Robert Emmet

By T. D. Sullivan, from Speeches from the Dock, 1886

In all Irish history there is no name which touches the Irish heart like that of Robert Emmet. We read, in that eventful record, of men who laid down their lives for Ireland amid the roar and crash of battle, of others who perished by the headsman's axe or the halter of the hangman, of others whose eyes were closed forever in the gloom of English dungeons, and of many whose hearts broke amid the sorrows of involuntary exile; of men, too, who in the great warfare of mind rendered to the Irish cause services no less memorable and glorious. They are neither forgotten nor unhonored. The warrior figure of Hugh O'Neil is a familiar vision to Irishmen; Sarsfield expiring on the foreign battlefield with that infinitely pathetic and noble utterance on his lips--"Would that this were for Ireland,"--is a cherished remembrance, and that last cry of a patriotic spirit dwells forever about our hearts; Grattan battling against a corrupt and venal faction, first to win, and then to defend the independence of his country, astonishing friends and foes alike by the dazzling splendor of his eloquence: and O'Connell on the hill-sides pleading for the restoration of Ireland's rights, and rousing his countrymen to a struggle for them, are pictures of which we are proud--memories that will live in song and story while the Irish race has a distinct existence in the world.

But in the character of Robert Emmet there was such a rare combination of admirable qualities, and in his history there are so many of the elements of romance, that the man stands before our mental vision, as a peculiarly noble and loveable being, with claims upon our sympathies that are absolutely without a parallel. He had youth, talent, social position, a fair share of fortune, and bright prospects for the future on his side, when he embarked in the service of a cause that had but recently been sunk in defeat and ruin. Courage, genius, enthusiasm, were his; high hopes and strong affections, all based upon and sweetened by a nature utterly free from guile. He was an orator and a poet; in the one art he had already achieved distinction, in the other he was certain to take a high place, if he should make that an object of his ambition. He was a true patriot, true soldier, and true lover. If the story of his political life is full of melancholy interest, and calculated to awaken profound emotions of reverence for his memory, the story of his affection is not less touching. Truly, "there's not a line but hath been wept upon." So it is, that of all the heroic men who risked and lost everything for Ireland, none is so frequently remembered, none is thought of so tenderly, as Robert Emmet. Poetry has cast a halo of light upon the name of the youthful martyr, and some of the sweetest strains of Irish music are consecrated to his memory.

Robert Emmet was born on the 4th of March 1778. He was the third son of Doctor Robert Emmet, a well-known and highly respectable physician of Dublin. Thomas Addis Emmet, already mentioned in these pages, the associate of Tone, the Sheareses, and other members of the United Irish organization, was an elder brother of Robert, and his senior by some sixteen years. Just about the period when the United Irishmen were forming themselves into a secret revolutionary society, young Emmet was sent to receive his education in Trinity College. There the bent of the lad's political opinions was soon detected; but among his fellow-students he found many, and amongst them older heads than his own, who not only shared his views, but went beyond them in the direction of liberal and democratic principles. In the Historical Society--composed of the alumni of the college, and on whose books at this time were many names that subsequently became famous--those kindred spirits made for themselves many opportunities of giving expression to their sentiments, and showing that their hearts beat in unison with the great movement for human freedom which was then agitating the world. To their debates Emmet brought the aid of a fine intellect and a fluent utterance, and he soon became the orator of the patriot party.

