that I were at the head of twenty thousand men marching
to that air
In the year of 1803, 200 years ago this year, a young Irishman
by the name of Robert Emmet saw his dreams of leading a
successful rebellion against foreign tyranny fall to pieces
and knew that his own life would be the price for that failure.
Emmet had studied the tactics of the 1798 leaders and the
sad results of their lack of control and proper planning
when both were vital, such as at New Ross and Bunclody.
This also could apply to Arklow and Vinegar Hill but to
a lesser extent as had the first two been managed corectly.
It is amazing how many Irish unrisings were lost before
they were fought because of lack of co-operation and forward
Even the Easter rising of 1916 was doomed before it commenced
through lack of proper communication and the old curse of
command and counter command. At no time were the Irish going
to overthrow the might of the British Empire in a single
action, only by negotiation and patience, so although the
1916 rising may have failed at the time, it eventually led
to the treaty and finally to the declaration of the Republic
of Ireland and the freedom we have in the twenty six counties
A question often asked is Was Emmet a dreamer.
It is hard to answer that question, he probably was to a
certain extent, but then so was Pearse. Without such men
in countries all over the world there never would be a republic,
never would be freedom for small nations.
By this we do not mean the dictatorships which sprang up
in so many countries after the World War of 1914 - 1918.
We all know the Emmets rising failed, but let us go
back over the years and take a look at Emmet in his younger
A fellow student at Trinity and a great friend had been
the well known writer of Irish melodies and airs Tom Moore.
Indeed it is said that it was his association with Emmet
that influenced Moore to write some of his Irish Airs. While
in college Emmet had been making plans for Irelands freedom
from England. One of Moores first melodies was the
Little Red Fox which Moore later took a slower tempo
and it became Let Erin Remember. When Emmet
first heard this song he is reputed to have said Oh
that I were at the head of twenty thousand men marching
to that air. Emmet and Moore were members of the Historical
Society at the University where although it was forbidden
to make political speeches Emmet was adept at bringing the
Ireland of the day into many debates.Phipps, Tom Moores
tutor, told Mr and Mrs Moore that it was unwise for their
son to become involved with Robert Emmet because of his
Tom Moore was never told of Emmets plans to organise
a rising with his fellow republicans against British rule
in Ireland, yet he admired Emmets patriotism and sought
his approval by writing an article signed. A patriotic
Freshman. Emmett, instead of praising Moore, told
him the letter attracted too much attention. It is understood
that Moore was questioned on his involvement at a later
date but did not give any names or speak of the feelings
of his friends, nor did he loose his place in the college.
Later he wrote although placed in the very current
of so headlong a movement I escaped all share in the wild
struggle in which so many far better than myself fell victims.
Robert Emmet early in the year 1803 took possession of a
house in Butterfield Lane that was in close proximity to
a house owned by the Devin family who had a dairy business
and kept horses for hire. Emmet took this house in the name
of Mr Ellis and it was noticed that he had a
lot of visitors calling especially at night time. (In fact
one of the callers was none other than Myles Byrne of Monaseed,
Co. Wexford, who had fought with Fr John Murphy in 1798.
In order to keep up appearances Mr Devlin gave Emmett a
cow and a horse and cart and his daughter Ann became housekeeper
in Emmets house and assumed the name of Emmet. From now
on things began to hot up as far as the rising was concerned.
Arms were collected and delivered to the city centre and
it was also about this time that Myles Byrne was sent to
France to seek the often promised but seldom delivered French
aid. (It is amazing how often the Irish waited for the French
aid that never came in time) Myles Byrne never returned
from Paris and died there at the age of 82. He is buried
in Mortimer and a Celtic Cross marks his grave.
As for the rising, things went from bad to worse, orders
were given and then changed, men were sent to the wrong
places, and some of the assembled troops deserted and were
never seen again. On the morning of July 23 1803 Emmett
assembled his troops, just over 100 men and nothing like
the numbers he had expected, and headed for Dublin Castle.
His troubles were not over yet, on their way along Thomas
Street they met the carriage of the Lord Chief Justice,
Lord Kilwarden and instead of allowing it to pass and continuing
on to the castle, the unruly mob, for that was all they
were, halted the carriage, ripped open the door and killed
the Chief Justice and his nephew and to make matters worse
scattered down the side streets. Realising his rebellion
was a failure Emmett escaped and fled to the Wicklow mountains.(There
is a story that he stopped near where the lamb Doyles
pub is at present and looking back wept bitterly).
This was not the end of the trouble for Anne Devlin as her
and her eight year old sister were questioned roughly by
a number of yeomen on July 26 and later the whole Devlin
family were arrested. Anne was identified by a stableman
from the White Bull Inn in Thomas Street as being a friend
of Emmets. Major Sirr, who now realised the importance
of his prisoner tried to bribe her with the offer of £500
a fortune in those days, but she refused to talk. The Governor
of Kilmainham Jail also questioned her but got nothing.
Unknown to her Emmet was arrested in a house in Harolds
Cross. Major Sirr now had a warrant issued against her for
high treason, this could mean death for her it she were
convicted. Anne was transferred to Kilmainham and it was
here that she met Emmet for the last time. He begged her
to give information about him as he was already a dead man,
but she refused, saying that she could not bring herself
to be an informer.
Every school goer has heard of Emmets speech from
the dock but not all have knowledge of how he died. Just
after one oclock on September 20 1803 he was executed
publicly on a platform in front of St Catherines Church,
Thomas Street, Dublin. His last words were My friends,
I die in peace and with sentiments of universal love and
kindness towards all men. He then gave his watch to
his executioner Thomas Galvin, who then bound his hands
and pulled a black hood over his head.
He was then placed upon the gallows where he took half an
hour to die. Because he had been convicted of High Treason
he had to be beheaded. He was now placed on a deal block
from a local butchers and the head was severed from the
body with a blow from a broad bladed axe.
Then the hangman grasped it by the hair and holding it high
and shouted This is the head of a traitor, Robert
Emmet. It is told that his blood seeped into the gutter
and was lapped up by dogs. The head and body were brought
back to Kilmainham and left where the prisoners could see
for themselves what happened to a so-called traitor.
So died Robert Emmet, in the eyes of the Government a traitor,
in the eyes of those who believed in Irelands freedom a
Courtesy of the Nationalist
By Willie White
October 5th 2003