O! BREATHE not his name! let it sleep in the shade,
Where cold and unhonoured his relics are laid;
Sad, silent, and dark be the tears that we shed,
As the night dew that falls on the grave o’er his head.
But the night dew that falls, though in silence it weeps,
Shall brighten with verdure the grave where he sleeps;
And the tear that we shed, though in secret it rolls,
Shall long keep his memory green in our souls. –Thomas Moore
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 formed in 1791 by Wolfe Tone, James Tandy, and Thomas Russell to achieve Roman Catholic emancipation and, with Protestant cooperation, parliamentary reform.
After leading an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 he was captured then tried and executed for high treason against the British Crown.
Emmet was tried at Green Street Courthouse in Dublin (still in use as the Special Criminal Court) on 19 September, the trial being presided over by Lord Norbury, the Chief Justice. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty of high treason, and before sentence of death was pronounced, Emmet was allowed to deliver his justly celebrated speech from the dock. Emmet closed his remarkable speech with resounding words which have a direct bearing on the mystery of his burial place:
‘I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world: it is the charity 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.’
Emmet’s corpse subsequently disappeared, and the whereabouts of his final resting place is one of the perpetual mysteries of Irish history. Emmet’s grief-stricken fiancée, Sarah Curran, harshly treated by her father who opposed the match, disowned her; and is the subject of Thomas Moore’s song, ‘She Is Far From the Land’. Anne Devlin, his loyal servant, who endured torture in Kilmainham Gaol without giving information to the authorities, where Emmet himself urged her to inform on him to save herself as he was already doomed, remained loyal to him and did not betray Emmet. The British authorities had met and been overthrown by the spirit of unconquered Ireland, housed in the heart and mind of an Irish girl.
Robert Emmett is said to have used the Brazen Head for meetings until he was executed. Legend has it that his ghost is said to remain, still on the look out for enemies.
Photo: Robert Emmett Memorial, Merchants Quay, Dublin