Reviving the Spirit of Robert Emmet

As Ireland trundles through a period of historical upheaval in the western world. I believe it is crucial that we look to our nation’s rich history for guidance as to how to confront the numerous problems we face as a society. It is confounding to me, that after hundreds of years of rebellions and bloodshed, it took little over fifty years after 1922 that we managed to unwittingly hand back our sovereignty to the European Economic Community, which was the forerunner of the EU. There is a huge sense now that Ireland doesn’t control her own destiny anymore. Our national government doesn’t control our monetary policy. Interest rates are set by the ECB. EU law has supremacy over Irish law. EU policy is set by a commission of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels as our national government has been relegated to that of a national tidy towns committee. During Covid, we lost many of our rights temporarily, which shows us how fleeting freedom can be if we don’t defend it. Afterwards, we were told it was all in vain as this disease we were supposedly fighting became endemic anyway. This is all the more jarring when you realise the way that anyone who questions the government narrative is punished. For example, Glen Miller of yellow vest Ireland received a 6 months jail sentence for organising a protest during lockdown. Enoch Burke has been jailed for contempt after refusing to abide by a court order which stopped him working because he would not use gender pronouns that are inimical to everything he believes in. The country is spiralling out of control and we must look to patriots of years past to see the similar challenges they faced, where they succeeded and how they failed. More importantly we must look at these patriot’s ideals to see what many in this country have lost on the journey to increased globalisation.

The brief life of Robert Emmet was a strange mix of controversy, humiliation and heroic failure. Ironically, his greatest failure, the organising of the 1803 rebellion would lead him to immortality in the pantheon of Irish martyrdom. He grew up during the American war of independence and his father would often regale him with stories from America. Little Robert came to see himself as a young George Washington who would liberate the Irish from British rule. Upon entering Trinity College Dublinat the age of 15, he was seen as something of a prodigy, he was marked out by his involvement with the college historical society as a great orator and debater. However, he became a marked man by the college for his suspected involvement in four separate illegal cells of the United Irishmen that were being run from within the college itself. The tension grew between Emmet and the college as he was not permitted to discuss Irish nationalism during his oratory competitions within the society. As a result he came up with a clever way around this intellectual intrusion which had been decreed by the British government itself. It is easy to see here the historical parallels between this imposition by the British and the moderation today that takes place among our media class who have deemed certain topics as societally unworthy. These issues include things like euroscepticism, cultural conservatism and immigration control.

Emmet cleverly manoeuvred a way around these laws. He began to disseminate speeches about Ancient Greece and Rome where he would repeatedly make historical metaphors about oppressor states versus oppressed states. He left his audience in no doubt that he was referring to British rule in Ireland. As a result the College authorities began to listen in to the debates, horrified that Emmet may have been corrupting his contemporaries with notions of Irish nationalism. In this odd way, Emmet was the original gaslighting populist firebrand. And I am positive he has many modern day disciples who have become avid readers of we the As a result of his newfound notoriety the college hierarchy set up a huge debate on the 28th of February 1798. A graduate barrister by the name of Geraghty was invited by the Irish establishment in order to take on Emmet who was the champion of the nationalist radicals. As the country teetered on the edge of Wolfe Tone’s rebellion, the college chamber was packed to the rafters with people. The air was heavy with anticipation and supporters of both factions were present. Emmet is said to have swayed from side to side with emotion as he made his opening argument and accentuated his points by tapping the palm of his hand for emphasis. But, Geraghty, during his rebuttal began to jeer Emmet and attack him personally. This would have hitherto been considered as conduct unbecoming in the chamber. And as Emmet began to return fire he was heckled profusely. This was the undoing of Emmet. For the first time in his debating career he began to stumble over his words and was incoherent. He apologised and silently slipped away, defeated. Geraghty had behaved like a modern day antifa fundamentalist, barracking him into submission. It was at this point that many historians believed Emmet reconciled that he would never again be browbeat into obscurity. Thomas Moore, the great poet, who later immortalised Emmett in verse would say that this defeat left the populist radicals humbled. Their champion had been humiliated at the altar of the establishment. And the indignity didn’t end there as Trinity expelled Emmet and other rebels before they could graduate. And here too, we see a symbolic connection with modern Ireland where many citizens are left in an economic death spiral if they do not toe the line in their profession of choice. Most notably in the media and academia. What happened in the rebels era was that these expulsions left the rebels as an undereducated sub class. It’s striking that more than 200 years on, our education system is still not fit for purpose. The main reason being that college is seen as a necessity for young people today. Diverting young people away from trades and other professions they are suited to, which is fuelling the government’s current immigration recruitment drive. As a result of Emmet’s expulsion, he was propelled into a leadership role with the United Irishmen as many of the previous leadership had either died or were rotting in a jail cell after the 1798 rebellion. He was then commissioned to author an autopsy report on the rebellion in order to ensure future rebels never made the same mistake again. In the aftermath of this he travelled to Westminster for the passing of the Act of Union of 1803. As the Irish parliament was rendered redundant he silently vowed the radicals would fight back. The United Irishmen realised that in all likelihood, that they needed allies in order for a new rebellion to succeed. As a result Emmet went to France and was received by the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. The emperor was quite taken with the young Irish revolutionary, however, the feeling was not mutual. The former Trinity student did not like the way in which the French were turning Europe into a collection of vassal states. They also plundered the valuables of every regime they overthrew. In many ways it was like Napoleon was auditioning to be the first president of the European Commission.

