Robert Emmet (1778-1803) was one of the most romantic of all Irish revolutionaries. He was the youngest son of Ireland’s state physician and was educated privately at Trinity College Dublin. Like many young people in the early 1790s, he was caught up in the fervour of the French Revolution.
In the revolutionary year of 1798, when three different insurrections broke out in Ireland, he was expelled from Trinity College, thus ending his prospects of a professional career. He went to the Continent where he met both Napoleon and Talleyrand and returned to Dublin where he organised and led the doomed insurrection of May 1803. No foreign help came. There were probably spies in the camp, and Emmet’s rising was quickly crushed. He was tried and executed, but not before making a speech from the dock which has resonated through subsequent Irish history. Romantic, impulsive and doomed: Emmet is one of the tragic heroes of the Irish past.
‘Geoghegan traces the details of his military preparations which involved much study, and then takes us through their rapid unravelling. The description of Emmet’s jailing, trial and execution is consistently compelling. The speech, its various reported versions and its long posterity as an inspiring document are also clearly chronicled.’ Books Ireland, February 2003