Robert Emmet: Wikis


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Robert Emmet
4 March 1778 - 20 September 1803
Robert Emmet - Project Gutenberg 13112.png
Place of birth Dublin, Ireland
Place of death Thomas Street, Dublin
Allegiance United Irishmen
Napoleonic Empire
Years of service 1793-1803
Rank Commander
Battles/wars 1798 Rebellion
1803 Rebellion
Relations Thomas Addis Emmet

Robert Emmet (4 March 1778 – 20 September 1803) was an Irish nationalist rebel leader. He led an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 and was captured, tried and executed.


Emmet's early life

Robert Emmet was born in Dublin on 4 March 1778. He was the youngest son of Dr Robert Emmet (1729–1802), a state physician, and his wife, Elizabeth Mason (1740–1803). 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 a United Irish society in college, and was expelled in April 1798 as a result.

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

"Robert Emmet - The Irish Patriot"

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, 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

Depiction of Robert Emmet's trial

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. However his assistant Peter Burrowes could not be bought and pleaded the case as best he could.

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.[1]

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:[2]

Depiction of Robert Emmet's execution

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.[3] The remains were then secretly buried. The whereabouts of his remains has remained a mystery.[4] It was suspected that it had been buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault was inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse that could not be identified, but which was suspected of being Emmet's, was found. In the 1980s the church was turned into a night club and all the coffins removed from the vaults. What was done with the mysterious corpse is unknown.


Monument to Robert Emmet on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. A copy stands in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
Statue of Robert Emmet in St. Stephens Green, Dublin

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.[4][5][6] Emmet's housekeeper, Anne Devlin, is also remembered in Irish history for enduring torture without providing information to the authorities.[4]

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!"


"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 magnus 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, Emmet County, Iowa, and Emmet County, Michigan.[5] 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.[7]

See also


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Phillips, C. Recollections of Curran (1818 Milliken, Dublin) pp.256-259.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Sean Murphy (20 September 2003). "Irish Historical Mysteries: The Grave of Robert Emmet".  
  5. ^ a b "A Small Town Struggles to Preserve Its Irish Heritage". Irish America Magazine Sept/Oct. 1993.  
  6. ^ Ruán O’Donnell (July 2003). "Robert Emmet: enigmatic revolutionary". Irish Democrat.  
  7. ^ The Story of Irish Film, Arthur Flynn


  • 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

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ROBERT EMMET (1778-1803), Irish rebel, youngest son of Robert Emmet, physician to the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, was born in Dublin in 1778, and entered Trinity College in October 1793, where he had a distinguished academic career, showing special aptitude for mathematics and chemistry, and acquiring a reputation as an orator. Without taking a degree he removed his name from the college books in April 1798, as a protest against the inquisitorial examination of the political views of the students conducted by Lord Clare as chancellor of the university. Thus cut off from entering a learned profession, he turned towards political intrigue, being already to some extent in the secrets of the United Irishmen, of whom his elder brother Thomas Addis Emmet (see below) was one of the most prominent. In April 1799 a warrant was issued for his arrest, but was not executed; and in 1800 and the following year he travelled on the continent of Europe, where he entered into relations with the leaders of the United Irishmen, exiled since the rebellion of 1798, who were planning a fresh outbreak in Ireland in expectation of support from France. Emmet went to Paris in October 1802, where he had an interview with Bonaparte which convinced him that the peace of Amiens would be of short duration and that a French invasion of England might be looked for in August 1803. The councils of the conspirators were weakened by divided opinions as to the ultimate aim of their policy; and no clearly thought-out scheme of operations appears to have been arrived at when Emmet left Paris for Ireland in October 1802. Those in his confidence afterwards denied that Emmet was himself the originator of the plan on which he acted; and several of the ablest of the United Irishmen held aloof, believing the project to be impracticable. Among the latter was Lord Cloncurry, at one time on the executive of the United Irishmen, with whom Emmet dined the night before he left Paris, and to whom he spoke of his plans with intense enthusiasm and excitement. Emmet's lack of discretion was shown by his revealing his intentions in detail to an Englishman named Lawrence, resident near Honfleur, with whom he sought shelter when travelling on foot on his way to Ireland. Arriving in Dublin at the end of October he received information to the effect that seventeen counties were ready to take up arms if a successful effort were made in Dublin. For some time he remained concealed in his father's house near Miltown, making his preparations. A large number of pikes were collected and stored in Dublin during the spring of 1803, but fire-arms and ammunition were not plentiful.