The 1803 rebellion itself was shrouded in secrecy. This was by design, as previous rebellions had always been scuppered by British intelligence around Dublin. Upto a year in advance of the rebellion Emmet became a subversive figure, who hid in the shadows as he schemed for ways in which he could run a successful guerilla campaign. The date that was set for this plan to take effect was 23rd of July 1803. The rebels’ hopes rested on wresting control of Dublin castle from the British. The premise was that this would lead to other groups springing up to fight all over the country once Dublin had been liberated. However, there would be a series of setbacks which would lead to the untimely demise of Robert Emmet. The man he had trusted with the fuses for his rockets had lost them. This was compounded by the fact that the absolute secrecy that was demanded around the rebellion meant that there wasn’t enough time to mobilise foot soldiers to come to Dublin. When the few who did arrive came to meet their leader, they were left distinctly unimpressed by the youth and lack of a physical presence possessed by Emmet. This led to desertions and eventually all that was left was a drunken rabble attempting to execute the coup. Their farcical attempt to take Dublin castle led to arrests at which point Emmet was forced to flee. This was before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden, was found by the rebels on the way to Dublin Castle and he was piked to death by the remaining rebels. By all accounts Lord Kilwarden was a liberal man and had been a friend of Wolfe Tone in the 1790’s. As Emmet made his way to the Wicklow mountains he lamented his passing.

While Emmet was marooned in the mountains he was written to by his mother and urged to flee to America. He decided to return to Dublin and take responsibility for the disgraceful scenes that had taken place at his behest. In order to aid the escape of other rebels he rented a house in Harold’s cross under a false name, where he could lie low and give his contemporaries cover to escape the widespread government crackdown that followed. While he was there, he began to again exchange letters with the love of his life, Sarah Curran. Much has been written of Emmet's dalliance with Ms. Curran which in many ways was to doom them both. This was a forbidden love with the Daughter of John Philpott Curran who was the celebrated barrister and friend of Wolf Tone. Their secret romance had been ongoing for years as they knew her family would not approve. (Her brother Richard Curran was one of Emmet’s best friends.) They became engaged around this time and unfortunately their lives were ultimately destined to be tragically entwined. When Emmet’s house was raided by the British he gave a pseudonym to the soldiers which was not consistent with the name he gave his landlady. As a result he was beaten and tackled to the ground by no less than the chief of police himself after an attempt to escape through a nearby window was unsuccessful. When he was brought in for questioning he made a mockery of many of the questions and would not break despite disclosing his true identity. Unfortunately, the police had found two love letters in his possession from Sarah Curran which he had meant to destroy and this would change his demeanour dramatically. Upon realising that the government had found these letters he crumbled. Emmet imagined that the government had arrested his beloved Sarah and at once said that he would do anything as long as the writer of the letters was allowed to go free. He had made a grave error as the government at this point did not even believe they were love letters but rather coded instructions between the United Irishmen ! At this point, believing that his Fiancé was being held in a cell he wrote her a letter. He apologised profusely in this letter and gave it to the only man he now trusted. A jailer that had promised to help him escape. As has become patently obvious to many historians, Emmet was not a good judge of people. The jailer took the letter straight to the authorities. The next morning, the Curran house was raided.

Sarah’s father, John Philpot Curran was outraged. He protested his daughter’s innocence and proclaimed Emmet a liar. Sarah Curran was kicked out of her family’s house. Her father in effect disowned her after he learned the truth. Indeed, years later he would refuse her dying wish to be buried alongside her mother. In the immediate aftermath of the Scandal, Mr. Curran would write a scathing letter to Emmet, intimating what shame Emmet had brought upon the Curran name. Emmet, sitting in his jail cell, was broken. He replied to Mr. Curran in a dignified manner saying that “the man who feels the coldness of death upon him, should not be made to feel any additional coldness.” As a result, John Curran would not represent Emmet in court as he had done for Wolf Tone. This was to have repercussions for Emmet as his barrister was a man called Leonard Mc Nally who was later revealed to be one of the best paid British spies of his generation. Robert Emmet was charged with treason for leading a rebellion against the king. And as his trial progressed, he would repeatedly halt his legal team from making a decent defence. At this point, he wished to simply meet his fate. The jury duly delivered a guilty verdict on the spot. The Judge, Lord Norbury who was known as the “hanging judge” then asked Emmet if he had any last words. It was then said that Emmet rose like a martyr to give the oration of a lifetime. His speech from the dock would later be performed on stages across America, it would be studied by future scholars and Presidents, it would secure Emmet’s name in history. The true greatness of this speech is encapsulated by the fact that it was given by this Irish Hero at a time in his life when all hope had been extinguished for him. His rebellion had been an embarrassment, he had ruined the life of Sarah Curran, he had lost all of his friends and had been betrayed by many he had placed trust in. He was sentenced to hanging. Yet, from this place of despondency he gave an oratorical performance which moved many in the courtroom to tears.

