Sudden death of Erskine Childers recalled


The daughter of the late president Erskine Childers has told of her horror at watching her father die in front of her at an official function.

Nessa Childers was a teenager when her father had a heart attack while giving a talk to the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Kildare Street in Dublin. She is now a Green Party member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

Ms Childers, who talks about the day in the TG4 series Uachtaráin, says her father had just been talking about relaxation and yoga when he died in November 1974, just 18 months into his term as president. "He just sat down and was gone in 10 seconds. I was sitting right beside him and he turned to me and said 'I think we should go home now'," she recalls.

"He was partly leaning across the table, he wasn't sitting upright. He knew at that moment that something was very wrong and then he just put his head down on the table. He lost all the colour from his head and face. He began to turn blue and I knew a lot about medicine as I was trying to get enough points in the Leaving Cert to become a doctor.

"Immediately I knew his heart had stopped beating and there was no hope at that moment. Within 15 seconds he was dead and it was absolutely shocking."

She says her father had been talking to psychiatrists in Kildare Street about alternative treatments for mentally ill people. "He wanted other means to be made available for people who were suffering from depression and anxiety and other such disorders and the uses of the likes of relaxation, meditation, yoga. It would have been considered quite far-out in those days and there was a great irony in that it was at that moment that he died of a heart attack."

The son of Erskine Childers snr, who was a young boy when his father was executed during the Civil War, kept his father's last wishes that he forgive those who sentenced him to death and to act as an agent of unity and reconciliation.

Childers jnr was born and educated in England and lived in Paris before coming to Ireland with his young family. His marriage to Ms Childers' mother, Rita, was his second, his first wife having died. He had a son from his first marriage, also Erskine, who died in 1996.

Ms Childers says her father, who was mentored by Éamon De Valera before being elected President in 1973, was quite strict behind closed doors.

"He was a very serious man. He was a workaholic and he could be quite a difficult person as a father, he was very demanding in terms of the success of his children and he would put quite a lot of pressure on me to do well in exams.

She adds: "We were never allowed to talk about politics on Sundays. My mother forbade that and she was very good at defusing him but he could be very severe and quite difficult as a father."

She says he was a calming influence on the Fianna Fáil government at the start of the Troubles in 1969. "My father exerted a lot of control on Jack Lynch and others so they didn't lose the run of themselves and he did that because of what he'd been told by his own father."

Uachtaráin is shown on TG4 on Wednesdays at 9.30pm.