Robert Emmet


By Emmet, naturally

It’s getting cold. There is only one thing to do. Concentrate on St. Patrick’s Day, the highly unofficial end of winter. Our friends at Billy’s Tavern in Thomaston have already reminded us that we are more than halfway there.
Hey, it’s just another way to get through a Maine winter.
When and if I think about St Patrick’s Day. I must pay homage to my namesake, Robert Emmet. Like my father before me, I was named after one of Ireland’s greatest heroes, who stood up to the greedy, murderous English colonists. Not that I am prejudiced against the greedy, murderous English colonists.
During my ill spent youth, I was called Robert (or “Rawbit” in the Boston accent), until that graceful artist Ann Galvin decided there were too many Bobs and Roberts in West Roxbury. She decided I was dubbed and so it was from that day forth.
I had no idea what an honor it was until I actually went to Ireland and Visited Emmet Square and, naturally, Emmet’s Pub nearby. Until that moment I had always spelled my name as “Emmett” because of misinformed relatives. (spell check just tried to change it.)
Our boy Emmet was actually a Protestant who had the good sense to sympathize with the downtrodden Catholic Irish, simply for their lack of representation in Parliament. He also had the good grace to support the American Revolution.
He was born on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin on March 4, 1778, the youngest son of a prominent doctor. His elder brother was a close friend of revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone. A smart boy, unlike some of us Emmets, he entered Trinity College in 1793 at the age of 15. Trinity was a hotbed of revolution and our boy got into the thick of it, with the (not very) secret United Irish Committee, and promptly got himself expelled. He fled to France to avoid imminent arrest and met Napoleon who promised military support for the rebel plans for revolution.
An explosion at a rebel “safe house” in 1798 exposed the rebel plot. Wiser heads would have called off the uprising. Not our boy Emmet. He went right ahead, even though Napoleon never came through with any aid. Naturally, that rebellion failed. Emmet escaped again to France in 1799 and planned another uprising. It’s what the Irish do.
He returned to Ireland in 1803 and immediately started assembling weapons in various houses around Dublin. Still another premature explosion killed a rebel and forced the hand of the plotters. Rebel forces from County Wicklow never showed up as promised. Rebels from County Kildare arrived then left when they saw how few weapons Emmet had collected. The uprising went ahead and the rebels hacked to death the popular Chief Justice Lord Kilwarden. With few guns, the rebels were successfully subdued after killing 20 soldiers and losing 50 of their own.
Emmet was, naturally, a romantic and left his hiding place to visit the fair Sarah Curran. Naturally soldiers were waiting; Emmet was arrested and tried for treason. It is widely reported that the Crown bribed Emmet’s attorney Leonard McNally. Predictably, Emmet was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was allowed a speech from the dock which has been abbreviated to “let no man write my epitaph until Ireland is free.”
It was actually “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.
The government was quite upset with Emmet. First they hanged him. Then they beheaded him, just to make sure he was dead. That wasn’t enough. Then they chopped Emmet’s body into four pieces. The remains were supposed to be buried in a prison graveyard, but they never got there. There are numerous legends about Emmet’s final resting place.
Emmet’s legend looms large, even today with songs, postage stamps and stage plays. I could not be prouder to bear the revolutionary’s name.
Beats the hell out of “Rawbit.”
St. Patrick’s Day. Concentrate.