Robert Emmet

Robert Emmet - Public domain
Robert Emmet - Public domain

Robert Emmet (1778-1803) was an Irish nationalist who led a revolt against the British government in 1803 to emancipate Ireland from the guardianship of the United Kingdom. His attempt to revolt failed, however, and Robert Emmet was executed shortly afterwards in the Kilmainham Gaol prison in Dublin. He is one of the best known Irish martyrs in Irish history.

Biography of Robert Emmet

Youth very quickly rocked by revolutionary values

Robert Emmet was born in 1778 near Clonakilty to a wealthy family. His father was a military man who gave him a very strict education under the sign of discipline. A good student, he studied at Trinity College, and then discovered the world of politics. He almost immediately became infatuated with the Anglo-Irish cause, and joined the very closed circle of the United Irishmens, an underground society of Irish patriots, deeply involved in the fight against the British.

His brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, was also part of this group, and tried with the others to foment a revolt, with the help of France. Of course, the British government never ceases to hunt down the members of this secret society, well aware of the threat it represents.

The year 1798 was a pivotal year for Emmet: he took an active part in the 1798 Rebellion and was finally forced to flee to France to escape from the British.

Refusing to submit to this failure, Robert Emmet finally took part in 1803 in an Irish delegation to meet Napoleon. The Irish had the secret hope that Napoleon would give them an army and enough weapons to be able to dominate the British for a future rebellion. Nevertheless, Napoleon refused, too busy with the ongoing Napoleonic wars.

Emmet organizes the Rebellion of 1803

Disappointed, Emmet returns to Ireland and organizes a revolt with the help of other revolutionaries. Emmet was primarily responsible for the supply of weapons, collecting rifles and ammunition from all over Dublin. The whole thing is of course conducted with the utmost discretion, in order to create a perfect surprise effect.

The uprising started on July 23rd 1803 in the streets of Dublin, and attempted to seize Dublin Castle. The revolt was however very badly organized, and turned into a general riot. The fighting was extremely violent, and Emmet quickly realized that his attack was doomed to failure, due to the inexperience of the belligerents. He therefore orders the end of the insurrection and tries to flee.

However, it was a lost cause: Robert Emmet was captured on August 25, 1803 while trying to join his companion Sarah Curran. He was then tried for treason on 19 September 1803 and sentenced to death. Before he died, he tried to send a farewell letter to his lover, but this letter was finally delivered to the authorities, who hastened to capture Sarah Curran and put her to death.

Robert Emmet was finally executed on 20 December in the Kilmainham Gaol prison in Dublin by hanging and beheading. The body was later buried in a secret location.

There is a short story about him, claiming that he was buried in the vault of a church in Dublin. A headless corpse was found there in the 1950s, but there is no evidence that it was Emmet…