Molly Childers

Molly Childers
Mary Alden Osgood Childers

Mary Alden Osgood Childers MBE (14 December 1875–1 January 1964)[1] was an American-born Irish writer and Irish nationalist. She was the daughter of Dr. Hamilton Osgood and Margaret Cushing Osgood of Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts. Her older sister was Gretchen Osgood Warren and she was married to the writer and Irish nationalist, Robert Erskine Childers. Her son Erskine Hamilton Childers, would be elected the fourth President of Ireland.


Early life and family

Childers, affectionately called "Molly", was born into a reputable Bostonian family that lived at 8 Beacon Street in Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts. Physically disabled from the age of three following a skating accident, Childers was educated at home and wasn't mobile for the first 12 years of her life.[2] Eventually she was able to move enough to ride horses, but she wasn't ever capable of walking.[3] Her father, Dr. Osgood was a student of Dr. Louis Pasteur and spent time with him in France. It was this research with Pasteur that enabled him to bring the first rabies antitoxin back to Boston, and in turn America [4]. The Osgood's ancestry was directly linked to John Quincy Adams and Anne Hutchinson, and Molly was very proud and outspoken about this connection [5]. Her mother Margaret Cushing Osgood encouraged her to read, and to pursue a life in academia as her disability would hinder other careers. Coincidentally, the Osgood family home on Beacon Street was literally next door to the famous Boston Athenæum. Molly spent years of her childhood inside this library, reading for hours every day, and several members of the Osgood family are listed amongst the first proprietors of the institution[6],[7],[8].


In late 1903, Molly by pure chance, happened to be seated next to Erskine Childers at a dinner given by her aunt in Beacon Hill[9]. Erskine was in Boston on a ceremonial trip with Lord Denbigh and the Honourable Artillery Company[10]. By January of 1904, after several weeks of courtship, the two were married at Trinity Church in Boston[11]. One Boston newspaper described their wedding as the most "distinguished gathering" of the season [12]


During World War One, she was involved in politically difficult work with the Committee for Relief in Belgium. Due to the ever changing diplomatic situation with Germany during 1915-1918, the Belgian wartime refugees, displaced by the conflict were put into a cross channel tug of war over supply of desperately needed aid. Molly was involved in the fundraising and awareness of their plight, alongside her sister and mother who combined their efforts. In 1918, King George V, conferred an MBE on her for this work[13]. Childers was also awarded the Médaille de la Reine Elisabeth from Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Along with her husband Erskine Childers, they were both members of the Irish White Cross Society, the precursor to the Irish Red Cross. She was a trustee, and he was a member of the Executive Committee[14]. Famed Irish actress Maud Gonne was also a member of this society[15]. From 1916 to 1918 she was Honorary Secretary of The Chelsea War Refugees Fund[16],[17]. After the great war in 1920, she was involved in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), one of the world's oldest peace organizations, later to be merged into the UNESCO of the United Nations.

Ireland and Republicanism

She was involved in the July 1914 Irish Volunteers gunrunning on the family yacht, Asgard, into Howth. A posed photograph taken at the time with Mary Spring-Rice shows her beside some of the rifles and ammunition boxes.

Allegation of spying

In 2006, historian Michael T. Foy published a book "Michael Collins's Intelligence War: The Struggle Between The British and the IRA 1919-1921"[18] in which he suggested that Molly Childers may have been a spy for the British during the Irish War of Independence. Foy speculates that she volunteered for British intelligence before the couple moved to Ireland in 1918.[19] The claim was described by reviewers in Irish newspapers as "dramatic",[20] "sensational"[21] and 'a bottle of smoke'.[22]

The author discovered in British archives a series of intelligence reports which indicated that a woman with high-level access to Sinn Féin had been passing intelligence to the British forces. However, the name of the agent had been obscured by blue pencil in the British files stored in the UK National Archives at Kew.[21] The author noted circumstantial evidence which, in his opinion, suggested that Molly Childers may have been the spy, including the assertion that Childers had not shared her husband's enthusiasm for Irish independence, and the spy's use of American phraseology. He proposed that Molly Childers had "the qualities to carry off such a dangerous role" and that she "consistently displayed intelligence, courage, decisiveness and single-minded determination", but acknowledged that there was no conclusive evidence.[20] However, Foy went beyond scholarly speculation when he claimed that Childers was the only person who could fit the profile of the spy.[23]

