Erskine Hamilton ChildersErskine Hamilton Childers
- 17 November
), the son of Robert Erskine Childers (the author of The Riddle of the Sands
), served as the fourth President of Ireland
from 1973 to 1974. He died in office.
Childers was born in London and educated in Britain, hence his striking British upper class accent. He became a naturalised Irish citizen in 1938
. As a member of Fianna Fáil
he held a number of ministerial posts in the Dáil
in the cabinets of Eamon de Valera
, Sean Lemass
and Jack Lynch
, becoming Tánaiste
(deputy prime minister) in 1969. Erskine's period as a minister was controversial. One commentator described his ministerial career as 'spectacularly unsuccessful'. Others praised his willingness to take tough decisions. He was outspoken in his opposition to Charles J. Haughey
in the aftermath of the Arms Trial, when Haughey and another minister, both having been sacked, were sent for trial amid allegations of a plot to import arms for the Provisional IRA
. (Haughey and the other minister, Neil Blaney
, were both acquitted.)
In a political upset, Childers was elected the fourth President of Ireland on 30 May 1973, defeating Tom O'Higgins by 635,867 votes to 578,771. Childers, though 67, was a vibrant, extremely hard-working president who earned universal repect and popularity, in the process making the office of President of Ireland a highly visible and useful institution. However, he died suddenly of a heart attack in November 1974, while making a public speech in Dublin.
Childers's state funeral in St. Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Dublin was attended by world leaders, including the United States Vice-President, Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the British Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition, along with crowned heads and presidents from throughout Europe and beyond. Initially it was expected that President Childers' popular widow, Rita, would be offered the office of president to continue his work, but instead it went to former chief justice Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.
Erskine was survived by his second wife, Rita, and children from both his marriages.
John N. Young, Erskine Childers: President of Ireland