Posts Tagged ‘Robert Emmet’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Leonard McNally
1752–13 February 1820

Leonard McNally was born in Dublin in 1752, the son of William McNally, a grocer. McNally was born into a Roman Catholic family, but at some point in the 1760s he converted to the Church of Ireland. He was entirely self-educated, and he initially became a grocer like his father.

However, in 1774 he went to London to study law at the Middle Temple but returned to Dublin to be called to the Irish bar in 1776. After returning to London in the late 1770s he qualified as a barrister in England, as well, in 1783. He practised for a short time in London, and, while there, supplemented his income by writing plays and editing The Public Ledger.

Returning to Ireland, he developed a successful career as a barrister in Dublin. He soon became involved in radical politics, having already in 1782 published a pamphlet in support of the Irish cause. He became Dublin’s leading radical lawyer of the day. In 1792, he represented Napper Tandy, a radical member of the Irish Parliament, in a legal dispute over parliamentary privilege.

In the early 1790s, McNally became a founder member of the United Irishmen, a clandestine society which soon developed into a revolutionary Irish republican organisation. He ranked high in its leadership and acted as the organisation’s chief lawyer, representing many United Irishmen in court. This included defending Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet, the leaders of the 1798 and 1803 rebellions respectively, at their trials for treason. In 1793, McNally was wounded in a duel with Sir Jonah Barrington, who had insulted the United Irishmen. Barrington subsequently described McNally as “a good-natured, hospitable, talented and dirty fellow”.

After his death in 1820, it emerged that he had for many years been an informant for the government, and one of the most successful British spies in Irish republican circles that there has ever been. When, in 1794, a United Irishmen plot to seek aid from Revolutionary France was uncovered by the British government, McNally turned informer to save himself, although, subsequently, he also received payment for his services. McNally was paid an annual pension in respect of his work as an informer of £300 a year, from 1794 until his death in 1820.

From 1794, McNally systematically informed on his United Irishmen colleagues, who often gathered at his house for meetings. It was McNally that betrayed Lord Edward FitzGerald, one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion, as well as Robert Emmet in 1803. A significant factor in the failure of the 1798 rebellion was the excellent intelligence provided to the government by its agents. McNally was considered to be one of the most damaging informers.

The United Irishmen represented by McNally at their trials were invariably convicted and McNally was paid by the crown for passing the secrets of their defence to the prosecution. During the trial of Emmet, McNally provided details of the defence’s strategy to the crown and conducted his client’s case in a way that would assist the prosecution. For example, three days before the trial he assured the authorities that Emmet “does not intend to call a single witness, nor to trouble any witness for the Crown with a cross-examination, unless they misrepresent facts… He will not controvert the charge by calling a single witness”. For his assistance to the prosecution in Emmet’s case, he was paid a bonus of £200, on top of his pension, half of which was paid five days before the trial.

After McNally’s death, his activities as a government agent became generally known when his heir attempted to continue to collect his pension of £300 per year. He is still remembered with opprobrium by Irish nationalists. In 1997, the Sinn Féin newspaper, An Phoblacht in an article on McNally, described him as “undoubtely one of the most treacherous informers of Irish history”.

McNally was a successful dramatist and wrote a number of well-constructed but derivative comedies, as well as comic operas. His first dramatic work was The Ruling Passion, a comic opera written in 1771, and he is known to have authored at least twelve plays between 1779 and 1796 as well as other comic operas. His works include The Apotheosis of Punch (1779) a satire on the Irish playwright Sheridan, Tristram Shandy (1783), which was an adaptation of Lawrence Sterne’s novel, Robin Hood (1784), Fashionable Levities (1785), Richard Cœur de Lion (1786), and Critic Upon Critic (1788).

He also wrote a number of songs and operettas for Covent Garden. One of his songs, Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill, became very well-known and popular following its first public performance at Vauxhall Gardens in London in 1789. It was said to be a favourite of George III and popularised the romantic metaphor “a rose without a thorn”, a phrase which McNally had used in the song.

In 1802, McNally published what became a much-used book on the law of evidence, The Rules of Evidence on Pleas of the Crown. The text played a crucial role in defining and publicising the beyond reasonable doubt standard for criminal trials.

McNally married Frances I’Anson, the daughter of William I’Anson (also spelt Janson) a solicitor, in 1787 in London, having eloped because William I’Anson disapproved of McNally. The I’Anson family owned a property, Hill House, in Richmond, Yorkshire and Frances was the subject of McNally’s song, Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill. Frances died aged 29 in childbirth in Dublin in 1795 and McNally remarried in 1800 Louisa Edgeworth, the daughter of a Clergyman from County Longford.

