This summer, the conservation of the yacht ASGARD, the 1914 Howth gun-running vessel, was completed at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks. The Irish Jesuit Archives hold a crucifix with the inscription: ‘Gordon Shephard: Killed in France Jan. 19 1918 R.I.P Magnum Signum Amoris’. So who was Gordon Shephard and what links this crucifix to the ASGARD?
The son of Sir Hoartio Hale Shephard (the then advocate-general of the presidency of Madras), Gordon Strachey Shephard was born in India in 1885. Educated at Eton, he passed into Sandhurst in 1903 and was commissioned in 1905.
Shephard first met Erskine and Molly Childers in London in 1909. Erskine and Gordon became firm friends, sharing their passion for sailing. Shephard combined his military career with his sailing exploits - also providing the British Admiralty with photographs and maps of German installations while sailing. In a ‘Riddles of the Sands’ type episode, Shephard and another sailor were held for three days by the German authorities for spying in September 1911. In 1912 Shephard joined the Royal Flying Corps.
In the summer of 1913, Shephard, and the Childers’s sailed on the Asgard to Germany and around Scandinavian but left Shephard to sail the Asgard back from Oslo in October to Holyhead. For this feat, he was awarded the Challenge Cup of the Royal Cruising Club. Erskine Childers then asked Shephard to help with the smuggling of guns into Ireland. Shephard accepted. Having helped sail the Asgard to Germany and back for the purpose of gun-running, Shephard was put ashore in Milford Haven, Wales on 19 July 1914. Remarkably, he showed up at Howth on 26 July, to assist with the unloading of guns from the Asgard. Afterwards, Mary Spring Rice and Shephard started back to Dublin and in a matter of fact way, said ‘I took him to tea at the Arts Club’.
In August 1914, Shephard flew to France. In 1917 he was promoted, the then youngest Brigadier General in the Royal Flying Corps. On 19 January 1918, Brigadier-General Shephard, D.S.O. M.C., died as a result of a flying accident at Auchel. Two days afterwards, Erskine Childers wrote to Lady Agnes Shephard, Gordon’s mother, ‘He was one of my heroes and will always be so. Molly and I loved him’.
Lady Agnes Shephard presented the crucifix to the Molly Childers who gave it to the Jesuits when they lived at Rathfarnham Castle.