Robert Emmet was born on the 4th March, 1778, a son of Dr Robert Emmet and Elizabeth Mason. His father served as state physician to the vice-regal household but was a social reformer who believed that in order to achieve the emancipation of the Irish people it was first necessary to break the link with England.

He was baptised on March 10th (1778 – 243 years ago on this date) in St Peter’s Church of Ireland in Aungier Street, Dublin and attended Oswald’s School in Dropping Court, off Golden Lane, Dublin. From there he went to Samuel Whytes School in Grafton Street, quite near his home, and later to the school of the Reverend Mr Lewis in Camden Street. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in October 1793 at the age of fifteen and a half where he practiced his oratorical skills in the Historical and Debating Societies. One of his friends at TCD was the poet Thomas Moore.

There were four branches of the ‘United Irishmen’ in TCD and Robert Emmet was secretary of one of them but, after an inquisition, presided over by Lord Chancellor Fitzgibbon, Emmet became one of nineteen students who were expelled for United Irishmen activity. Although not active in the 1798 Rising, Robert Emmet was well known to the British authorities and by April 1799, when Habeas Corpus had been suspended, there was a warrant issued for his arrest, which he managed to evade and, early in 1801, accompanied by a Mr Malachy Delany of Cork, he travelled throughout Europe, and made Paris his headquarters – it was there that he replaced Edward Lewis as the liaison officer between Irish and French Republicans.

While in Paris, Emmet learned about rockets and weapons, and studied a two-volume treatise by a Colonel Tempelhoff which can be examined in the Royal Irish Academy, with the marginal notes given the reader some insight into Emmet’s thinking. Following the signing of the ‘Peace of Amiens’ by France and England in March 1802 the United Irishmen that were being held as prisoners in Fort George were released and many such as Thomas Russell and Thomas Addis Emmet made there way to Paris. Emmet returned to Ireland in October 1802 and began to plan for a rising and in March 1803, at a meeting in Corbet’s Hotel, 105 Capel Street, Dublin, Emmet briefed his key organisers.

In April 1803 Emmet rented an isolated house in Butterfield Lane in Rathfarnham as a new base of operations and Michael Dwyer, a 1798 veteran, suggested his young niece as a suitable candidate to play the role of the ‘housekeeper’. Born in or around the year 1778, Ann Devlin soon became Robert Emmet’s trusted helper and served him loyally in the months ahead. Shortly afterwards he leased a premises at Marshalsea Lane, off Thomas Street, Dublin, and set up an arms depot there.

Arms depots were established in Dublin for the manufacture and storage of weapons for the incipient rising. Former soldiers mixed their practical skills with the scientific knowledge that Robert Emmet had acquired on the continent, and an innovative rocket device was produced. Elaborate plans were drawn up to take the city and in particular Dublin Castle : supporters from the surrounding counties of Kildare, Wicklow and even Wexford were pledged to assist. Emmet bided his time, waiting for an opportune moment when English troops would be withdrawn to serve in the renewed war in France, but his hand was forced when a premature explosion on the evening of July 16, 1803, at the Patrick Street depot, caused the death of John Keenan. Though there was no obvious wide scale search or arrest operation by the British following the explosion, the leadership of the movement decided to set July 23, 1803 (the following Saturday) as the date for the rising. Emmet hoped that success in Dublin would inspire other counties to follow suit.

Patrick M. Geoghegan, in a recent publication, says that “..the plan for taking Dublin was breathtaking in its precision and audacity. It was nothing less that a blueprint for a dramatic coup d’état. Indeed, over a century later, Pearse and Clarke would also refer to the plan for their own rising..”

Emmet’s plan depended on two factors – arms and men and, as Geoghegan states, when the time came, Robert Emmet had not enough of either – events went dramatically wrong for him. On the appointed day his plans began to unravel ; Michael Dwyer and his promised 300 men did not get the word until Sunday July 24th and, the previous day, an excess of men had moved in to Dublin from Kildare and could not be concealed in the existing depots so they spread out around the city pubs and some started drinking. Others, after inspecting the existing arsenal and finding many pikes but few muskets or blunderbusses, went home unimpressed.

