Born in Dublin, Robert Emmet was exposed from an early age to republican political views by his older brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, and Thomas’s friend, Theobald Wolfe Tone. Emmet entered Trinity College in 1793 at age fifteen. In 1797, he was admitted into the College Historical Society, the first college debating society in the British Isles and the source of training for much of Ireland’s political class. Emmet became secretary to one of the four United Irish societies in college and was expelled in April 1798 by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, John FitzGibbon.
After its defeat in the 1798 uprising, Emmet became active in reorganizing the United Irish Society. A warrant was issued for Emmet’s arrest in 1799, but Emmet escaped, traveling first to France and then Amsterdam. Emmet returned to Ireland in October 1802 and lived quietly until March 1803. Emmet and other members of the United Irish Society planned to seize the main government buildings in Dublin and, towards this end, bought houses at strategic points in Dublin and amassed weapons behind false walls. After a premature explosion altered authorities, the rising had to be moved up to July 23, 1803. Troops were brought in and the plan was abandoned. Emmet was arrested in Dublin on August 25.
Emmet’s trial, conviction for high treason, and sentencing occurred on September 19, 1803 and he was hastily executed the following day. Known for his public speaking, Emmet delivered the following lines after his sentencing:
Let no man write my epitaph … 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.
Other versions have added the following:
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.