McNally is widely reported to have died on 13 February 1820; however a son, with whom he shared the same name and profession, was actually the one who died on that date. His son was buried at Donneybrook, Co. Dublin on 17 February 1820. McNally sent a letter on 6 March 1820 from 20 Cuffe St, Dublin to the Proprietor of ‘Saunder’s Newsletter’ seeking damages for the severe injury caused by the circulation of his death. McNally died in June 1820 and was buried in Donneybrook, Co. Dublin on 8 June 1820. Although he had been a Protestant all his life, he sought absolution from a [Roman Catholic] priest on his deathbed. McNally left one daughter.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

James “Jemmy” Hope
August 25, 1764 – 1847


James “Jemmy” Hope

James “Jemmy” Hope was born in Templepatrick, County Antrim, to a Presbyterian family originally of Covenanter stock. He was apprenticed as a linen weaver but attended night school in his spare time. Influenced by the American Revolution, he joined the Irish Volunteers, but upon the demise of that organisation and further influenced by the French Revolution, he joined the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795.

He quickly established himself as a prominent organiser and was elected to the central committee in Belfast, becoming close to leaders such as Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, and Henry Joy McCracken. Hope was almost alone among the United Irish leaders in targeting manufacturers as well as landowners as the enemies of all radicals. In 1796, he was sent to Dublin to assist the United Irish organisation there to mobilise support among the working classes, and he was successful in establishing several branches throughout the city and especially in the Liberties area. He also travelled to counties in Ulster and Connaught, disseminating literature and organizing localities.

Upon the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster, Hope was sent on a failed mission to Belfast by Henry Joy McCracken to brief the leader of the county Down United Irishmen, Rev. William Dickson, with news of the planned rising in Antrim, unaware that Dickson had been arrested only a couple of days before. Hope managed to escape from Belfast in time to take part in the battle of Antrim where he played a skillful and courageous role with his “Spartan Band”, in covering the retreat of the fleeing rebels after their defeat.

Hope managed to rejoin McCracken and his remaining forces after the battle at their camp upon Slemish mountain, but the camp gradually dispersed, and the dwindling band of insurgents were then forced to go on the run. He successfully eluded capture, but his friend McCracken was captured and executed on 17 July. Upon the collapse of the general rising, Hope refused to avail of the terms of an amnesty offered by Lord Cornwallis on the grounds that to do so would be “not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates“.

He lived the years following 1798 on the move between counties Dublin, Meath and Westmeath but was finally forced to flee Dublin following the failure of Robert Emmet’s rebellion in 1803. He returned to the north and evaded the authorities attentions in the ensuing repression by securing employment with a sympathetic friend from England. He is today regarded as the most egalitarian and socialist of all the United Irish leadership.He died in 1846 and is buried in the Mallusk cemetery, Newtownabbey. His gravestone features the outline of a large dog, which supposedly brought provisions to him and his compatriots when they were hiding following the Battle of Antrim.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sarah Curran
1782 – May 5, 1808


Sarah Curran

Sarah Curran was the youngest daughter of John Philpot Curran, an eminent Irish lawyer. She lived in the priory in Rathfarnham and was the great love of Irish patriot Robert Emmet.

Curran met Robert through her brother Richard, a fellow student of Emmet’s at Trinity College in Dublin. Sarah’s father considered Robert unsuitable, and their courtship was conducted through letters and clandestine meetings. Notable is Robert’s letter to Sarah. Robert and Sarah were secretly engaged in 1803. When her father discovered that Sarah was engaged, he disowned her and then treated her so harshly that she had to take refuge with friends in Cork, where she met and married Captain Robert Sturgeon, a nephew of the Marquis of Rockingham in November 1805. The two lived in Sicily, where Sturgeon was posted; she had a child, John, who died at the age of one month, after a difficult birth. Sarah died of tuberculosis on May 5, 1808. She was buried in the birthplace of her father at Newmarket, County Cork. She had wished to be buried in her father’s garden beside her sister Gertrude, who had died at the age of 12 from a fall from a window in the house; her father refused.

Washington Irving, one of America’s greatest early writers, devoted “The Broken Heart” in his magnum opus The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. to the romance between Robert Emmet and Sarah Curran, citing it as an example of how a broken heart can be fatal.

The road leading past Saint Enda’s Park is called Sarah Curran Avenue. Irish poet Thomas Moore was inspired by her story to write the popular ballads, “She is far from the land” and “Oh breathe not his name!” and the long poem Lalla Rookh.
She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps,
And lovers around her are sighing,
But coldly she turns from their gaze, and weeps,
For her heart in his grave is lying.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Robert Emmet
4 March 1778 – 20 September 1803


Robert Emmet

Robert Emmet was born at 109 St. Stephen’s Green, in Dublin on 4 March 1778. He was the youngest son of Dr Robert Emmet (1729–1802), a court physician, and his wife, Elizabeth Mason (1739–1803). The Emmets were financially comfortable, with a house at St Stephen’s Green and a country residence near Milltown. One of his elder brothers was the nationalist Thomas Addis Emmet, a close friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, who was a frequent visitor to the house when Robert was a child.

Emmet attended Oswald’s school, in Dopping’s-court, off Golden-lane. Emmet entered Trinity College, Dublin in October 1793, at the age of fifteen. In December 1797 he joined the College Historical Society, a debating society. While he was at college, his brother Thomas and some of his friends became involved in political activism. Robert became secretary of a secret United Irish Committee in college, and was expelled in April 1798 as a result. That same year he fled to France to avoid the many British arrests of nationalists that were taking place in Ireland. While in France, Emmet garnered the support of Napoleon, who had promised to lend support when the upcoming revolution started.

