Robert Emmet

The United Irishmen were a group of Catholics and Protestants united to work for Ireland’s independence, and they rose for that freedom in 1798.  The English put down the rising with extreme brutality and instituted a “campaign of frightfulness”, as Suemus MacManus called it, “to break the spirit of the Irish that they should never dare to dream of liberty again”.  Terrible atrocities were reported as English militia ran down all who had belonged to, or had sympathies with the United Irishmen.  This prompted United Irishmen leaders, still at large, to plan another strike for freedom.  Entering into alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte and his minister, Tallyrand, they planned a rising for 1803.

With promises of a French force; of cooperation from revolutionary societies in England and Scotland; and of money and support from men of high military and political standing in Ireland, the effort at first seemed more likely to succeed than the ill-fated effort of five years earlier.  In the autumn of 1802, a young man returned from France to coordinate the plans in Ireland.  His name was Robert Emmet.

He had been a Republican student leader at Trinity College before the ’98 rising and had been expelled for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to King George.  His older brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, was one of the ’98 leaders imprisoned by the English and subsequently exiled to France.  Young Emmet’s prime objective was to organize and arm volunteers to cooperate with the French when they landed.  He contacted surviving fighters of ’98 and reported that 19 counties stood ready. He then confined his activities to Dublin with three other leaders, Michael Dwyer, Myles Byrne, and Bernard Duggin. Alas, today we know that Bernard Duggin was a Castle spy who relayed all the plans to the English.  Emmet, patiently waiting, began receiving reports that Tallyrand was only using Ireland for his own political ends, and the young Irish leader began to despair of French aid.  On July 16, an explosion in an apartment that he had been using as an arms depot convinced Emmet that his plans were near discovery; he moved the date of the rising up to July 23.  Assurances came from all over the country that if Dublin rose, the rest of Ireland would speedily follow.

On July 23, as Emmet awaited his men at the assembly point, a rumor reached him that soldiers were on their way. Confident that the rest of Ireland would follow his lead, Emmet drew his sword and led a ragged army of little more than 100 men into the Saturday night streets of Dublin.  Confused timetables, misleading reports, and contradicting orders (reportedly authored by Duggin) left the revolution that Emmet had so carefully planned little more than a street riot that cost 30 lives.  Emmet was on the run! He made his way into the trackless Wicklow Mountains where he would be safe from Crown forces.  As arrangements were being made for his passage to France, Emmet daringly came down from the hills to be near his dying mother and his sweetheart, Sarah Curran.  Meanwhile, an English officer, Major Sirr, was seeking Emmet with a vengeance. He arrested Emmet’s young housekeeper, Anne Devlin, and, though bayoneted twice and half-hanged, she never revealed his whereabouts.

Sirr finally found Emmet and cast him into prison.  Love letters from Miss Curran (which Emmet carried in the folds of his white neck cloth) were confiscated and Miss Curran was arrested for questioning.  Though she longed to admit her love for him, at Emmet’s strict insistence she denied all knowledge of the rebel leader lest she be incriminated and tortured as had Anne Devlin.  Emmet knew that his last gesture would have to be a defiant condemnation of the English at his trial, but he would not be able to do it if his beloved were in danger of reprisal for his last words and actions.  Obediently, Sarah denied him, but Major Sirr was determined to prove a connection.  During her questioning, Miss Curran was escorted across the prison yard when, suddenly, a door at the opposite end of the yard opened and out stepped Emmet between two guards!  The two young lover’s hearts pounded in their breasts as they were walked toward each other, and passed without the slightest hint of recognition.

In the dock, Emmet secured his place in Irish history with a stirring and defiant speech denouncing the oppressors of his land.  His final request was that, since no one rose to defend his motives, let no one write his epitaph until Ireland was free.  On September 20, the 25-year old rebel was taken to Thomas Street and hanged, drawn, and quartered.  Then sorrowfully was laid to rest the bold Robert Emmet – the darling of Erin.

In the 1850s, one of the early committees of the young AOH was the Emmet Monument Association (EMA) founded by John O’Mahoney and Michael Doheny.  Its purpose was to raise funds to build a monument on which to write Emmet’s epitaph, in other words, to free Ireland.  The EMA became the Fenian Brotherhood.

