On a recent return trip to Dublin, Ireland, I happily killed some time strolling through the city oasis of St. Stephen’s Green. On my way out of the lush park, I meandered past a statue so familiar it brought me to a screeching halt. There stood a petticoat waistcoat-clad Robert Emmett (1778-1803)–bold jaw, foot forward, ready for battle. Now where I had seen this Irish patriot before?
But, of course. Where else but in DC, where memorials and monuments are so ubiquitous that many get passed without so much as a second glance. I too had been guilty of repeatedly strolling by this mystery man who reigns over a cozy triangular park near Massachusetts Avenue and 24th Street NW, having never stopped to learn his story. I vowed to visit him next time I found myself on embassy-lined Mass Ave.
Nestled beneath the branches of a Yoshino cherry tree, the DC Emmet stands on a granite pedestal just a few blocks from the Irish Embassy. This “boy martyr of Erin” appears mid-speech, one hand open in rhetorical gesture, the other somewhat clenched to display his “revolutionary spirit.” Emett’s father instilled in his sons a passion for Irish independence at a time when men and women-Catholic and Protestant-fought for freedom from Britain. Trinity College expelled the young Robert for his involvement in the 1798 rebellion and, in 1802, Emmet traveled to France as a member of the United Irishmen’s Party. Here he unsuccessfully appealed for French aid from Napoleon and Talleyrand. The following summer Emmet led an uprising outside of Dublin that British troops swiftly crushed. Emmet was executed (either hung or beheaded, accounts vary) on September 20, 1803 at the ripe age of 25.