On Friday September 20th, 1803, Robert Emmet was hanged and beheaded by Executioner Thomas Galvin in Thomas Street, in front of St. Catherine’s Church, before a crowd of up to 45,000 people.
Each year the Emmet and Devlin Association (of which our MD Micheal O Doibhilin is a founding member) remembers this tragic event and places a wreath in commemoration at the foot of the commemorative plinth which stands there today.
In 2014 Philip Emmet, descendant of Robert Emmet’s brother Thomas (who was exiled to the United States) placed the wreath, as he has done on many previous occasions. Master of Ceremonies was Aidan O’Hara, and the day was organised by Frank Connolly – both founder members of the Association.
A large crowd turned up to remember Robert, and Aidan briefly outlined the events of that day 211 years ago before Philip Emmet laid the wreath and a minute's silence was observed in memory of a brave young man.
After the wreath-laying we all repaired to St. Catherine’s Church for a talk by Cllr. Mary Hanafin, who delivered the keynote address at this commemoration.
In her talk, Cllr. Hanafin urged Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan T.D. ‘not to consign History to history’, and to protect history as a core subject in the new Junior Cycle syllabus.
"The memory of our forefathers – including James Connolly, James Larkin and others important to the Labour Party – can be kept alive in the minds of the next generation by protecting History as a subject. The choice rests with the Minister for Education" Cllr Hanafin said.
Speaking on the topic ‘History – a thing of the Past?’ she urged Minister O’Sullivan not to be bound by the mistake of her predecessor, Ruairí Quinn, who proposed removing History as a core subject at Junior Cycle level.
"History gives students a sense of identity, develops citizenship, shows the relationship between current and past events, and fosters an appreciation of diverse traditions and cultures" Cllr Hanafin said.
The new proposals for Junior Cycle envisage only three compulsory subjects - Irish, English and Maths. Cllr Hanafin said the inclusion of History in this list “would give students the skills of critical thinking, analysis, and the ability to distinguish fact from fiction, and truth from prejudice.
In the future, are Robert Emmet and Anne Devlin to be simply street names? Will Michael Collins be solely a film character, or did Game of Thrones really happen?" she asked.
"If 12-year-old students are faced with a choice of subjects, the pressure will be to select a language for university entry, science for employment opportunities, technology for the digital economy, and business for
entrepreneurship. History will suffer, and so will our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in" Cllr Hanafin added.
She claimed that the option of taking history as a short course would lead to a lack of context or international setting, asking “How, for example, can the 1916 Rising be understood without referring to World War l or the Home Rule Bill?”
Without a knowledge of history, we cannot fully appreciate literature from Yeats to McCann. In an increasingly globalised world, our history is part of what distinguishes us from others. Many of the problems in Israel, Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere are rooted in the past, but without a sufficient knowledge of history, our understanding for today and tomorrow is limited.
Every education system in Europe, with the exception of England and Albania, requires students to take history until the age of 15. The removal of compulsory history in England led to a class and gender divide in those who chose it, and they are currently trying to reverse the decision. Minister O’Sullivan could learn from their mistake. We constantly bemoan the lack of study of women in history. Minister O’Sullivan can make her own mark on history by making it a core subject and giving it the status it deserves" Cllr Hanafin concluded.
Cllr. Hanafin’s remarks were applauded by all present, and the support for them was obvious in the questions and discussion that followed.
All then repaired to nearby Arthur’s Pub on the invitation of landlord Declan McKiernan for light refreshments, where the discussion continued in an informal and very welcoming setting for some time. We are grateful to Declan for his support of the local community and our Anne Devlin and Robert Emmet commemorations.
Apart from our wreath, a separate bunch of flowers was placed anonymously. This is done each year and, to date, we have failed to find out who does it, but lovely to know someone else remembers brave Robert too.
A single red rose was placed in memory of James Byrne by his descendant Derek. James was hanged in Townsend Street the day before Robert and was one of many men executed in the aftermath of Emmet’s rebellion, most of whom are forgotten today but remembered by us.
It is a little known fact that some seventeen (yes 17!) men in total were hanged in the aftermath of Emmet's failed rebellion. Some years ago the Dublin History Workshop placed a plaque on the wall of St. Catherine’s in Thomas Street to commemorate these men. Here, for the record, are their names:
Carpenters: Edward Kearney, John Killeen, Thomas Keenan, John Hayes, Michael Kelly, Henry Howley, John McIntosh;
Tailors: Owen Kirwan, John Begg;
Factory workers: Thomas Donnelly, Nicholas Tyrrell;
Slater: Maxwell Roach;
Coal Factor: Denis Lambert Redmond;
Shoemaker: John McCann;
Farm labourer: Felix Rourke;
Baker: James Byrne.
(We are grateful to Jerry O’Reilly for the additional information on these men’s professions).