Throughout his speech he used proto Churchillian language to illustrate that the rebellion despite its conclusion had been well thought out and how he was not a pawn of the French. He talked about how he wanted the French to come as allies to Ireland. He proclaimed that if the French were to come as enemies, that he would have fought them with a sword in one hand and a torch in the other and that with his dying breath he would have set fire to the place rather than see it run by a French tyrant. He spoke of how he wished to see a sophisticated Irish republic. At this point, reminiscent of Geraghty years ago in Trinity, Judge Norbury interrupted Emmet’s attack on British rule in Ireland. He shouted that the defendant was a shame on his father. But this time Emmet continued. He would not allow himself to bebarracked and abused like he was in Trinity. Protesting, “why won’t you let me speak” to the judge. He continued, by lamenting that his life was nearly over before giving the immortal killer lines of his speech. “I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world; it is—THE CHARITY OF ITS SILENCE. 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 name remain uninscribed, 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.” Upon finishing, he was kissed on the forehead by his traitorous barrister Leonard Mc Nally. His Christ-like sacrifice was marked by the kiss of Judas.

The influence of Robert Emmet should be profound on those of us who wish to realise his dream for our nation. Many of us still believe that our membership of the EU has meant that in this author’s opinion, we have achieved nothing more than Home Rule. We have not taken our place among nations as he wanted . As Emmet stayed up all night before his execution writing letters, he attempted to craft a legacy. He wrote to Chief secretary for Ireland, William Wickham, who had essentially been the chief protagonist in finding Emmet after the rebellion. The letter had a profound effect on Wickham and he later resigned citing the unfairness of British rule in Ireland and the trauma of having to put young men of the character of Robert Emmet to death. It haunted him for the rest of his life. Emmet also drew up his proposed plan for rebellion which was later studied by Patrick Pearse before 1916. The 1916 rebellion indeed was a better executed version of the 1803 rebellion. The last casualty from the whole affair was Sarah Curran who later married a British soldier and was happy for a time before dying in the aftermath of losing her baby in childbirth. Her life was remembered in the work of Thomas Moore and she remains a tragic figure. One of the strangest elements of Emmet’s legacy came to fruition in 1882 when Oscar Wilde travelled to America on a speaking tour. There were twenty Robert Emmet commemorations that year, some of which coincided with Wilde’s speaking engagements. He visited fome of Emmet’s family in America and visited them to pay his respects. It is interesting to note that Wilde always viewed failure as something that was more interesting than success which may be why he was so intoxicated by the heroic failure of Emmet. Indeed, when reflecting on the American Civil war, Oscar Wilde was very sympathetic to the plight of the Confederacy. While in New Orleans he said “The case of the south in the Civil war was to my mind, much like that of Ireland today. It was a struggle for autonomy, self government for a people.”

When talking to reporters Wilde exclaimed that he only wanted to meet one man while he was in America and that man was Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. This was then arranged by the southerners. When they did finally meet, one onlooker described it as “like a butterfly making a formal visit to an eagle.” Jefferson Davis did not enjoy Oscar Wilde’s company. However, Wilde struck up quite a rapport with his daughter, Verena Ann Davis, the daughter of the confederacy. Ms. Davis found many similarities between the two countries' struggles. So much so that she later wrote a book on the subject ofRobert Emmet entitled “An Irish knight of the 19th century.” She apparently had a distant relative who had fought with Emmet in 1803 and fled to America. She drew comparisons between the glorious failures of both the confederacy and Emmet’s rebellion. Both led by great men. They were an achievement marked by defiance in the face of almost certain defeat. The book became a bestseller in America and secured the Emmet story in the annals of history. It is our great failure as Irish men and women that the ideals for which men like Emmet, Connolly and Collins fought for have been lost in our current predicament of EU integration. We have given up all semblance of independence of judiciary and governance in this nation. We’ve paid Billions of Euro for the ignominy of vassalage. From 1973- 2014, Dr. Karen Devine estimated that Ireland lost 200 Billion in fishery resources. In the 2008 crash, Irish taxpayers paid 64 Billion of Franco German bank debt. The EU itself estimates it gave Ireland 40 Billion in that timespan. This is a net loss of 224 Billion. And ever since 2014, as a net contributor, we have paid more money to the EU every year. Men like Emmet didn’t die for this. He didn’t trust the French. He didn’t trust the British. He wouldn’t trust this union.

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