So great was the effect created by his fervid eloquence, and his admirable reasoning, that the heads of the college thought it prudent on several occasions to send one of the ablest of their body to take part in the proceedings, and assist in refuting the argumentation of the "young Jacobin." And to such extremities did matters proceed at last that Emmet, with several of his political friends, was expelled the college, others less obnoxious to the authorities were subjected to a severe reprimand, and the society, thus terrorised and weakened, soon ceased to exist. Our national poet, Thomas Moore, the fellow-student and intimate friend of young Emmet, witnessed many of those displays of his abilities, and in his "Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald," speaks of him in terms of the highest admiration. "Were I," he says, "to number the men among all I have ever known who appeared to me to combine in the greatest degree pure moral worth with intellectual power, I should, among the highest of the few, place Robert Emmet." "He was," writes the same authority, "wholly free from the follies and frailties of youth--though how capable he was of the most devoted passion events afterwards proved." Of his oratory, he says, "I have heard little since that appeared to me of a loftier, or what is a far more rare quality in Irish eloquence, purer character." And the appearance of this greatly gifted youth he thus describes: ''Simple in all his habits, and with a repose of look and manner indicating but little movement within, it was only when the spring was touched that set his feelings, and through them his intellect in motion, that he at all lose above the level of ordinary men. No two individuals indeed could be much more unlike to each other than was the same youth to himself before rising to speak, and after; the brow that had appeared inanimate and almost drooping, at once elevating itself to all the consciousness of power, and the whole countenance and figure of the speaker assuming a change, as of one suddenly inspired."

The expulsion of Emmet from the college occurred in the month of February, 1798. On the 12th of the following month his brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, was arrested. The manner in which this noble-hearted gentleman took the oath of the United Irish Society, in the year 1795, is so remarkable that we cannot omit mention of it here His services as a laywer having been engaged in the defence of some persons who stood charged with having sworn in members to the United Irish organization--the crime for which William Orr was subsequently tried and executed--he, in the course of the proceedings, took up the oath and read it with remarkable deliberation and solemnity. Then, taking into his hand the prayer-book that lay on the table for the swearing of witnesses, and looking to the bench and around the court, he said aloud:--

"My Lords--Here, in the presence of this legal court, this crowded auditory--in the presence of the Being that sees and witnesses, and directs this judicial tribunal--here, my lords, I, myself, in the presence of God, declare I take this oath."

The terms of the oath at this time were, in fact, perfectly constitutional, having reference simply to attainment of a due representation of the Irish nation in parliament--still, the oath was that of a society declared to be illegal, and the administration of it had been made a capital offence. The boldness of the advocate in thus administering it to himself in open court appeared to paralyze the minds of the judges. They took no notice of the act, and what was even more remarkable, the prisoners, who were convicted, received a lenient sentence.

But to return to Robert Emmet--the events of 1798, as might be supposed, had a powerful effect on the feelings of the enthusiastic young patriot, and he was not free of active participation with the leaders of the movement in Dublin. He was, of course, an object of suspicion to the government, and it appears marvellous that they did not immediately take him into their safe keeping, under the provisions of the habeas corpus suspension act. Ere long, however, he found that prudence would counsel his concealment, or his disappearance from the country, and he took his departure for the Continent, where he met with a whole host of the Irish refugees; and, in 1802, was joined by his brother and others of the political prisoners who had been released from the confinement to which--in violation of a distinct agreement between them and the government--they had been subjected in Fort George, in Scotland. Their sufferings had not broken their spirits. There was hope still, they thought, for Ireland; great opportunities were about to dawn upon that often defeated, but still unconquerable nation, and they applied themselves to the task of preparing the Irish people to take advantage of them.

At home the condition of affairs was not such as to discourage them. The people had not lost heart; the fighting spirit was still rife amongst them. The rebellion had been trampled out, but it had been sustained mainly by a county or two, and it had served to show that a general uprising of the people would be sufficient to sweep every vestige of British power from the land. Then they had in their favor the exasperation against the government which was caused by that most infamous transaction, the passage of the Act of Union. But they found their chief encouragement in the imminence of another war between France and England. Once more the United Irishmen put themselves into communication with Bonaparte, then First Consul, and again they received flattering promises of assistance Robert Emmet obtained an interview with that great man, and learned from him that it was his settled purpose, on the breaking out of hostilities, which could not long be deferred, to effect an invasion of England.