Nessa Childers, the daughter of Molly's son President Erskine Hamilton Childers, dismissed the evidence as "circumstantial", saying in a television interview that "it just doesn't fit with her character". She questioned the evidence that the spy was female, and noted that "Up until the day she died she had photographs of Liam Mellows, Liam Brady and Rory O'Connor on her bedside and she revered them. It doesn't follow that such a person could have put those people's lives at risk."[23]

Historian Peter Hart, who has consistently challenged republican historiography, acknowledged that Foy's theory "does seem to fit the facts as presented", but noted that "all the other facts we know about thoroughly republican Molly suggest that it simply cannot have been true, and there are other good reasons to be cautious". Hart noted that the inaccuracy of some of the intelligence suggested a source trying to tell British "hardliners just what they wanted to hear".[24]


  1. ^ Martin, Francis Xavier (1964). The Howth gun-running and the Kilcoole gun-running, 1914. Dublin, Ireland: Brown and Nolan. p. vi. OCLC 3808331. 
  2. ^ Young , John "Erskine H Childers" (Colin Smythe) (1985) ISBN 0861401956 ;pg.5-7
  3. ^ Green , Martin The Mount Vernon Street Warrens, ( Simon & Schuster) (1989) ISBN 0684191091, p.93
  4. ^ Green , Martin The Mount Vernon Street Warrens, ( Simon & Schuster) (1989) ISBN 0684191091, p.150
  5. ^ Boyle, Andrew. The Riddle of Erskine Childers. London: Hutchinson 1977. ISBN 0-09-128490-2 pg 121-123
  6. ^ : Register of the Proprietors of the Boston Athenaeum, 1898
  7. ^ : The Athenaeum centenary: the influence and history of the Boston Athenaeum, 1907
  8. ^ Cox, Tom "Damned Englishman: A Study Of Erskine Childers (1870–1922)" Exposition Press ,1975 isbn 0682478210 pg.32
  9. ^ : Wilkinson, Erskine Childers & The Boston Connection
  10. ^ : Annual record of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts
  11. ^ : New York Times, 5 January 1904
  12. ^ Boston Globe Newspaper, 6 January 1904
  13. ^ Boyle, Andrew. The Riddle of Erskine Childers. London: Hutchinson 1977. ISBN 0-09-128490-2 pg 239
  14. ^ Report of the Irish White Cross to 31 August, 1922 : Internet Archive
  15. ^ : British Pathe clip on Irish White Cross Society
  16. ^  : 1918 Letter from Molly Childers in the Imperial War Museum, London
  17. ^
  18. ^ Foy, Michael T. (March 2006). Michael Collins's Intelligence War: The Struggle Between the British and the IRA - 1919-1921. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. ISBN 978-0750942676. 
  19. ^ "Mother of former president 'was a spy for British'". The Irish Independent. 26 April 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  20. ^ a b Dukes, Alan (29 April 2006). "Molly, the alleged of Collins's war". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  21. ^ a b Emmanuel Kehoe (16 April 2006). "Collins book's startling claim on Molly Childers". Sunday Business Post. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  22. ^ "IRA has good historical reasons to be obsessed with spies in the camp". The Irish Examiner. 3 June 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-11. 
  23. ^ a b Liam Reid (24 April 2006). "Grandmother no spy, says daughter of late president". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  24. ^ Peter Hart (6 May 2006). "Piecing the intelligence together". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 


  • Young , John "Erskine H Childers" (Colin Smythe) (1985) ISBN 0861401956
  • Boyle, Andrew. "The Riddle Of Erskine Childers" (Hutchinson) (1977) ISBN 0091284902.
  • McInerney, Michael "The Riddle Of Erskine Childers : Unionist & Republican" (E & T O'Brien) (1971) ISBN 0950204609
  • Green , Martin The Mount Vernon Street Warrens, ( Simon & Schuster) (1989) ISBN 0684191091

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