Robert Emmet

Robert Emmet (4 March 1778 – 20 September 1803) was an Irish nationalist, orator and rebel leader born in Dublin, Ireland. He led an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 and was captured, tried and executed for high treason. [1] [2] [3]

Robert Emmet came from a family who were wealthy Protestants who sympathized with the Catholics who did not have fair representation in English Parliament. The Emmet family also sympathized with the American Revolution. From a very early age Robert Emmet’s political and social aspirations views were defined. As an orator, some of his last words were made in a speech on the eve of his execution. [3]

Contents


Emmet's early life

Robert Emmet was born in Dublin on 4 March 1778. He was the youngest son of Dr Christopher Emmet (1729–1802), a court physician, and his wife, Rebecca Temple(1739–1803). The Emmets were financially comfortable, with a house at St Stephen's Green and a country residence near Milltown. One of his elder brothers was the nationalist Thomas Addis Emmet, a close friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, who was a frequent visitor to the house when Robert was a child.

Robert Emmet entered Trinity College, Dublin in October 1793, at the age of fifteen. In December 1797 he joined the College Historical Society, a debating society. While he was at college, his brother Thomas and some of his friends became involved in political activism. Robert himself became secretary to secret United Irish Committee in college, and was expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he fled to France to avoid the many arrests that were taking place in Ireland. While in France Emmet garnered the support of Napoleon who had promised to lend support when the upcoming revolution started. However, due to an explosion at one of the rebel safe houses, the plan for a revolution was exposed. This prompted Emmet to move ahead of plan with the rebellion and as premature events unfolded the military support that Napoleon had promised never materialized and ultimately the rebellion failed. [2]

After the 1798 rising, Robert Emmet was involved in reorganizing the defeated United Irish Society. In April 1799 a warrant was issued for his arrest, and he escaped, and soon after, travelled to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts were unsuccessful, and he returned to Ireland in October 1802. In March the following year, he began preparations for another rising.

1803 rebellion

After his return to Ireland, Emmet began to prepare a new rebellion, with fellow revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope. He began to manufacture weapons and explosives at a number of premises in Dublin and even innovated a folding pike which could be concealed under a cloak, being fitted with a hinge. Unlike in 1798, the preparations for the uprising were successfully concealed, but a premature explosion at one of Emmet's arms depots killed a man and forced Emmet to bring forward the date of the rising before the authorities' suspicions were aroused.

Emmet was unable to secure the help of Michael Dwyer's Wicklow rebels, [4] and many Kildare rebels who had arrived turned back due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising went ahead in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803. Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which was lightly defended, the rising amounted to a large-scale riot in the Thomas Street area. Emmet personally witnessed a dragoon being pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompted him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed. However he had lost all control of his followers and in one incident, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Lord Kilwarden, reviled as chief prosecutor of William Orr in 1797, but also the judge who granted habeas corpus to Wolfe Tone in 1798, was dragged from his carriage and hacked to death. Sporadic clashes continued into the night until finally quelled by the military at the estimated cost of twenty military and fifty rebel dead.

Emmet's fate

Emmet fled into hiding but was captured on 25 August, near Harold's Cross. He endangered his life by moving his hiding place from Rathfarnam to Harold's Cross so that he could be near his sweetheart, Sarah Curran. He was tried for treason on 19 September; the Crown repaired the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet's defense attorney, Leonard Macnally, for £200 and a pension.[5] However his assistant Peter Burrowes could not be bought and pleaded the case as best he could. [6]

After he had been sentenced Emmet delivered a speech, the Speech from the Dock, which is especially remembered for its closing sentences and secured his posthumous fame among executed Irish republicans. However no definitive version was written down by Emmet himself.

Let no man write my epitaph; for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance, asperse them. Let them and me rest in obscurity and peace, and my tomb remain uninscribed, and my memory in oblivion, until other times and other men can do justice to my character. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.[7]

An earlier version of the speech was published in 1818, in a biography on Sarah Curran's father John, emphasizing that Emmet's epitaph would be written on the vindication of his character, and not specifically when Ireland took its place as a nation. It closed:[8]

I am here ready to die. I am not allowed to vindicate my character; no man shall dare to vindicate my character; and when I am prevented from vindicating myself, let no man dare to calumniate me. Let my character and my motives repose in obscurity and peace, till other times and other men can do them justice. Then shall my character be vindicated; then may my epitaph be written.

On 19 September, Emmet was found guilty of high treason, and therefore Chief Justice Lord Norbury's death sentence required that Emmet was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

The following day, 20 September, Emmet was executed in Thomas Street. He was hanged and then beheaded once dead.[9] As various family members and friends of Robert had also been arrested including those who had nothing to do with the rebellion, no one came forward to claim his remains out of fear of arrest.