Full of high hopes, Emmet returned to Dublin in October, 1802; and as he was now in the very heart of a movement for another insurrection, he took every precaution to avoid discovery He passed under feigned names, and moved about as little as possible. He gathered together the remnants of the United Irish organization, and with some money of his own, added to considerable sums supplied to him by a Mr. Long, a merchant, residing at No. 4 Crow Street, and other sympathizers, he commenced the collection of an armament and military stores for his followers. In the month of May, 1803, the expected war between France and England broke out. This event of course raised still higher his hopes, and gave a great stimulus to his exertions. To and fro he went from one to another of the depots which he had established for the manufacture and storage of arms in various parts of the city, cheering, directing and assisting his men at their work. Pikes were got ready by the thousand, and ingeniously stowed away until they should be wanted; rockets, hand-grenades, and other deadly missiles were carefully prepared; but an accidental explosion, which occurred on the 16th of July, in one of these manufactories, situate in Patrick Street, was very neat leading to the discovery of the entire business, and had the effect of precipitating the outbreak. The government at this time had undoubtedly got on the scent of the movement, and the leaders considered that no time was to be lost in bringing matters to a crisis. Emmet now took up his abode in the Marshalsea Lane depot, snatching his few hours' sleep "on a mattress, surrounded by all the implements of death." There he made a final arrangement of his plans, and communicated his instructions to his subordinates, fixing the 23rd of July as the date for the rising.

The history of that unfortunate attempt need not here be written. Suffice it to say that the arrangements miscarried in nearly every particular. The men in the numbers calculated upon did not assemble at the appointed time or in the appointed places, and the whole force that turned out in Thomas Street for the attack on the Castle did not number a hundred insurgents. They were joined by a riotous and noisy rabble; and their unfortunate leader soon perceived that his following was, as had previously been said of the king's troops, "formidable to every one but the enemy." They had not proceeded far on their way when a carriage, in which were Lord Kilwarden, Chief-Justice of the King's Bench, his daughter, and his nephew, the Rev. Mr. Wolfe, drove into the street. The vehicle was stopped, and the Chief-Justice was immediately piked by a man in the crowd, whose son he had some time previously condemned to execution. The clergyman also was pulled out of the carriage, and put to death. To the lady no violence was offered, and Emmet himself, who had heard of the deplorable tragedy, rushing from the head of his party, bore her in his arms to an adjoining house. No attack on the Castle took place; the insurgent party scattered and melted away even before the appearance of military on the scene, and in little more than an hour from the time of his setting out on his desperate enterprise, Robert Emmet was a defeated and ruined man, a fugitive, with the whole host of British spies and bloodhounds employed to hunt him to the death.

Yet he might have foiled them, and got clear out of the country if his personal safety was all on earth he cared for. But in that noble heart of his there was one passion coexistent with his love for Ireland and not unworthy of the companionship, which forbade his immediate flight. With all that intensity of affection of which a nature so pure and so ardent as his was capable, he loved a being in every way worthy of him--a lady so gentle, and good, and fair, that even to a less poetic imagination than his own, she might seem to be a fitting personification of his beloved Erin; and by her he was loved and trusted in return. Who is it that has not heard her name?--who has not mourned over the story of Sarah Curran! In the ruin that had fallen on the hopes and fortunes of the patriotic chief, the happiness of this amiable lady was involved. He would not leave without an interview with her--no! though a thousand deaths should be the penalty. The delay was fatal to his chances of escape. For more than a month he remained in concealment, protected by the fidelity of friends, many of whom belonged to the humbler walks of life, and one of whom in particular--the heroic Anne Devlin, from whom neither proffered bribes nor cruel tortures could extort a single hint as to his place of abode--should ever be held in grateful remembrance by Irishmen. At length, on the 25th of August, the ill-fated young gentleman was arrested in the house of a Mrs. Palmer, at Harold's-cross. On the 19th of September he was put on his trial in the court-house, Green Street, charged with high treason. He entered on no defence, beyond making a few remarks in the course of the proceedings with a view to the moral and political justification of his conduct. The jury, without leaving their box, returned a verdict of guilty against him; after which, having been asked in due form why sentence of death should not be pronounced upon him, he delivered this memorable speech, every line of which is known and dear to the hearts of the Irish race:--

