MARY ALDEN OSGOOD’s 1914 ADVENTURE

Throughout time, individuals have left their names on the pages of history. On occasion, that family name appears again, on a later page – generations apart – of that same or related history. For example, Archbishop Oliver Plunkett opposed English treachery against the Church in Ireland, and was hanged, drawn, and quartered for his stand on July 1, 1681. Generations later, in 1916, Joseph Mary Plunkett, a part of that same family opposed that same government in arms in the Easter Rising. Another family, who gave two prominent members to history, was the Stewarts. Charles Stewart was the commander of the U.S.S. Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides, and his place in American History is insured by the heroism he displayed defending his nation’s rights. Two generations later, his grandson, became a leading player in Irish history as he stood for his nation’s rights. Named for his maternal grandfather, he was Charles Stewart Parnell.

There is yet another name that is less known but no less deserving of inclusion in this discussion, and that is the name of Osgood. It is a name of one of the families that left England in the face of persecution and sailed to America at a time when such travel took a great deal of courage. They came on the Mayflower, and settled at Plymouth Rock. These Osgoods were part of the Puritan band celebrated in American history for many events from the first Thanksgiving to the Salem Witch Trials. Yet generations later, a daughter of that family would appear on history’s stage again. Her name was Mary Alden Osgood. A direct descendant of Americas earliest family, Mary had fractured both hips as a child, and spent 12 years on her back. She never fully recovered, and even simple efforts like walking remained an uncomfortable exercise for the rest of her life.   At a party in her home town of Boston, Mary met an Irish gentleman who had been a former clerk of the House of Commons in London. He had made a name for himself in 1903 with brilliant sea-novel “The Riddle of the Sands.” She fell in love with the young Irishman at first sight, and they were soon married. Her family presented them with a gift of a 28-ton, 49-foot yacht. It was a smart white ketch with white sails, and the young couple returned to Ireland with their new treasure.

In Ireland one hundred years ago (1914), thoughts of Home Rule were on everyone’s mind. It was an idea hatched by Isaac Butt and endorsed by Parnell, as a Parliamentary method of acquiring self-government for Ireland. Yet there was a loyalist element in the north of Ireland who were violently opposed to Home Rule. They claimed loyalty to the Crown, but in reality they preferred the status quo because it gave them undisputed dominance over the native Irish. As talks of Home Rule progressed, the northern dissidents formed a group called the Ulster Volunteers. They smuggled thousands of guns into Larne, and boldly announced that they were prepared to fight the very Crown to which they professed loyalty, if Home Rule were imposed. In the south, the Irish Volunteers were formed to counteract the Ulster Volunteers, but they were harmless because they were unarmed. Then secret contacts were made with pre-war Germany and a courageous 44-year-old former clerk of the House of Commons volunteered to smuggle arms into the Irish Volunteers on the yacht that he and his wife had received from her family as a wedding gift. Thus did Erskine Childers, and his wife Mary Alden Osgood Childers, whom he preferred to call Molly, become part of Irish history. They met the German Tug, Gladiator, on the high seas at 5:00 P.M. on the evening of July 12, 1914. A hot and sultry night, the sweat poured from them as they loaded 900 rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition onto their yacht ASGARD, with the help of Gordon Shephard, two Donegal fishermen, and Mary Spring Rice – cousin of the British Ambassador in Washington. For hours they struggled on decks that pitched and rolled in the choppy sea, with only the flame from the boat’s running lights to guide them. A near disaster occurred when one of the Gladiators lights came loose and dropped through the Asgard’s hatch. It bounced off Molly’s shoulder, covering her with paraffin before landing upside down in a heap of straw. The straw flared up in an instant. Molly snatched it away from the ammunition with her bare hands and stamped out the fire to everyone’s relief.

By two in the morning the cargo was loaded, and the weary Erskine Childers turned the Asgard toward Howth harbor after 14 days in the worst coastal storm in 32 years. They managed to make it to Howth by July 26. On the pier head stood Bulmer Hobson and The O’Rahilly (another principle of the Easter Rising who had married an American wife. She was Nancie Browne of Brownes Mills, New Jersey, but that’s another story). Forty Irish Volunteers helped unload the Asgard, after which The O’Rahilly gallantly leaned over and kissed Molly’s hand, saying in his thick Kerry accent, “You’re the greatest soldier here, Ma’am, indeed ye are.” Then to Molly’s American ears came what she later said sounded like “Tremenjus,” as The O’Rahilly turned to the assembled crowd and said “These ladies are after doing something tremenjus for oireland.” With the cargo unloaded, Erskine and Mary Osgood Childers sailed for England – a country which Mary’s ancestors had escaped centuries before and which she had just paid back for the rejection.

A footnote to the story is that in March of 1985, ASGARD sailed again. Not the yacht which brought the arms used in the Easter Rising — that splendid vessel is on permanent display in a place of honor in the Kilmainham Jail Museum in Dublin. This was ASGARD II — a 3-masted tall ship that served as the flagship of the Irish Navy. On that memorable day when the tall ships came to America from around the world, Ireland sent ASGARD II to represent her people. Few who saw her majestically sail by, knew that she had been named in honor of a wedding present from one of America’s first families. Her appearance among the tall ships paying tribute to America, was also a fitting tribute to a courageous American lady, who had a remarkable adventure in 1914!