Robert Emmet - Nationalist and orator

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by Kevin Kelly

Robert Emmet's short, dramatic life came to a tragic end on September 20, 1803. However, although his life was short and his struggle in vain, his efforts, vision and idealism left a mythic mark on Irish and on the world history.

Born in Dublin in 1778 into a fairly-well-to-do Protestant family, Emmet was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. With high ideals of fraternity and equality, Robert, like his elder brother Thomas, became involved with the United Irishmen, an organization formed in 1791 by Wolfe Tone, James Tandy, and Thomas Russell to achieve Roman Catholic emancipation and, with Protestant cooperation, parliamentary reform.

From 1800 to 1802, Emmet resided on the continent with leaders of the United Irishmen who had been exiled from Ireland following the rebellion of 1798. While there, Emmet attempted to enlist French support for an insurrection against British rule. With the promise of French military aid secured, Emmet returned to Ireland in 1802 and began to organize and arm the country in preparation for the French landing. However, Emmet's hand was forced in July 1803 when an explosion at one of his arms depot's compelled an early call for insurrection on July 23. His plan now awry, the ill-timed insurrection ended in confusion as various factions failed to receive or failed to heed the call to arms, and the promised French invasion failed to materialize.

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Nationalist and orator Robert Emmet
Nationalist and orator Robert Emmet