"MY LORDS,--I am asked what have I to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced on me, according to law. I have nothing to say that can alter your predetermination, nor that it will become me to say, with any view to the mitigation of that sentence which you are to pronounce, and I must abide by. But I have that to say which interests me more than life, and which you have labored to destroy. I have much to say why my reputation should be rescued from the load of false accusation and calumny which has been cast upon it. I do not imagine that, seated where you are, your mind can be so free from prejudice as to receive the least impression from what I am going to utter. I have no hopes that I can anchor my character in the breast of a court constituted and trammelled as this is. I only wish, and that is the utmost that I expect, that your lordships may suffer it to float down your memories untainted by the foul breath of prejudice, until it finds some more hospitable harbor to shelter it from the storms by which it is buffeted. Was I only to suffer death after being adjudged guilty by your tribunal, I should bow in silence, and meet the fate that awaits me without a murmur; but the sentence of the law which delivers my body to the excutioner will, through the ministry of the law, labor in its own vindication, to consign my character to obloquy; for there must be guilt somewhere, whether in the sentence of the court, or in the catastrophe, time must determine. A man in my situation has not only to encounter the difficulties of fortune, and the force of power over minds which it has corrupted or subjugated, but the difficulties of established prejudice. The man dies, but his memory lives. That mine may not perish, that it may live in the respect of my countryman, I seize upon this opportunity to vindicate myself from some of the charges alleged against me. When my spirit shall be wafted to a more friendly port--when my shade shall have joined the bands of those martyred heroes who have shed their blood on the scaffold and in the field in the defence of their country, and of virtue, this my hope--I wish that my memory and name may animate those who survive me, while I look down with complacency on the destruction of that perfidious goverment which upholds its domination by blasphemy of the Most High--which displays its power over man, as over the beasts of the forest--which sets man upon his brother, and lifts his hand in the name of God, against the throat of his fellow who believes or doubts a little more or a little less than the government standard--a government which is steeled to barbarity by the cries of the orphans, and the tears of the widows it has made."

[Here Lord Norbury interrupted Mr. Emmet, saying--"That the mean and wicked enthusiasts who felt as he did, were not equal to the accomplishment of their wild designs."]

"I appeal to the immaculate God--I swear by the throne of Heaven, before which I must shortly appear--by the blood of the murdered patriots who have gone before me--that my conduct has been, through all this peril, and through all my purposes, governed only by the conviction which I have uttered, and by no other view than that of the emancipation of my country from the superinhuman oppression under which she has so long and too patiently travailed; and I confidently hope that, wild and chimerical as it may appear, there is still union and strength in Ireland to accomplish this noblest of enterprises. Of this I speak with the confidence of intimate knowledge, and with the consolation that appertains to that confidence. Think not, my lords, I say this for the petty gratification of giving you a transitory uneasiness. A man who never yet raised his voice to assert a lie, will not hazard his character with posterity, by asserting a falsehood on a subject so important to his country, and on an occasion like this. Yes, my lords, a man who does not wish to have his epitaph written until his country is liberated, will not leave a weapon in the power of envy, or a pretence to impeach the probity which he means to preserve, even in the grave to which tyranny consigns him."

[Here he was again interrupted by the court]

"Again I say, that what I have spoken was not intended for your lordship, whose situation I commisserate rather than envy--my expressions were for my countrymen. If there is a true Irishman present, let my last words cheer him in the hour of his affliction."

[Here he was again interrupted. Lord Norbury said he did not sit there to hear treason.]

