We are all familiar now with the sad fate of Asgard II – the Irish sail training tall ship which took pride of place along with the Jeannie Johnson and the Dunbrody during Tall Ships Week back in 2005. We looked forward to her return in 2011 to lead in the visiting Tall Ships once more which brought such awesome delight the last time. But alas that is not to be. Because of the local connections, I thought to explore here its storied life.

Asgard II was the Irish national sail training vessel and the replacement for the previous Asgard. Brigantine, she was designed specifically for service as a sail training vessel by Jack Tyrell, and built in Arklow, County Wicklow. She was commissioned on 7th March 1981. Asgard II is owned by the Irish State and is managed by Coiste an Asgard, which is a founding member of Sail Training International. She had a traditional figurehead in the form of a carving of Granuaile.

Welcome Aboard!

“The sail training scheme is operated by Coiste an Asgard on the Irish sail training vessel “Asgard II”.

“You will have the opportunity to go to sea on a traditionally rigged sailing ship. While on board you will learn about the sea and sailing and will live with the other trainees on the vessel. You will share the many tasks and activities associated with the running of a sailing ship.

“The aim of our sail training scheme is to give people the confidence and ability to face new challenges while at the same time teaching them how to mix well with other people from all walks of life and generally giving them a greater appreciation and understanding of others. Applications to sail aboard Asgard II are welcome from all adults over the age of 16”.

This was the enticing ad urging people of all ages and backgrounds to experience the wonders of sailing, it was especially popular with younger folk but by no means exclusively so and in so doing forged great memories and friendships. My own daughter completed 7 voyages on the Asgard including a Tall Ship voyage through the Baltic to Finnish and Russian ports – surely memories of and for a life time.

Asgard ll – its story

It perpetuates the memory of the original and the part it played in Irish history as it was the boat used for the famous Howth gunrunning. It was a 28 ton white yacht owned by Erskine Childers, given to him as a wedding present by his father-in-law. The Asgard is a 51-foot (16m) yacht, formerly owned by the English-born Irish nationalist, and writer Robert Erskine Childers (DSC) and his wife Molly. It was bought for £1,000 in 1904 from one of Norway’s most famous boat designers, Colin Archer. The interior was custom built to the specifications of Childers and his wife. Molly, an invalid from early age, would at times take the helm of Asgard, strapped onto the deck with harnesses so she could navigate the rough waters of the Irish Channel. Its most famous trip was in 1914. Childers, his wife and a small crew, made the then treacherous channel crossing with a hold full of rifles from Germany into Howth Harbour just North of Dublin, to arm the Irish Volunteers in response to the arming of the Ulster Volunteers in April.

There is a plaque installed into the dock wall in Howth as a memorial to this historic boat journey. Shortly after the Easter Rising, the Asgard was put into long-term dry-dock in Northern Wales, where it was sold in 1928.

It was used to convey 900 rifles, the larger part of the consignment bought by him and Darrell Figgis in Hamburg in May 1914. Childers’s crew consisted of Mary Spring Rice, a British soldier and two Donegal fishermen. The voyage was made through the worst Irish Sea storm in over 30 years. However, owing to his excellent seamanship Childers was able to sail his heavily overloaded yacht into Howth Harbour on Sunday the 26st July just as 1000 volunteers mobilized by Bulmer Hobson arrived at the jetty to receive them. The boat was preserved and is now on display in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin.

His son, also named Erskine, served as a minister in a number of Fianna Fail governments and was elected President in 1973 but he was to die in office just a few years later. His son and daughter (Ruaidhri and Ruth) were educated at Newtown School during the 1940’s.


Asgard, 1960 Dublin Docks

In 1961, the Irish Government procured the aging vessel, had it dry-docked and installed inside Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin where it remained as a museum attraction, until 2001..As of December 2007, the Asgard Restoration Project was underway in Collins Barracks, Dublin. The yacht was to be painstakingly restored with the focus being on preserving the original wooden hull and its metal supports, before replacing pieces with new material. The Asgard is often confused with the “Dulcibella”; the boat referenced in Robert Erskine Childers’s classic novel The Riddle of the Sands. The “Dulcibella” was a totally different vessel.

Asgard lll?

Well let’s hope so – the irony is that as described above the original boat can still be viewed today inside Kilmainham while its robust and wonderful successor lies under at least 70 metres of the Bay of Biscay. The Jeannie Johnston has also been in service as a sail training ship and could well be upgraded to senior status – the demand is certainly there. I knew a number of people who have had most enjoyable and exciting trips on the Jeannie. By the way the Asgard 2 was due back in Waterford on November 16th following an 8 day voyage from Dingle at a mere 280 Euro for trainees and then leaving a new voyage on the following day the 17th to Troon of Scotland. Now sadly not to be – all those who have experienced her are feeling that sadness deep down.

A rose by any other name

Well last week I told of my interest in discovering that the boy’s name Odran was the Irish for Otteran – one of Waterford’s principal patron saints. Well one reader was not best pleased at the raising of this ‘hoary old chestnut’- as far as he is concerned! Well he is well qualified to comment as he is the proud possessor of that most poetic of Waterford names – Odran. Therefore, Odran Fitzgerald, of this parish and folk- head, following a conversation of lively but good humoured banter was keen I should correct the record by telling folk that the good Saint Odran was a different chap altogether and nothing whatsoever to do with this Otteran fella, no matter how honourable a chap he was!!. In fact our man preceded Otteran by a few hundred years.

The facts are as follows as related to me by ODRAN himself: According to the life of Patrick written by Jocelyn, Odran drove the cart in which the saint travelled. Realizing that there were threats against the life of his master and that enemies were lying in ambush for him, Odran begged Patrick to drive the horses, while he took the saint’s place in the cart. So it was, and the murderers deceived by the change, thrust their spears into Odran, whose soul, Patrick saw, was carried by angels into heaven. Because of the similarity of the name some people have identified Odran with Odhran (Otteran). There is a link in the fact that both men voluntarily sacrificed themselves in order to clear the way so that the work of a greater saint could be carried out.

His feast-day is 19 February. So now you know!

Newtown, Mountmellick and Old Foy’s Association

Finally, a reminder to members of the above august and ancient association that their annual gathering of alumni takes place on the weekend of next week – September 26/28. As usual there is a lively programme of events over the weekend culminating in the dinner dance in the Woodlands Hotel on the Saturday. Contact any member of the Committee for details.

Go seachtain eile, slan.