The probability of a French invasion in August was increased by the renewal of the war in May, Emmet's brother Thomas being then in Paris in communication with Talleyrand and Bonaparte. But a discovery by the government of concealed arms, and an explosion at one of Emmet's depots in Patrick Street on the 16th of July, necessitated immediate action, and the 23rd of that month was accordingly fixed for the projected rising. An elaborate plan of operations, which he described in detail in a letter to his brother after his arrest, had been prepared by Emmet, the leading feature of which was a simultaneous attack on the castle, the Pigeon House and the artillery barracks at Island bridge; while bodies of insurgents from the neighbouring counties were to march on the capital. But the whole scheme miscarried. Some of Emmet's bolder proposals, such as a plan for capturing the commander-in-chief, were vetoed by the timidity of his associates, none of whom were men of any ability. On the 23rd of July all was confusion at the depots, and the leaders were divided as to the course to be pursued; orders were not obeyed; a trusted messenger despatched for arms absconded with the money committed to him to pay for them; treachery, quite unsuspected by Emmet, honeycombed the conspiracy; the Wicklow contingent failed to appear; the Kildare men turned back on hearing that the rising had been postponed; a signal expected by a contingent at the Broadstone was never given. In this hopeless state of affairs a false report reached Emmet at one of his depots at nine o'clock in the evening that the military were approaching. Without taking any step to verify it, Emmet put on a green and white uniform and placed himself at the head of some eighty men, who marched towards the castle, being joined in the streets by a second body of about equal strength. None of these insurgents had any discipline, and many of them were drunk. Lord Kilwarden, proceeding to a hastily summoned meeting of the privy council, was dragged from his carriage by this rabble and murdered, together with his nephew Richard Wolfe; his daughter who accompanied him being conveyed to safety by Emmet himself. Emmet, now seeing that the rising had become a mere street brawl, made his escape; a detachment of soldiers quickly dispersed his followers.

After hiding for some days in the Wicklow mountains Emmet repaired to the house of a Mrs Palmer at Harold's Cross, in order to be near the residence of John Philpot Curran, to whose daughter Sarah he had for some time been secretly attached, and with whom he had carried on a voluminous correspondence, afterwards seized by the authorities at her father's house. Attempting without success to persuade this lady to fly with him to America, Emmet lingered in the neighbourhood till the 25th of August, when he was apprehended by Major H. C. Sirr, the same officer who had captured Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1798. At his trial he was defended and betrayed by the infamous Leonard MacNally, and was convicted of treason; and after delivering an eloquent speech from the dock, was hanged on the 20th of September 1803.

By the universal testimony of his friends, Robert Emmet was a youth of modest character, pure motives and winning personality. But he was entirely lacking in practical statesmanship. Brought up in a revolutionary atmosphere, his enthusiasm was uncontrolled by judgment. Thomas Moore, who warmly eulogizes Emmet, with whom he was a student at Trinity College, records that one day when he was playing on the piano the melody "Let Erin remember," Emmet started up exclaiming passionately, "Oh, that I were at the head of 20,000 men marching to that air!" He had no knowledge of the world or of men; he trusted every one with child-like simplicity; except personal courage he had none of the qualities essential to leadership in such an enterprise as armed rebellion. The romance of his love affair with Sarah Curran - who afterwards married Robert Henry Sturgeon, an officer distinguished in the Peninsular War - has cast a glamour over the memory of Robert Emmet; and it inspired Thomas Moore's well-known songs, "She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps," and "Oh, breathe not his name"; it is also the subject of Washington Irving's "The Broken Heart." Emmet was short and slight in figure; his face was marked by smallpox, and he was described in 1803 for the purpose of identification as being "of an ugly, sour countenance and dirty brown complexion." A few poems by Emmet of little merit are appended to Madden's biography.

See R. R. Madden, The United Irishmen, their Lives and Times (2nd ed. 4 vols., Dublin, 1858-1860); Charles Phillips, Recollections of Curran and Some of his Contemporaries (2nd ed., London, 1822); Henry Grattan, Memoirs of the Life and Times of the Right Hon. H. Grattan (5 vols., London, 1839-1846); W. H. Maxwell, History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with Memoirs of the Union and Emmet's Insurrection in 1803 (London, 1845); W. H. Curran, Life of J. P. Curran (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1822); Thomas Moore, Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald (2 vols. 3rd ed., London, 1832); and Memoirs, Journals and Correspondence of Thomas Moore, edited by Lord John Russell (8 vols., London, 1853-1856). (R. J. M.)

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