"I have always understood it to be the duty of a judge, when a prisoner has been convicted, to pronounce the sentence of the law. I have also understood that judges sometimes think it their duty to hear with patience, and to speak with humanity; to exhort the victim of the laws, and to offer, with tender benignity, their opinions of the motives by which he was actuated in the crime of which he was adjudged guilty. That a judge has thought it his duty so to have done, I have no doubt; but where is the boasted freedom of your institutions--where is the vaunted impartiality, clemency, and mildness of your courts of justice, if an unfortunate prisoner, whom your policy, and not justice, is about to deliver into the hands of the executioner, is not suffered to explain his motives sincerely and truly, and to vindicate the principles by which he was actuated? My lords, it may be a part of the system of angry justice to bow a man's mind by humiliation to the purposed ignominy of the scaffold; but worse to me than the purposed shame of the scaffold's terrors, would be the shame of such foul and unfounded imputations as have been laid against me in this court.

You, my lord, are a judge; I am the supposed culprit. I am a man; you are a man, also. By a revolution of power we might change places, though we never could change characters. If I stand at the bar of this court, and dare not vindicate my character, what a farce is your justice! If I stand at this bar, and dare not vindicate my character how dare you calumniate it. Does the sentence of death, which your unhallowed policy inflicts on my body, condemn my tongue to silence, and my reputation to reproach? Your executioner may abridge the period of my existence; but while I exist, I shall not forbear to vindicate my character and motives from your aspersions; and as a man, to whom fame is dearer than life, I will make the last use of that life in doing justice to that reputation which is to live after me, and which is the only legacy I can leave to those I honor and love, and for whom I am proud to perish. As men, my lords, we must appear on the great day at one common tribunal; and it will then remain for the Searcher of all hearts to show a collective universe, who was engaged in the most virtuous actions, or swayed by the purest motives--my country's oppressors or"--

[Here he was interrupted, and told to listen to the sentence of the law].

"My lords, will a dying man be denied the legal privilege of exculpating himself in the eyes of the community from an undeserved reproach, thrown upon him during his trial, by charging him with ambition, and attempting to cast away for a paltry consideration the liberties of his country? Why did your lordships insult me? Or, rather, why insult justice, in demanding of me why sentence of death should not be pronounced against me? I know, my lords, that form prescribes that you should ask the question. The form also presents the right of answering. This, no doubt, may be dispensed with, and so might the whole ceremony of the trial, since sentence was already pronounced at the Castle before the jury was empanelled. Your lordships are but the priests of the oracle, and I insist on the whole of the forms."

[Here Mr. Emmet paused, and the court desired him to proceed.]

"I am charged with being an emissary of France. An emissary of France! and for what end? It is alleged that I wished to sell the independence of my country; and for what end? Was this the object of my ambition? And is this the mode by which a tribunal of justice reconciles contradiction? No; I am no emissary; and my ambition was to hold a place among the deliverers of my country, not in power, nor in profit, but in the glory of the achievement. Sell my country's independence to France! and for what? Was it a change of masters? No, but for my ambition. Oh, my country, was it personal ambition that could influence me? Had it been the soul of my actions, could I not, by my education and fortune, by the rank and consideration of my family, have placed myself amongst the proudest of your oppressors. My country was my Idol. To it I sacrificed every selfish, every endearing sentiment; and for it I now offer up myself, O God! No, my lords; I acted as an Irishman, determined on delivering my country from the yoke of a foreign and unrelenting tyranny, and the more galling yoke of a domestic faction, which is its joint partner and perpetrator in the patricide, from the ignominy existing with an exterior of splendor and a conscious depravity. It was the wish of my heart to extricate my country from this doubly-riveted despotism--I wished to place her independence beyond the reach of any power on earth I wished to exalt her to that proud station in the world. Connection with France was, indeed, intended, but only as far as mutual interest would sanction or require. Were the French to assume any authority inconsistent with the purest independence, it would be signal for their destruction. We sought their aid--and we sought it as we had assurance we should obtain it--as auxiliaries in war, allies in peace. Were the French to come as invaders or enemies, uninvited by the wishes of the people, I should oppose them to the utmost of my strength. Yes! my countrymen, I should advise you to meet them upon the beach with a sword in one hand, and a torch in the other. I would meet them with all the destructive fury of war. I would animate my countrymen to immolate them in their boats, before they had contaminated the soil of my country. If they succeeded in landing, and if forced to retire before superior discipline, I would dispute every inch of ground, burn every blade of grass, and the last entrenchment of liberty should be my grave. What I could not do myself, if I should fall, I should leave as a last charge to my countrymen to accomplish; because I should feel conscious that life, any more than death, is unprofitable when a foreign nation holds my country in subjection. But it was not as an enemy that the succors of France were to land. I looked, indeed, for the assistance of France; but I wished to prove to France and to the world that Irishmen deserved to be assisted--that they were indignant at slavery, and ready to assert the independence and liberty of their country; I wished to procure for my country the guarantee which Washington procured for America --to procure an aid which, by its example, would be as important as its valor; disciplined, gallant, pregnant with science and expedience; that of a people who would perceive the good, and polish the rough points of our character. They would come to us as strangers, and leave us as friends, after sharing in our perils, and elevating our destiny. These were my objects; not to receive new taskmasters, but to expel old tyrants. It was for these ends I sought aid from France; because France, even as an enemy, could not be more implacable than the enemy already in the bosom of my country."

