Craftsmen on course with 'Asgard' project


IN 1914, when the Asgard was voyaging to Dublin laden with rifles and ammunition, British army soldiers were based at Collins Barracks.

Now the barracks, as the National Museum of Ireland, will be home to the fully restored yacht. It is hard not to feel part of Irish history has come full circle.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen inspected the Asgard after completion of the first phase of the yacht’s conservation.

It has taken €600,000 and three years of painstaking work by skilled shipwrights to bring the 28-ton gaff-rigged wooden ketch almost back to what it was when Erskine Childers and his wife Molly stood on its decks with 900 rifles and ammunition. Designed in Norway by renowned boat-builder Colin Archer, the yacht was a wedding present to Molly from her parents Dr Hamilton and Margaret Osgood of Boston in 1904. In July 1914, the yacht collected arms and ammunition from a German ship and sailed to Howth, north Dublin where its cargo was landed. The arms were used by Irish Volunteers in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Molly Childers sold the vessel in 1926 and it was later bought by the Irish Naval Service as a training vessel. After its sea life, it went on display in Kilmainham Jail for a time before being put into storage. When work on the vessel is completed, its deck and hull, of oak and pine, will be more than 90 per cent original. Its interior, which was removed when it joined the Naval Service, will be finished with new timber. John Kearon, lead shipwright for the project, said the yacht was completely disassembled when the conservation began and was a huge challenge. “This is one of the most thorough wooden boat conservation projects in the world,” he said.

Working with him, shipwrights Oliver Ward, Pat Kirwan and John Proctor have been proud to take part in the project. “It’s lovely to work on something that is so old with such history. It will be great to be able to tell the kids, ‘listen, I did that’,” Mr Ward said.

The yacht is expected to go on display in what was the Army gymnasium next year. But Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum, said the Asgard was to be housed elsewhere.

“Our dream was the Asgard would go in as the major stage piece of the second phase of the development here at this site. The Asgard and the Lord Chancellor’s coach were going to be centrepieces in the foyer. But of course that won’t happen in my time now; it will be down the road,” he said.

Plans for the second phase of the decorative arts and history museum at Collins Barracks were postponed in early 2009. Mr Wallace said the museum knew from the moment “the wheels came off” the national development plan that phase two would be put on hold.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the project was a hugely important part of our history. “It’s a really authentic reminder of a period in our history which will provide a lot of culture and touristic interest as well. I think this will give people a lot of hope . . . about how we maintain our heritage.”