After the 1798 rising, Emmet was involved in reorganising the defeated United Irish Society. In April 1799 a warrant was issued for his arrest. He escaped and soon after travelled to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid. His efforts were unsuccessful, as Napoleon was concentrating his efforts on invading England. Emmet returned to Ireland in October 1802. In March the following year, he began preparations for another uprising.

After his return to Ireland, Emmet began to prepare a new rebellion, with fellow Anglo-Irish revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope. He began to manufacture weapons and explosives at a number of premises in Dublin and developed a folding pike fitted with a hinge that allowed it to be concealed under a cloak. Unlike in 1798, the revolutionaries concealed their preparations, but a premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots killed a man. Emmet was forced to advance the date of the rising before the authorities’ suspicions were aroused.

Emmet was unable to secure the help of Michael Dwyer’s Wicklow rebels. Many rebels from Kildare turned back due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising went ahead in Dublin on the evening of 23 July 1803. About 10,000 copies were printed of a proclamation in the name of the “Provisional Government”, which influenced the 1916 Proclamation; most were destroyed by the authorities.

Emmet wore a uniform of a green coat with white facings, white breeches, top-boots, and a cocked hat with feathers. Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which was lightly defended, the rising amounted to a large-scale disturbance in the Thomas Street area. Emmet saw a dragoon being pulled from his horse and piked to death, the sight of which prompted him to call off the rising to avoid further bloodshed. But, he had lost all control of his followers. In one incident, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Lord Kilwarden, was dragged from his carriage and stabbed by pikes. Found still alive, he was taken to a watch-house where he died shortly thereafter. He had been reviled as chief prosecutor of William Orr in 1797, but he was also the judge who granted habeas corpus to Wolfe Tone in 1798. Kilwarden’s nephew, the Rev. Mr. Wolfe, was also killed. Sporadic clashes continued into the night until finally quelled by British military forces.

Emmet fled into hiding, moving from Rathfarnam to Harold’s Cross so that he could be near his sweetheart, Sarah Curran. He likely could have escaped to France, had he not insisted upon returning with Anne Devlin in order to take leave of Sarah Curran, to whom he was engaged. She was daughter of John Philpot Curran. Emmet was captured on 25 August and taken to the Castle, then removed to Kilmainham. Vigorous but ineffectual efforts were made to procure his escape.

He was tried for treason on 19 September; the Crown repaired the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet’s defence attorney, Leonard McNally, for £200 and a pension. But McNally’s assistant Peter Burrowes could not be bought and he pleaded the case as best he could. On 19 September, Emmet was found guilty of high treason.

Before sentencing Emmet delivered a speech, the Speech from the Dock., It is especially remembered for its closing sentences and secured his posthumous fame among executed Irish republicans. It was printed in 1835 in Manchester for the bookseller TP Carlile.

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.

An earlier and perhaps more accurate version of the speech was published in 1818, in a biography on Sarah Curran’s father John, emphasising that Emmet’s epitaph would be written on the vindication of his character, and not specifically when Ireland took its place as a nation. It closed:

I am here ready to die. I am not allowed to vindicate my character; no man shall dare to vindicate my character; and when I am prevented from vindicating myself, let no man dare to calumniate me. Let my character and my motives repose in obscurity and peace, till other times and other men can do them justice. Then shall my character be vindicated; then may my epitaph be written.

Chief Justice Lord Norbury sentenced Emmet to be hanged, drawn and quartered, as was customary for conviction of treason. The following day, 20 September, Emmet was executed in Thomas Street near St. Catherine’s. He was hanged and beheaded once dead. As family members and friends of Robert had also been arrested, including some who had nothing to do with the rebellion, no one came forward to claim his remains out of fear of arrest.

Robert Emmet is described as slight in person; his features were regular, his forehead high, his eyes bright and full of expression, his nose sharp, thin, and straight, the lower part of his face slightly pock-marked, his complexion sallow.

Emmet’s remains were first delivered to Newgate Prison and then back to Kilmainham Gaol, where the jailer was under instructions that if no one claimed them they were to be buried in a nearby hospital’s burial grounds called ‘Bully’s Acre’ in Kilmainham. A later search there found no remains; it appears that Emmet’s remains were secretly removed from Bully’s Acre and reinterred in St Michan’s, a Dublin church with strong United Irish associations, though it was never confirmed.

Speculation has continued regarding the whereabouts of Emmet’s remains. It was suspected that they were buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault was inspected in the 1950s a headless corpse was found, suspected of being Emmet’s, but could not be identified. Widely accepted is the theory that Emmet’s remains were transferred to St Peter’s Church in Aungier St. under cover of the burial of Robert’s sister, Mary Anne Holmes, in 1804. In the 1980s the church was deconsecrated and all the coffins were removed from the vaults. The church has since been demolished.

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