Because he had alerted other countries and still had the element of surprise, Emmet decided not to postpone the Rising thus, shortly after seven o’ clock on Saturday July 23rd, 1803, Robert Emmet in his green and gold uniform stood in the Thomas Street, Dublin, depot and, to the assembled rebels, read out his proclamation, declaring that the Irish nation was about to assert itself in arms against foreign rule. But again events conspired to thwart the rebels – coaches commissioned for the attack on Dublin Castle were lost and erroneous information supplied that encouraged pre-emptive strikes, meant that confusion reigned. Also, the novel rocket signals failed to detonate.

Emmet’s own forces, who were to have taken the Castle, dwindled away and, throughout the remainder of that evening, there were skirmishes at Thomas Street and the Coombe Barracks but he decided to terminate operations and leave the city. For the English Army, which included Daniel O’ Connell, it was then merely a mopping-up operation : in the aftermath, the English arrested and tortured Anne Devlin, even offering her the enormous sum of £500 to betray Robert Emmet – she refused.

Emmet himself took refuge in the Harold’s Cross area of Dublin, during which he met with his mother and Sarah Curran but, on Thursday August 25th, 1803, he was finally arrested. It has been stated by others that a £1000 reward was paid by Dublin Castle to an informer, for supplying the information which led to his capture. Robert Emmet’s misfortunes did not stop on his arrest : he had the misfortune to be defended by one Leonard McNally who was trusted by the United Irishmen.

However, after McNally’s death in 1820 it transpired that he was a highly paid government agent and, in his role as an informer, that he had encouraged young men to join the rebels, betrayed them to Dublin Castle and would then collect fees from the United Irishmen to ‘defend’ those same rebels in court!

Emmet was tried before a ‘Special Commission’ in Green Street Court House in Dublin on September 19th, 1803. The ‘trial’ lasted all day and by 9.30pm he was pronounced guilty ; asked for his reaction, he delivered a speech which still inspires today. He closed by saying that he cared not for the opinion of the court but for the opinion of the future – “..when other times and other men can do justice to my character..” Robert Emmet was publicly executed on Tuesday September 20th outside St Catherine’s Church in Dublin’s Thomas Street.

The final comment on the value of Robert Emmet’s Rising must go to Séan Ó Brádaigh, who states that to speak of Emmet in terms of failure alone is to do him a grave injustice. He and the men and women of 1798 and 1803 and, indeed, those that went before them, set a course for the Irish nation, with their appeal to Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of ‘Irishman’, which profoundly affected Irish life for more than two centuries and which will, we trust, eventually bear abundant fruit.

Finally, it was not only college-educated men and women like Robert Emmet (ie those who might be perceived as being ‘upper class’) who decided to challenge Westminster’s interference in Irish affairs in 1803 : so-called ‘working class’ men and women also acknowledged the need for such resistance – Edward Kearney, carpenter, hanged, Thomas St / Owen Kirwin, tailor, hanged, Thomas St, September 1st 1803 / Maxwell Roche, slator, hanged, Thomas St, September 2nd 1803 / Denis Lambert Redmond, coal facer, hanged, Coalquay (Woodquay) Dublin, / John Killeen, carpenter, hanged, Thomas St, September 10th 1803 / John McCann, shoemaker, hanged at his own doorstep, Thomas St, September 10th 1803 / Felix Rourke, farm labourer, hanged, Rathcoole, Dublin, September 10th 1803 / Thomas Keenan, carpenter, hanged, Thomas St, September 11th 1803 / John Hayes, carpenter, hanged, Thomas St, September 17th 1803 / Michael Kelly, carpenter, hanged, Thomas St, September 17th 1803 / James Byrne, baker, hanged, Townsend St, Dublin, September 17th 1803 / John Begg, tailor, hanged, Palmerstown, Dublin, September 17th 1803 / Nicholas Tyrrell, factory worker, hanged, Palmerstown, Dublin, September 17th 1803 / Henry Howley, carpenter, hanged, Kilmainham Jail, Dublin, September 20th 1803 / John McIntoch, carpenter, hanged, Patrick St, Dublin, October 3rd 1803 – there are dozens more we could list here, but suffice to say that ‘class’ alone was not then, nor is it now, a deciding factor in challenging British military and political interference in this country. ‘Justice’ is the deciding factor in that equation.