Burial

Emmet's remains were first delivered to Newgate Prison and then back to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer was under instructions that if no-one claimed them they were to be buried in a nearby hospital's burial grounds called 'Bully's Acre' in Kilmainham. A later search there found no remains as it appeared that Emmet's remains were secretly removed from Bully's Acre and reinterred in St Michan's, a church with strong United Irish associations, though it was never confirmed. [1] [10]

There is much mystery and speculation regarding the whereabouts of Emmet's remains. [11] It was suspected that they were buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault was inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse was found, suspected of being Emmet's, but could not be identified. Widely accepted as the most plausible theory put forth was that Emmett's remains were transferred to the Church of Ireland in St Peter's Church in Dublin under cover of the burial of Robert's sister, Mary Anne Holmes, in 1804. [11] In the 1980s the church was turned into a night club and all the coffins removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.

Legacy

Although Emmet's rebellion was a complete failure, he became an heroic figure in Irish history. His speech from the dock is widely quoted and remembered, especially among Irish nationalists.[11][12][13] Emmet's housekeeper, Anne Devlin, is also remembered in Irish history for enduring torture without providing information to the authorities.[11]

Robert Emmet wrote a letter from his cell in Kilmainham Jail, Dublin on 8 September 1803. He addressed it to "Miss Sarah Curran, the Priory, Rathfarnham" and handed it to a prison warden, George Dunn, whom he trusted to deliver it. Dunn betrayed him and gave the letter to the government authorities, an action that nearly cost Sarah Curran her life. His attempt to hide near Sarah Curran, which cost him his life, and his parting letter to her made him into a romantic character, which appealed to the Victorian Era's appetite for Romanticism, which prolonged his fame.

His story became the subject of stage melodramas during the 19th century, most notably Dion Boucicault's hugely inaccurate 1884 play Robert Emmet, inaccuracies including Emmet and Sarah being portrayed as Roman Catholics, John Philpot Curran being portrayed as a Unionist, and Emmet being killed onstage by firing squad.

Robert's friend from Trinity College, Thomas Moore, championed his cause by writing hugely popular ballads about him and Sarah Curran, such as

"Oh breathe not his name! let it sleep in the shade,
Where cold and unhonoured his relics are laid!"

and

"She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps
And lovers around her are sighing."

Washington Irving, one of America's greatest early writers, devoted "The Broken Heart" in his magnum opus The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon to the romance between Emmet and Sarah Curran, citing it as an example of how a broken heart can be fatal.

Robert Emmet's older brother, Thomas Addis Emmet would emigrate to the United States shortly after Robert's execution and would eventually serve as the New York State Attorney General. His great-grand-nieces are the prominent American portrait painters Lydia Field Emmet, Rosina Sherwood Emmet, Jane Emmet de Glehn and Ellen Emmet Rand. Robert Emmet's great-great nephew was the American playwright Robert Emmet Sherwood.

Places named after Emmet include Emmetsburg, Iowa,[12] Emmet, Nebraska,[14] Emmet County, Iowa, and Emmet County, Michigan. There is a statue of Emmet in front of the California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

There is a 1915 American film by Irish-Canadian Sidney Olcott entitled All for Old Ireland, also known as Bold Emmett, Ireland's Martyr or Robert Emmet, Ireland's Martyr.[15]

~ Statues of Robert Emmet ~

See also


References

  1. a b
  2. a b
  3. a b
  4. . Princess Grace Irish Library (Monaco). 2010. http://www.pgil-eirdata.org/html/pgil_datasets/authors/e/Emmet,Robert/life.htm. Retrieved 6 October 2010. 
  5. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2008
  6. Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco
  7. Speeches from the Dock, T.D., A.M., and D.B. Sullivan, Re Edited by Seán Ua Cellaigh, M.H. Gill & Son, Dublin, 1953 pg.60
  8. Phillips, C. Recollections of Curran (1818 Milliken, Dublin) pp.256-259.
  9. http://homepage.tinet.ie/~seanjmurphy/irhismys/emmet.htm
  10. Sean Murphy, Bully's Acre and Royal Hospital Kilmainham Graveyards: History and Inscriptions, Dublin 1989
  11. a b c d Sean Murphy (20 September 2003). . http://homepage.tinet.ie/~seanjmurphy/irhismys/emmet.htm. 
  12. a b . . http://www.celticcousins.net/paloalto/emmetstatue.htm. 
  13. Ruán O’Donnell (July 2003). . Irish Democrat. http://www.irishdemocrat.co.uk/features/emmet-enigma/. 
  14. Campbell, Dorine. "Emmet". Nebraska...Our Towns Retrieved 2010-06-16.
  15. The Story of Irish Film, Arthur Flynn

Bibliography

  • Elliott, Marianne. Robert Emmet: The Making of a Legend
  • Geoghegan, Patrick. Robert Emmet: A Life (Gill and Macmillan) ISBN 0-7171-3387-7
  • Gough, Hugh & David Dickson, editors. Ireland and the French Revolution
  • McMahon, Sean. Robert Emmet
  • O Bradaigh, Sean. Bold Robert Emmet 1778-1803
  • O'Donnell, Ruan. Robert Emmet and the Rebellion of 1798
  • _____. Robert Emmet and the Rising of 1803
  • _____. Remember Emmet: Images of the Life and legacy of Robert Emmet
  • Smyth, Jim. The Men of No Property: Irish Radicals and Popular Politics in the Late Eighteenth Century
  • Stewart, A.T.Q. A Deeper Silence: The Hidden Origins of the United Irish Movement