Robert Emmet at the Dock

Liam Clancy recites key portions of Robert Emmet's famous 'Speech from the Dock' during his 1803 trial for high treason.


This week in 1803 Irish patriot and rebel Robert Emmet was hanged and beheaded in Dublin for leading a failed rebellion against the British. 

Born into a professional Dublin family, Robert Emmet was reared in a political household where both Irish and French were spoken. His father was progressive in politics and his brother Thomas Addis Emmet was a member of the Society of United Irishmen. Thomas was exiled and imprisoned in Scotland after his arrest in 1798.

Robert Emmet was determined to strike a blow for Irish freedom following the defeat of the United Irish Rising of 1798 and the intense repression which the British imposed in its aftermath. Far from being an impractical idealist as often imagined, Emmet was very pragmatic in his preparations for an insurrection. He devised armaments suited for street fighting in Dublin and built up a secret network of trusted comrades, aware of the manner in which Dublin Castle had infiltrated the ranks of the United Irishmen with informers.

Following the failed Rising of July 1803, Emmet was captured by the British in August and sentenced to death on the 20th of September. He famously ended his speech from the dock with the clear instruction, “WHEN MY COUNTRY TAKES HER PLACE AMONG THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH, THEN, AND NOT TILL THEN LET MY EPITAPH BE WRITTEN"

While Emmet’s epitaph has yet to be written, four statues of him were commissioned from sculptor Jerome Cononr and erected in Washington D.C, St Stephen's Green Dublin, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

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