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, June, 1955.

A Favourite Weapon –

When a strong nation is engaged in holding a weaker one in subjection, two arguments are always advanced to obscure the true facts of the situation. One argument is that the subject country cannot rightly be regarded as a nation at all. The other argument, closely related to the first, is that the subject country is not one but two or more nations which would fly at one another’s throats were it not for the impartial and unifying influence of outside government.

It was thus that Russia justified her subjection of Finland and the Baltic nations, that Germany justified her subjection of the Poles, Austria her subjection of Bohemia, and Great Britain her subjection of Ireland.

When the subject people were quiescent it suited the conqueror to stress the first argument ; the second argument was always available when national forces became too explosive to be denied.

Specious Argument –

Both arguments have been used from time to time against the national claims of Ireland, but the first is not presently in vogue. The opponents of Irish nationalism now fall back on the second argument, that Ireland is not one but two nations, and that the Six Counties, at present within the jurisdiction of the Belfast Parliament, are a homogeneous community differing in race, religion, temperament and outlook from the people of the Twenty-Six Counties…



On the 10th March, 1653 (368 years ago on this date) an Irish ‘landowner’, Phelim O’Neill, was butchered in Dublin as per Cromwell’s orders : he was hung, disembowelled and quartered, after being accused of being a traitor.

He had previously voiced his discontent at the high number of British settlers on Irish land, despite the fact that he was a ‘settler’ himself – due to his service to the British crown, he was told he could ‘maintain his Estates’ in the County Tyrone area of Ireland but, after the ‘Flight of the Earls’, British-‘owned’ land in Ireland was re-distributed and even harsher ‘laws’ were forced on the remaining Catholic population. O’Neill and other ‘landowners’ objected, to no avail, and in 1641 they organised themselves as best they could to militarily challenge the new scenario –

‘Events came to a head in 1641 when the Scottish Covenanters and English Long Parliament threatened to subdue Catholism in Ireland by invasion. Phelim O’Neill and several Catholic leaders in Ulster decided to seize Dublin and other important towns in Ireland, after which they planned to demand full rights for Catholics and Irish self government. O’Neill was to capture English forts and towns in Ulster, Dublin was to be taken by the Maguire’s and the MacMahons in which they were unsuccessful…O’Neill’s army was largely drawn from the peasantry, the large majority of whom had recently been disposed.

Phelim O’Neill assisted by Rory O’Moore made their way towards Dublin, defeating the government forces at Julianstown, but failed to capture Droheda. By early 1642 the rebellion had spread to all of Ireland, with the British holding Dublin, Cork and Derry, Charles I dispatched a large army to Ireland which was followed by the outbreak of The English Civil War, in which Oliver Cromwell emerged victorious.

In 1648…Phelim favoured a deal with Charles I and the Royalists seeing it as a means of defeating The Scottish Covenanters and The English Parliamentary forces… Cromwell emerged victorious in The English Civil War, his New Model Army was well trained and equipped…they landed at Dublin and proceeded to ruthlessly crush opposition wherever it was found. The Ulster Army was routed at the battle of Scarrifholis in 1650, Phelim O’Neill escaped the battle but was destined to be a fugitive the rest of his life. Anxious to prevent another rebellion in Ireland Cromwell announced that anyone implicated in The 1641 rebellion…was to be executed. Phelim O’Neill was cited as a ringleader in the Cromwellian Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652, he was captured on 4th February 1653 and executed on the 10th March, 1653…’ (…more here.)

