsdiplomat.
Presenting it on behalf of her step-son to Col. Duggan yesterdayafternoon, Mrs Childers appeared visibly relieved. The pistol had takenon a strange, almost supernatural, life of its own after the Childersexecution.
As recorded by Col. Duggan in the current edition of HistoryIreland [Autumn 1995], it was acquired by the then Judge AdvocateGeneral, Mr Cahir Davitt, and resulted in his temporary detention, onthe way home from a dance; a bruise on his thigh, when it accidentallywent off; and a wound in his big toe, when he shot himself in the footafter a rugby match.
Confirming that it was unloaded yesterday, Col. Duggan pledged tohandle it with care. The pistol is to be displayed by the DefenceForces in the military history wing of the new National Museum atCollins Barracks.
by Lorna Siggins

Irish Times, 18 October 1995.


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