[Here he was interrupted by the court.]

"I have been charged with that importance in the emancipation of my country, as to be considered the key-stone of the combination of Irishmen; or, as your lordship expressed it, "the life and blood of the conspiracy." You do me honor over much; you have given to the subaltern all the credit of a superior. There are men engaged in this conspiracy who are not only superior to me, but even to your own conceptions of yourself, my lord--men before the splendor of whose genius and virtues I should bow with respectful deference, and who would think themselves disgraced by shaking your blood-stained hand.''

[Here he was interrupted.]

"What, my lord, shall you tell me, on the passage to the scaffold, which that tyranny (of which you are only the intermediary executioner) has erected for my murder, that I am accountable for all the blood that has and will be shed in this struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor--shall you tell me this, and must I be so very a slave as not to repel it? I do not fear to approach the Omnipotent Judge to answer for the conduct of my whole life; and am I to be appalled and falsified by a mere remnant of mortality here? By you, too, although if it were possible to collect all the innocent blood that you have shed in your unhallowed ministry in one great reservoir, your lordship might swim in it."

[Here the judge interfered.]

"Let no man dare, when I am dead, to charge me with dishonor; let no man attaint my memory, by believing that I could have engaged in any cause but that of my country's liberty and independence; or that I could have become the pliant minion of power, in the oppression and misery of my country. The proclamation of the Provisional Government speaks for our views; no inference can be tortured from it to countenance barbarity or debasement at home, or subjection, humiliation, or treachery from abroad. I would not have submitted to a foreign oppressor, for the same reason that I would resist the foreign and domestic oppressor. In the dignity of freedom, I would have fought upon the threshold of my country, and its enemy should enter only by passing over my lifeless corpse. And am I, who lived but for my country, and who have subjected myself to the dangers of the jealous and watchful oppressor, and the bondage of the grave, only to give my countrymen their rights, and my country her independence, am I to be loaded with calumny, and not suffered to resent it? No; God forbid!"

Here Lord Norbury told Mr. Emmet that his sentiments and language disgraced his family and his education, but more particularly his father, Dr. Emmet, who was a man, if alive, that would not countenance such opinions. To which Mr. Emmet replied:--

"If the spirits of the illustrious dead participate in the concerns and cares of those who were dear to them in this transitory life, oh! ever dear and venerated shade of my departed father, look down with scrutiny upon the conduct of your suffering son, and see if I have, even for a moment, deviated from those principles of morality and patriotism which it was your care to instil into my youthful mind, and for which I am now about to offer up my life. My lords, you are impatient for the sacrifice. The blood which you seek is not congealed by the artificial terrors which surround your victim--it circulates warmly and unruffled through the channels which God created for noble purposes, but which you are now bent to destroy for purposes so grievous that they cry to heaven. Be yet patient! I have but a few more words to say--I am going to my cold and silent grave--my lamp of life is nearly extinguished--my race is run--the grave opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom. I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world, it is--THE CHARIIY 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 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."

