Barton Family

Charles Erskine Barton (1882-1918), known as Ernie, married Dora’s cousin Norah Greene (1885-1962) in 1906. He was the brother of Robert Childers Barton (1881-1975) and cousin of Erskine Childers (1870-1922), author of The Riddle Of The Sands. The Bartons owned the Glendalough estate in County Wicklow, where Dora’s grandfather, Henry Greene, a Civil Engineer, died in 1868. Erskine Childers had been raised with the Barton boys after his father died, and he was treated as a brother. Charles Barton (1836-1890), the boys’ father/uncle, was firmly Unionist and fell out with his close childhood friend and neighbour, Charles Parnell, when Parnell established the Home Rule League.

Charles Erskine Barton was a Unionist and in April 1914 he drove up to Larne, Ulster, to meet a secret consignment of guns intended for the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The UVF had formed in 1913 to oppose the implementation of the Home Rule Bill and was led by prominent protestant Unionist, Sir Edward Carson. The guns had been covertly brought from Germany to arm the Unionists’ fight to keep Ireland part of the British Empire. Most of the guns were distributed in Ulster but Ernie smuggled some back to County Wexford and hid them above a ceiling in his house. In August 1914 nationalist Irish Volunteers asked Ernie Barton to join their unit to fight together in France. Their reasoning was that he was one of their local friends and they wanted to stay together, but Ernie declined, remaining true to his Imperial heritage, instead joining the Royal Irish Rifles (Unionist). He fought throughout the war and died of wounds in August 1918, aged 35, after fighting on the Western Front in the Pas-de-Calais, France.

Robert Barton was educated at Christchurch College, Cambridge and the Royal Agricultural College. He was a progressive agriculturalist and when he and Erskine Childers toured the west of Ireland in 1908, with Horace Plunkett, they were appalled by the plight of the tenant farmers there and this ignited their support for Irish independence. Barton joined the nationalist Irish Volunteers in 1913. During the First World War he served with the British Royal Dublin Fusiliers until witnessing the treatment of the rebels after the Easter Rising in 1916, when he resigned his commission and joined the republicans. Post war he became a Sinn Féin MP and later Minister for Economic Affairs. Robert Barton was a reluctant signatory to the Irish Free State treaty in December 1921 and took the anti-treaty side in the civil war. He left politics in 1923 but re-entered in 1932 to join De Valera’s government, serving in a variety of leading roles until his retirement in 1960.

Erskine Childers read classics and law at Trinity College, Cambridge University before joining the British House of Commons as an Assistant Clerk in 1895. He volunteered for the Boer War in 1899 where his imperialist ideals were shattered by the British ‘scorched earth’ policy and the appalling concentration camps. He learned guerrilla tactics from the Boers. He became famous after he wrote the spy thriller Riddle of the Sands in 1903. He married American Mary ‘Molly’ Osgood in 1904, from one of America’s oldest families, with whom he had three children. After his tour of Ireland in 1908 he became a nationalist, supporting the Home Rule bill and giving up his clerkship at the House of Commons.

In July 1914, Childers was involved in gun running for the nationalist Irish Volunteers, that formed in response to the UVF at the end of 1913. He brought antiquated German guns into Howth, Dublin, and memorably posed, along with his wife, for nationalist propaganda photographs on his yacht, Asgard. During the First World War Childers served as an intelligence officer in the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1917 he was awarded the DSC and then given leave to be secretary for the Irish Convention, led by his friend Horace Plunkett, which was intended to be an inclusive and fair representation of all the various factions to discuss Ireland’s political future. At that time he favoured Dominion status, similar to South Africa. In 1919 he became a Sinn Féin propagandist and, along with Robert Barton, took part in the Anglo-Irish treaty negotiations in 1921. When civil war broke out in Ireland, Childers was regarded by all sides as a spy and, shortly after his arrest for possession of a pistol, he was executed in November 1922.

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