Monument to Robert Emmet

Monument to Robert Emmet

On a recent ride along “Embassy Row”, the section of Massachusetts Avenue in northwest D.C. between Scott Circle and the north side of the U.S. Naval Observatory, I noticed how many statues, memorials, and pieces of art there are in the area.   Because of the high number of embassies, diplomatic missions, and other diplomatic representations that are concentrated along Massachusetts Avenue and the nearby side streets which also host diplomatic buildings, there are a lot of interests and opportunities for such public displays.

One such statue I ran across was a statue of Robert Emmet.  Located in a grassy median at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 24th Street near Sheridan Circle (MAP), it is owned by the Smithsonian Institution and is on loan to the National Park Service.  The bronze statue is one of four examples of this cast.  The other three are located in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Ireland; Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and; Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Robert Emmet was an Irish nationalist, orator, rebel leader and patriot born in Dublin, Ireland. He led an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 and was captured, tried and executed at the age of 25.

The Emmet family had also sympathized with the American Revolution.  A plaque at the base of the statue contains extracts from one of Emmet’s speeches.  It reads, “I wished to procure for my country the guarantee which Washingto procured for America.  I have parted from everything that was dear to me in this life for my country’s cause.  When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then let my epitaph be written.”

Shortly after the American war for independence, a group known as the United Irishmen planned, with French support, an insurrection against English rule. Like his elder brother Thomas, Robert Emmet became involved with the group.  While planning the insurrection, an explosion at one of their secret arms depots forced their hand.  The ill-planned insurrection was carried out in utter confusion and ended in abject defeat.  But not before Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden, and his nephew, were pulled from their carriage and murdered. Emmet escaped and initially hid in the mountains. He subsequently moved to be near his fiancée, Sarah Curran, with whom he hoped to escape to America. However, he was captured, tried and found guilty of high treason, and hanged in September of 1803.

Over time, Emmet became an heroic figure in Irish history, and his story and legacy accompanied Irish immigrants to America.  In addition to the three statues in this country, there are a number of places named after him as well, including:  Emmetsburg, Iowa, and Emmet County, Iowa; Emmet, Nebraska, and; Emmett, Michigan, and Emmet County, Michigan.


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