He ‘inherited’ large estates after his father and grandfather were killed “fighting in the King’s service” (he was only five years young when his father was killed) and was raised as a ‘royal ward’ and, as an adult, purchased a knighthood. A ‘poacher-turned-gamekeeper’ in reverse, if you like…


Why the media consensus on a broad range of issues is increasingly disturbing.

By John Drennan.

From ‘Magill’ Annual, 2002.

A strange thing happened eighteen months ago when a small group of railway workers did what trade unionists have been at since the age of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and went on strike.

The demands were appalling ; they were looking for more pay, increased safety reviews and better safety training but, by the time the media furore had ceased, the man on the street would be excused for thinking the Irish Locomotive Drivers Association (ILDA) was an acronym of ‘RIRA’. The roars of some of the FF/PD government’s useful idiots was understandable. However, as Fintan O’Toole belaboured the misfortunate train drivers on the grounds that they were ruining little boys’ dreams of becoming train drivers, it was evident that something odd was at play.

Essentially, the Irish media’s knickers were showing ; iconoclast, socialist and radical conservative were revealed as being one and the same. All were exposed as being subscribers to that bland petit bourgeois school of conservatism which has forever dogged the history of our country. That philosophy runs something like this – where anything which affected their lives, such as the non-running of the Dart or the danger to their tax cuts/share portfolios posed by inconvenient pay demands, was an attack upon the State itself…



From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, March, 1955.

Just seven years ago, a little collecting card headed ‘An t-Éireannach Aontuighthe’ was issued bearing this appeal –

‘Funds are urgently needed to launch the newspaper, the policy of which shall be ;

1) To expound republicanism, separatism, self-reliance and unity among all Irishmen (sic).

2) To dispel the clouds of apathy which engulf the traditional love and enthusiasm for freedom and justice.

3) To comment honestly and report truthfully on all important events at home and abroad.

4) To foster the Gaelic Language and all branches of Gaelic culture.’

Funds were indeed urgently needed, and to that appeal there came the response of ‘the few men (sic) faithful’ to the cause of separatism and the belief in the right and ability of the people of Ireland to manage the affairs of Ireland. It was a lean time for the Irish men and women who had a mind to be Gaelic and free, many of them all over the country had not long been released from the various jails.

In fact, there were some in Crumlin Road in Belfast still, and others were bent and crushed by the continuous campaign against them by three governments ‘in the interests of law and order’, during the second world war. The newspaper was launched by this few gathered together ; there was little money, little support, little encouragement, but a great lot of spirit and will…



‘The horrors of colonialism are sung without mercy in ‘The Nightingale’ :

‘The Nightingale’ is set in Tasmania in the 1820s, at the peak of the conflict between British colonizers and Aboriginal Australians. But there’s a third group alongside them: European convicts who have been deported to Australia for their crimes. This is where we meet Clare Carroll, an Irish convict living in a forest shed with her husband and a newborn baby.

Clare is eager to receive the papers that would finally grant her family official pardon, but the papers are being held by Lieutenant Hawkins, a British officer who views Clare as his property and sex slave. From the first shot of Clare walking through the woods with the infant on one arm and a homemade blade in hand, we understand we are going to be witnessing something violent and unsettling…’ (from here.)

As I said recently on ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ – ‘Last week, myself and the Girl Gang had a film recommended to us, so we (temporarily!) farmed-out the kids and the grandkids and banished the menfolk (again, only temporarily!). We found the film on ‘Netflix’ and we’d recommend that anyone with a social conscience and an interest in politics to watch it : it’s not for young eyes, as it contains (political) violence. It’s about the Irish and the Aborigines in Tasmania, under British occupation. Recommended viewing, 10 out of 10…’

Do whatever you have to do to give yourself two hours and fifteen minutes to watch this film ; it’s violent, it’s bloody, it’s heartbreaking. As is British occupation and imperialism. But, if you want to know where Irish republicanism comes from, this film will help in that regard.

Thanks for reading, Sharon.

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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