Siobhan Dennehy Awarded JFK Medal

Siobhan Dennehy, Executive Director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, was the 2010 recipient of the JFK Medal at the AOH & LAOH National Convention in Cincinnati Ohio. She thanked the AOH/LAOH in these words:

I am so very glad indeed to be here this evening to accept this award.  And I am especially grateful to Brendan Moore his wife Eileen, Danny O’Connell and their team of colleagues for their invitation to be with you tonight. I know firsthand how much work goes into an event such as this and am truly impressed with the outstanding job everyone has in welcoming me and my family.

I want to thank my family my husband Dan in particular there is a saying that behind every great man there’s a great woman – well here it works in reverse thanks to Dan for being the great man supporting me! My mom Sheila is here tonight from Dublin and my daughters Cara and Ashling – thanks for all your help to make this moment my FPD [favorite part of the day].

I want to pay a particular tribute to the AOH and LAOH membership tonight; by recognizing me with this prestigious national award you have chosen to highlight me as a person for the work I do, the organizations I represent, the staff & board members who help me achieve the work I complete, the clients and community members who seek our help, my own family who work with me and the family who sacrifice much for me. Like many others of my generation I came to this county as a young university student, in my case from Trinity College, with a love of my heritage and culture and yet aware that Ireland’s economy then could not offer me a career opportunity.  In New York I discovered a thriving Irish American community which offered me limitless potential. In meeting Dan and his dad (DJ) I came to know the AOH and many of you and part of this award is being accepted in his memory

In receiving an award named for someone else, protocol would dictate that as the recipient you do a little research about that person …there are very few here I’m sure that would argue that John F Kennedy needs any introduction at all and we can agree that he and his family represent a very proud immigrant history.

When President Kennedy arrived at Dublin my home town just over 47 years ago, he expressed, the special pride which he felt in the generosity of the United States over the years to so many immigrants from so many different countries and he also noted on that historic visit to Ireland that everywhere, immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.

Emigration to America represents a new opportunity, and our people by and large, make good lives for themselves here.  For many, emigration is never an easy option; but it can be their only option.  We know that emigration presents some people with very particular difficulties; they can, for instance, find themselves adrift and marginalized.  The people who offer front-line assistance and advice services to the vulnerable Irish provide, therefore, a critically important support structure.  The work of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, as well as all the Immigration Centers in the US continue to serve that cause on a daily basis. My pleasure in receiving the JFK Award is heightened by the fact that many centers are now such valued resource for the immigrant community.

There is an expression in the Irish language about co-existence and the importance of community support: is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – we exist in each other’s shelter.  The spirit of community service and consideration for others is exemplified by people who receive the JFK Award in the name of the AOH and LAOH.

In his address to the Dail and Senate in 1963 President Kennedy said: Across the gulfs and barriers that now divide us, we must remember that there are no permanent enemies. The context here was in the face of Anglo Irish relations but I ask you all to think about these words and apply them to the US’s immigration policy particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 and how that event has changed the face of US Immigration policy.

There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US; some argue that number might be too high; many of us in the context of the challenges facing the Irish ecomony at the moment believe that number is arguably higher.

The reason that they are here in that undocumented capacity is that there are honestly no other options open to them.  Since assuming the position of Executive Director EIIC in March of 2003 every year in politics has brought renewed debate on immigration reform and after seven years the challenges are growing immeasurably and we must as a society choose to look at changing the immigration policy in a humane and effective way.

I have been honored to assist the AOH many times in recent years and have received the assistance of many members for which I am grateful.  I look to continue to extend the use of our resources and look for the day when legal and secure paths to US immigration will allow future flows of Irish to enjoy the cultural exchange and love for two countries which we all share here tonight.

We have some work to do on immigration reform and I appeal to you and your membership to continue to support on the matter of Immigration in this vision. President Kennedy wrote in 1958 in the book entitled A Nation of Immigrants.  And I quote, Immigration policy should be generous, it should be fair, it should be flexible; with such a policy we can turn to the world and to our own past with clean hands and a clear conscience.

