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Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas

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Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Robert Emmet (1778 - 1803)
By Patrick Geoghegan
Irish Patriot

Robert Emmet (1778 - 1803)

Irish Patriot

By Patrick Geoghegan

 

Robert Emmet is one of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic 
and also one of its favourite sons. Although he led a failed 
rebellion in the summer of 1803, his courageous behaviour at his 
trial and execution ensured that he captured the popular 
imagination and became one of the most popular and iconic figures 
in Irish history. Robert Emmet was born on 4 March 1778 on St. 
Stephen's, Green, Dublin, the youngest son of the state physician. 
He grew up hearing stories of the American War of Independence 
and it became his ambition to be an Irish George Washington. 
Educated at Trinity College Dublin, he was expelled in 1798 for 
his involvement in revolutionary activity. After the failure of 
the rebellion in Ireland in that year, Emmet became a leading 
figure in the United Irishmen, a radical society which sought to 
break the connection with Britain. He was sent on a mission to 
discuss French aid with Napoleon, but he became disillusioned 
with the expansionist tendencies of the new French leader.
Returning to Ireland in 1802, he became the leader of a new rebel 
conspiracy. The rebellion, which was planned for 23 July 1803, 
proved to be a disaster. Emmet had expected 3,000 men to show, 
instead 80 men turned-up, and, worse, they were drunk. Disgusted 
at the failure of his plans, Emmet escaped to the Wicklow 
mountains. He was captured a month later, and tried in Dublin on 
19 September 1803. Found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to 
death by hanging and beheading, Emmet delivered a spellbinding 
courtroom oration that ensured his immortality. It was a speech 
that was memorised in, its entirety by a young Abraham Lincoln, 
and became required reading for anyone interested in the finer 
points of oratory. Emmet was executed the next day at Thomas 
Street, and he showed no fear on the scaffold, insisting that he 
died, 'with sentiments of peace and love for all mankind'. He was 
only twenty-five years old.
Emmet's youthful romance with Sarah Curran, the brilliance of his 
speech from the dock, and his courage and idealism, ensured that 
he became one the most important and inspirational figures in 
Irish history. His brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, afterwards 
emigrated to the United States, where he became attorney-general 
of New York, and a leading figure in Irish-American circles. 
W.B. Yeats declared that Robert Emmet was the leading saint of 
Irish nationalism. Patrick Pearse modelled the 1916 Rising on 
Emmet and his plans. The year 2003 marked the bicentenary of 
Emmet's rebellion, trial and execution, and his life is being 
commemorated in Ireland and internationally.