Robert Emmet is one of the best known but least understood figures in Irish history. As the premier popular hero of the nineteenth century, his dramatic speech from the dock challenged successors to vindicate his deeds by ensuring that Ireland took its place 'amongst the nations of the Earth'. The Rising of 1803, of which Emmet was the main strategist, was the first attempt of the republican United Irishmen to sever the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland by armed force and was regarded with the utmost seriousness in Dublin and London.
The Rising was not, however, the first revolutionary effort of its abetters as the vast majority had participated in the Great Rebellion of 1798. Emmet joined the United Irishmen in December 1766 and graduated from their cells in Trinity College to the leadership tier in the capital during the violent events of 1798. This formative experience, generally ignored by historians, was of the utmost importance for the planning and execution of the second effort in 1803. Moreover, Emmet's dealing with Continental exiles and allies between 1800 and 1802, not least Napoleon, have hitherto received scant attention. Although the pre-eminent Dublin-based conspirator in 1803, Emmet belonged to a coterie of long-term activists of similar stature which included Thomas Russell, Philip Long, Felix Rourke, William Dowdall and others who escaped detection. The Rising and Emmet's role in seditious affairs can only be understood by studying the evolution of United Irish structures, leadership and strategy during the Rebellion period.
Robert Emmet and the Rebellion of 1798
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