In closing, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to you all from me as a mother of two daughters to be a female recipient of the JFK Medal Award that I am truly humbled and I assure you that it will inspire me to look for ways to do more for my adopted country going forward

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir

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Thomas Davis

There are few events in Irish history as tragic as the death of Thomas Osborne Davis. He was a rare man whose impact on the history of Ireland has never been truly appreciated. Born in Mallow, Co Cork on Oct 14, 1814, the son of a British Army Surgeon, he was educated at Trinity College and called to the Bar in 1838, but Davis heard another call: the call of Ireland. He heard it in the voice of Dan O’Connell when the Great Emancipator visited his home town in 1842, and asked a crowd of 400,000, “Where is the coward who would not die for Ireland?” This was a fiery young O’Connell, not the parliamentarian of later years, and he raised the consciousness of the Irish to a new spirit of nationalism. Men like Davis, filled with the fire of that patriotism, joined his cause. You see, after the brutal suppression of Ireland following the rising of 1798, the country remained depressed until O’Connell began to raise the issue of Catholic emancipation. It was then that the Irish people began to raise their heads again, but when they did it was not the voice of O’Connell they heard, but the voice of Thomas Davis and the ‘Young Irelanders’.

O’Connell fell short of the goals he inspired in other men when he chose to negotiate in the Parliamentary arena. Davis, on the other hand, fired by O’Connell’s early speeches against the tyranny of England, never changed direction as his mentor had. The young Protestant barrister with two colleagues, Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon, founded The Nation, a newspaper that would propagate patriotism and a love for Irish national literature like no other tabloid of its time. It was then that the doctrines and principles of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen were resurrected, and Tone was finally recognized as the Father of Modern Irish Republicanism. As the spirit of nationalism once more began to beat in Irish breasts, a poem appeared in the April 1843 edition of The Nation. It was called the ‘Memory of the Dead’, and it read:

“Who fears to speak of ‘98? Who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriot’s fate, who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave, or half a slave who slights his country thus;
But true men, like you men, will fill your glass with us.”

The Nation became a great power whose place in history is that it rekindled the dying flame of Wolfe Tone’s nationalist doctrine of Irishmen – Catholic, Protestant, and Dissenter, together for Irish freedom. The gallant attempt at independence by the United Irishmen of 1798, and by Robert Emmet in 1803 were all but forgotten. England’s brutal and abusive suppression after those attempted risings had all but stamped out the memory of the great Tone and his ideals. The Nation revived that memory, and the sentiment that had inspired it, and in so doing, created a nationalist tradition that has lasted to this very day, due in no small part to the writings of Davis himself.

It is truly written that the bullet of the patriot is soon forgotten while the words of the poet are immortal. Davis was brilliant with words and verse; his poetry captured the nation’s imagination. He lionized Ireland’s hero’s, and gave her some of her most inspiring ballads. His lament for the great Chieftain Owen Roe O’Neill who was poisoned by a pawn of the English in 1649, seethes with fury:

Did they Dare, Did they dare to slay Owen Roe O’Neill
Yes they slew with poison him they feared to face with steel.
May God wither up their hearts, may their blood cease to flow,
May they walk in living death, who poisoned Owen Roe.

His memorable poems about Fontenoy, the Clare Dragoons, and Wolfe Tone were on the lips of every Irishman of the age. He drew to his philosophy such talented future leaders as John Mitchel, Speranza, William Smith O’Brien, Michael Doheny, Clarence Mangan, D’Arcy McGee, and Thomas Francis Meagher. His followers became the Young Irelanders, and their impact on history was considerable for they carried Davis’s philosophy into the origin of Ireland’s greatest nationalist movement – the Fenian Brotherhood. Unfortunately they did so without the master, for Thomas Davis succumbed to a fever brought on by an exhausted condition, and he died at his mother’s home in Dublin on September 16, 1845 – 164 years ago. It was only a month before his 32nd birthday and just at the start of An Gorta Mor – the great hunger that would devastate his beloved Ireland. How he would have faced that tragedy can only be imagined, but there is no doubt that it would have been memorable.

The death of Davis, the brave young hope of his country, was a greater disaster for Ireland than she has ever recognized for he was the bridge between Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was he who insured that the nationalism of Tone was not interred with him in that green grave at Bodenstown which Irishmen cherish as their most prized possession. The only consolation we have is that his songs are with us still. Who has not marveled at the bold courage displayed in The West’s Awake; and who is not moved – to this very day – by the nationalist sentiment in the song he wrote to express his fondest desire – A Nation Once Again.