Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Collins Barracks Part 1: The Asgard

Just east of Phoenix Park is the largest National Museum in Dublin. It is also the most confusingly-named museum in Dublin. From what I gather, the museum is called the National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts and History. The location of said museum is a place called Collins Barracks. Some people just call the place Collins Barracks (as the military use of the compound greatly predates the modern museum), and sometimes the Collins Barracks is added to the end of the name as in, National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts and History (Collins Barracks) or National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts and History at Collins Barracks. Many other variations will also be used in different publications.

To further complicate the naming conventions, much of the history part of the museum is really military history. Ireland's anthropological, archaeological, and cultural history is largely held over at the fantastic National Museum: Archaeology. The decorative arts wing surely speaks for itself, but I'm not sure why they didn't call it the military history museum.

I was pulling my hair out when writing that chapter of my Dublin eBook. What should I call this thing? I finally settled on a name and took an exploratory trip out there. Because the museum is so large, I will be breaking the coverage up into three posts. Let's go!

First up, the newest permanent exhibit at the museum, the Asgard. Located in an old gymnasium just outside the square barracks themselves, this indoor luxury yacht display seems confusing at first.

...Until you read the provided background materials. This luxury yacht and several others were used to run guns from Germany to Ireland in 1914. 

Bow of the Asgard Collins Barracks Dublin, Ireland
Bow of the Asgard 

This yacht belonged to Irish Volunteers supporter Erskine Childers, and he offered up the boat for the gun-running operation to Howth, just north of Dublin City. The guns? 900 40-year-old German Mausers left over from the previous Franco-Prussian war. The Germans were happy to sell off their old inventory to help fund their own new war effort, and Ireland couldn't be choosy about their guns while planning the 1916 Easter Rising. These old rifles were woefully outdated compared to the British arms, but the plucky fighters were able to take advantage of the longer range of these slow rifles in urban and guerilla conflict.

The Howth gun-running adventure on the Asgard produced one of my favorite Irish photographs. Below, Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice enjoy the sun on the deck of the Asgard while casually holding these old German rifles.

Today, the Asgard is at rest in a very well-presented exhibit at the museum. The boat itself, according to the interpretive materials, was almost completely disassembled and restored before being rebuilt inside this old gymnasium. Like building a full-sized ship in a building-sized bottle.

Stern of the Asgard Collins Barracks Dublin, Ireland
Stern of the Asgard

Around the boat, a series of ancillary exhibits give more context to how important this mission was to the early stages of the Rising in 1916. A few displays of the actual Mausers, ammunition, and uniforms worn by the Volunteers help tell the story. Most interesting among them may be the wood Mauser replicas used by the Volunteers for training while they waited for the guns to come in. These rebels were so poorly equipped that they had no choice but to use these phony guns for drilling. 

...And they were still planning to take on the mighty British military? Madness!

Raised Walkway for Easy Viewing of the Asgard Collins Barracks Dublin, Ireland
Raised Walkway for Easy Viewing

Port Side of the Asgard Collins Barracks Dublin, Ireland
Port Side of the Asgard

The yacht can be seen on all sides from ground level and from a convenient raised platform built at ship's-deck-level. Visitors can see the rigging, the wheel, and just a little bit of the rooms belowdecks.

The Wheel and Belowdecks Entrance on the Asgard Collins Barracks Dublin, Ireland
The Wheel and Belowdecks Entrance

Now that we've seen the Asgard, let's take a look into the main Collins Barracks complex...

Collins Barracks Inner Courtyard
Collins Barracks Inner Courtyard

...Next time!

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