This affecting address was spoken--as we learn from the painstaking and generous biographer of the United Irishmen, Dr. Madden--"in so loud a voice as to be distinctly heard at the outer doors of the court-house; and yet, though he spoke in a loud tone, there was nothing boisterous in his manner; his accents and cadence of voice, on the contrary, were exquisitely modulated. His action was very remarkable, its greater or lesser vehemence corresponded with the rise and fall of his voice. He is described as moving about the dock, as he warmed in his address, with rapid, but not ungraceful motions--now in front of the railing before the bench, then retiring, as if his body, as well as his mind, were swelling beyond the measure of its chains. His action was not confined to his hands; he seemed to have acquired a swaying motion of the body when he spoke in public, which was peculiar to him, but there was no affectation in it."

At ten o'clock, p.m., on the day of his trial, the barbarous sentence of the law--the same that we have so recently heard passed on prisoners standing in that same dock, accused of the same offence against the rulers of this country--was passed on Robert Emmet. Only a few hours were given him in which to withdraw his thoughts from the things of this world, and fix them on the next. He was hurried away, at midnight, from Newgate to Kilmainham jail, passing through Thomas Street, the scene of his attempted insurrection. Hardly had the prison-van driven through, when workmen arrived and commenced the erection of the gibbet from which his body was to be suspended. About the hour of noon, on the 20th of September, he mounted the scaffold with a firm and composed demeanor; a minute or two more, and the lifeless remains of one of the most gifted of God's creatures hung from the crossbeams--strangled by the enemies of his country--cut off in the bloom of youth, in the prime of his physical and intellectual powers, because he had loved his own land, hated her oppressors, and striven to give freedom to his people. But not yet was English vengeance satisfied. While the body was yet warm it was cut down from the gibbet, the neck placed across a block on the scaffold, and the head severed from the body. Then the executioner held it up before the horrified and sorrowing crowd that stood outside the lines of soldiery, proclaiming to them--"This is the head of a traitor!" A traitor! It was a false proclamation. No traitor was he, but a true and noble gentleman. No traitor, but a most faithful heart to all that was worthy of love and honor. No traitor, but a martyr for Ireland The people who stood agonized before his scaffold, tears streaming from their eyes, and their hearts bursting with suppressed emotion, knew that for them and for Ireland he had offered up his young life. And when the deed was finished, and the mutilated body had been taken away, and the armed guards had marched from the fatal spot, old people and young moved up to it to dip their handkerchiefs in the blood of the martyr, that they might then treasure up the relics forever. Well has his memory been cherished in the Irish heart from that day to the present time. Six years ago a procession of Irishmen, fifteen thousand strong, bearing another rebel to his grave, passed by the scene of that execution, every man of whom reverently uncovered his head as he reached the hallowed spot. A few months ago, a banner borne in another Irish insurrection displayed the inscription--

"REMEMBER EMMET"

Far away "beyond the Atlantic foam," and "by the long wash of Australasian seas," societies are in existence bearing his name, and having for their object to cherish his memory and perpetuate his principles. And wherever on the habitable globe a few members of the scattered Irish race are to be found, there are hearts that are thrilled by even the faintest allusion to the uninscribed grave-stone, and the unwritten epitaph.


Related book

Robert Emmet A LifeRobert Emmet: A Life

By Patrick M. Geoghegan

Robert Emmet (1778-1803) was one of the most romantic of all Irish revolutionaries. His doomed relationship with Sarah Curran, his failed rebellion at the age of twenty-five and the brilliance of his speech from the dock, captured the popular imagination and created a powerful and enduring legend. W.B. Yeats declared that Emmet was the leading saint of Irish nationalism....see more details


Further reading

Robert Emmet's Insurrection - from A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce