Past Questions


(i) Mention two causes of the American War of Independence. (2)
(ii) Give two reasons why the Americans defeated the British during the War of Independence. (2)
(iii) Explain the influence of the American Revolution on events in France during the late
eighteenth century. (6)
(iv) Write an account of two of the following:
(a) The “Reign of Terror” during the French Revolution.
(b) The consequences of the French Revolution.
(c) The main events during the 1798 Rebellion.
(d) The results of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.      (2×10)


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 12:26 am Comments (0)
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Past Questions



The execution of French king Louis XVI (London Times, 25th January, 1793)
About half past nine, the king arrived at the place of execution. Louis mounted the scaffold calmly, the trumpets sounding and drums beating during the whole time. He made a sign of wishing to speak to the multitude, the drums ceased, and Louis spoke these few words. I die innocent; I pardon my enemies. His executioners then laid hold of him and, an instant after, his head was separated from his body.
Since the king’s execution, a general consternation has prevailed throughout Paris; the Sans Culottes are the only persons that rejoice. The honest citizens, safe within their houses, could not suppress their heartfelt grief, and mourned in private with their families the murder of their much loved Sovereign. The Republican tyrants of France have murdered their king without even the shadow of justice, and of course they cannot expect friendship with any civilised part of the world. The vengeance of Europe will now rapidly fall on them.

Wolfe Tone and the French attempt to land at Bantry Bay, December 1796.

Extract from a speech by Wolfe Tone, 1798:
From my earliest youth, I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain, as the curse of the Irish nation; felt convinced that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free or happy. I determined to apply all the powers, which my individual efforts could move, in order to separate the two countries. That Ireland was not able, of herself, to throw off the yoke, I knew. I therefore sought for aid, wherever it was to be found. Under the flag of the French Republic, I sought to save and liberate my own country.

A. Source D
(i) ‘The king met his death bravely’
Give one piece of evidence from the newspaper article to support this view. (2)
(ii) According to the article, who were the only persons to rejoice following the king’s
execution? (2)
(iii) Was the writer a supporter or an opponent of the king’s execution?
Give one piece of evidence from the source to explain your answer. (5)
B. Source E and Source F
(i) Why did the fleet sent by the French in 1796, shown in Source E, fail to land? (2)
(ii) In source F, what does Wolfe Tone consider to be the ‘curse of the Irish Nation’? (3)
(iii) Give two reasons why Wolfe Tone sought military help from the French. (4)

C. Write an account of one of the following topics:
(i) Causes of the American War of Independence.
(ii) The Reign of Terror in France, September 1793 to July 1794.
(iii) Reasons for the failure of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.           (12)



Source D
A picture of the Boston Massacre 1770 (engraving by Paul Revere).

Source E
A political cartoon from 1789 called “The Third Estate Awakens.”

An extract from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
“Therefore the National Assembly recognises and proclaims the following rights of man and
of the citizen:
Men are born free and equal in rights.
The purpose of all political associations is the preservation of the natural rights of man. These rights are: liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression. Liberty consists in being able to do whatever does not harm others. No man ought to be uneasy about his opinions, even his religious beliefs, provided that this actions do not interfere with the public order established by law. The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most precious rights of man: every citizen can therefore talk, write and publish freely.”

A. Study source D which is an engraving by Paul Revere of the Boston Massacre.
(i) Do you think that the artist was a supporter or an opponent of British rule in America?
Give one reason to support your answer. (2)
(ii) Apart from the Boston Massacre, give two reasons why the American colonies
revolted against British rule in 1775. (4)
B. Source E is a political cartoon from France at the time of the French Revolution called “the
Third Estate Awakens.”

Source F is an extract from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was
passed by the National Assembly of France, August 26, 1789.
(i) In the cartoon, why do you think the nobleman and the priest look afraid? (2)
(ii) In Source F, what are the “natural rights of man”? (2)
(iii) From the Declaration, identify two freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of France? (2)
(iv) The Declaration was influenced by the ideas of Enlightenment writers. Name one famous Enlightenment writer. (4)

C. (i) Write an account of one of the following:
(a) The impact of the American War of Independence on France.
(b) The influence of the French Revolution on Ireland.
(c) The consequences of the unsuccessful rebellion of 1798, in Ireland.      (14)


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.


This question tends to come in a format that requires you to know one of the revolutionary leaders from either America, France or Ireland in some detail. You will find information on some of the leaders involved on these pages:

The key points towards the top of the pages should provide you with enough information to get full marks on this section.


Past questions

Ordinary Level

2008: Select one of the people described below. Write about that person. If you wish, you may use the hints to
help you in your answer. Write the title selected at the top of your account.
(i) A named revolutionary leader (in France, Ireland or America) during the Age of
Revolutions, 1770-1815.

HINTS: * Early life * Main events during the revolution
* Reasons for supporting the revolution * Later life and death.

2006: A named revolutionary leader (in France, Ireland or America) during the Age of
Revolutions, 1770-1815.

HINTS: * Early life and career
* Reasons for supporting the revolution
* Main events in the revolution
* Later life and death

Higher Level

2006: Select one of the people described below. Write about that person.
A supporter of a named revolutionary leader during the period, 1770-1803.

2005:  A named leader involved in a revolution (America, France or Ireland) during the
period, 1770-1815


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on May 26, 2010 at 11:35 pm Comments (0)
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These are some of the short answer questions that have come up over the last few years:

Ordinary Level

  1. Explain one of the following terms from the Age of Revolution: Boston Tea Party; Guillotine; United Irishmen.
  2. In relation to one of the revolutions in America or France or Ireland in the eighteenth century, name a leader of that revolution and an event associated with that revolution.
  3. In relation to one of the revolutions in America or France or Ireland in the eighteenth century, name a leader of that revolution and one of his aims.
  4. Put the following events in the correct order. Please start with the earliest: The French Revolution; The 1798 Rebellion; The American War of Independence.

Higher Level

  1. Give two causes of the American Revolution
  2. What change came about as a result of the Act of Union 1801?
  3. Choose one of the revolutions (America or France or Ireland) and give two causes of that revolution.
  4. Which county was the scene of the most intense rebel activity during the 1798 rising?
  5. What was the Reign of Terror in France in the 1790s?
  6. Name two effects of the American War of Independence on either Ireland or France.
  7. Give two reasons why the Americans revolted against Britain in 1775.
  8. Give two reasons why there was a rebellion in Ireland in 1798.


History@ Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.


At the top of most pages on this blog, you will find a heading In brief, under which you will find a summary of what you need to know on that person or topic for the Junior Cert course.

The revolutionary period can appear on any section of the paper at both Ordinary and Higher level. It turns up mainly on Q.3 (Short-answer questions) and Q. 4 (People in history); although it has also appeared in , Q.5. (Sources) and Q.6. (Short answers and essays).

(Click on a section to see previous exam questions.)


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

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Robert Emmet’s Speech from the Dock

My Lords:

What have I to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced on me according to law?  I have nothing to say that can alter your predetermination, nor that it will become me to say with any view to the mitigation of that sentence which you are here to pronounce, and I must abide by.  But I have that to say which interests me more than life, and which you have laboured (as was necessarily your office in the present circumstances of this oppressed country) to destroy.  I have much to say why my reputation should be rescued from the load of false accusation and calumny which has been heaped upon it.  I do not imagine that, seated where you are, your minds can be so free from impurity as to receive the least impression from what I am going to utter–I have no hopes that I can anchor my character in the breast of a court constituted and trammelled as this is–I only wish, and it is the utmost I expect, that your lordships may suffer it to float down your memories untainted by the foul breath of prejudice, until it finds some more hospitable harbour to shelter it from the storm by which it is at present buffeted.

Was I only to suffer death after being adjudged guilty by your tribunal, I should bow in silence and meet the fate that awaits me without a murmur; but the sentence of law which delivers my body to the executioner will, through the ministry of that law, labour in its own vindication to consign my character to obloquy–for there must be guilt somewhere: whether in the sentence of the court in the catastrophe, posterity must determine. A man in my situation, my lords, has not only to encounter the difficulties of fortune. and the force of power over minds which it has corrupted or subjugated. but the difficulties of established prejudice: the man dies, but his memory lives. That mine may not perish, that it may live in the respect of my countrymen, I seize upon this opportunity to vindicate myself from some of the charges alleged against me. When my spirit shall be wafted to a more friendly port; when my shade shall have joined the bands of those martyred heroes who have shed their blood on the scaffold and in the field, in defence of their country and of virtue. this is my hope: I wish that my memory and name may animate those who survive me, while I look down with complacency on the destruction of that perfidious government which upholds its domination by blasphemy of the Most High-which displays its power over man as over the beasts of the forest-which sets man upon his brother, and lifts his hand in the name of God against the throat of his fellow who believes or doubts a little more or a little less than the government standard–a government which is steeled to barbarity by the cries of the orphans and the tears of the widows which it has made.

[Interruption by the court.]

I appeal to the immaculate God–I swear by the throne of heaven, before which I must shortly appear–by the blood of the murdered patriots who have gone before me that my conduct has been through all this peril and all my purposes governed only by the convictions which I have uttered, and by no other view than that of their cure, and the emancipation of my country from the super human oppression under which she has so long and too patiently travailed; and that I confidently and assuredly hope that, wild and chimerical as it may appear, there is still union and strength in Ireland to accomplish this noble enterprise. of this I speak with the confidence of intimate knowledge, and with the consolation that appertains to that confidence. Think not, my lords, I say this for the petty gratification of giving you a transitory uneasiness; a man who never yet raised his voice to assert a lie will not hazard his character with posterity by asserting a falsehood on a subject so important to his country, and on an occasion like this. Yes. my lords. a man who does not wish to have his epitaph written until his country is liberated will not leave a weapon in the power of envy, nor a pretence to impeach the probity which he means to preserve even in the grave to which tyranny consigns him.

[Interruption by the court.]

Again I say, that what I have spoken was not intended for your lordship, whose situation I commiserate rather than envy-my expressions were for my countrymen; if there is a true Irishman present. let my last words cheer him in the hour of his affliction.

[Interruption by the court.]

I have always understood it to be the duty of a judge. when a prisoner has been convicted, to pronounce the sentence of the law; I have also understood that judges sometimes think it their duty to hear with patience and to speak with humanity. to exhort the victim of the laws. and to offer with tender benignity his opinions of the motives by which he was actuated in the crime, of which he had been adjudged guilty: that a judge has thought it his duty so to have done. I have no doubt–but where is the boasted freedom of your institutions. where is the vaunted impartiality, clemency. and mildness of your courts of justice, if an unfortunate prisoner, whom your policy, and not pure justice. is about to deliver into the hands of the executioner. is not suffered to explain his motives sincerely and truly. and to vindicate the principles by which he was actuated?

My lords, it may be a part of the system of angry justice, to bow a man’s mind by humiliation to the purposed ignominy of the scaffold; but worse to me than the purposed shame, or the scaffold’s terrors, would be the shame of such unfounded imputations as have been laid against me in this court: you, my lord [Lord Norbury], are a judge. I am the supposed culprit; I am a man, you are a man also; by a revolution of power, we might change places, though we never could change characters; if I stand at the bar of this court and dare not vindicate my character, what a farce is your justice? If I stand at this bar and dare not vindicate my character. flow dare you calumniate it? Does the sentence of death which your unhallowed policy inflicts on my body also condemn my tongue to silence and my reputation to reproach? Your executioner may abridge the period of my existence. but while I exist I shall not forbear to vindicate my character and motives from your aspersions: and as a man to whom fame is dearer than life, I will make the last use of that life in doing justice to that reputation which is to live after me, and which is the only legacy I can leave to those I honour and love, and for whom I am proud to perish. As men, my lord, we must appear at the great day at one common tribunal. and it will then remain for the searcher of all hearts to show a collective universe who was engaged in the most virtuous actions. or actuated by the purest motives-my country’s oppressors or–

[Interruption by the court.]

My lord, will a dying man be denied the legal privilege of exculpating himself, in the eyes of the community, of an undeserved reproach thrown upon him during his trial, by charging him with ambition and attempting to cast away, for a paltry consideration. the liberties of his country? Why did your lordship insult me? or rather why insult justice. in demanding of me why sentence of death should not be pronounced? I know, my lord, that form prescribes that you should ask the question; the form also presumes a right of answering. This no doubt may be dispensed with–and so might the whole ceremony of trial, since sentence was already pronounced at the castle, before your jury was impanelled; your lordships are but the priests of the oracle, and I submit; but I insist on the whole of the forms.

I am charged with being an emissary of France An emissary of France? And for what end? It is alleged that I wished to sell the independence of my country? And for what end? Was this the object of my ambition? And is this the mode by which a tribunal of justice reconciles contradictions? No, I am no emissary; and my ambition was to hold a place among the deliverers of my country–not in power, nor in profit, but in the glory of the achievement!…

Connection with Prance was indeed intended, but only as far as mutual interest would sanction or require. Were they to assume any authority inconsistent with the purest independence, it would be the signal for their destruction: we sought aid, and we sought it, as we had assurances we should obtain it–as auxiliaries in war and allies in peace…

I wished to procure for my country the guarantee which Washington procured for America. To procure an aid, which, by its example, would be as important as its valour, disciplined. gallant, pregnant with science and experience; which would perceive the good and polish the rough points of our character. They would come to us as strangers and leave us as friends, after sharing in our perils and elevating our destiny. These were my objects–not to receive new taskmasters hilt to expel old tyrants: these were my views. and these only became Irishmen. It was for these ends I sought aid from France; because France, even as an enemy. could not he more implacable than the enemy already in the bosom of my country.

[Interruption by the court.]

I have been charged with that importance in the efforts to emancipate my country. as to be considered the keystone of the combination of Irishmen; or, as Your Lordship expressed it, “the life and blood of conspiracy.” You do me honour over much. You have given to the subaltern all the credit of a superior. There are men engaged in this conspiracy, who are not only superior to me but even to your own conceptions of yourself, my lord; men, before the splendour of whose genius and virtues, I should bow with respectful deference, and who would think themselves dishonoured to be called your friend–who would not disgrace themselves by shaking your bloodstained hand–

[Interruption by the court]

What, my lord, shall you tell me, on the passage to that scaffold. Which that tyranny. of which you are only the intermediary executioner. Has erected for my murder. that I am accountable for all the blood that has and will be shed in this struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor?–shall you tell me this–and must I be so very a slave as not to repel it?

I do not fear to approach the omnipotent Judge, to answer for the conduct of my whole life; and am I to be appalled and falsified by a mere remnant of mortality here? By you. too. who, if it were possible to collect all the innocent blood that you have shed in your unhallowed ministry, in one great reservoir. Your Lordship might swim in it.

[Interruption by the court.]

Let no man dare, when I am dead. to charge me with dishonour; let no man taint my memory by believing that I could have engaged in any cause but that of my country’s liberty and independence, or that I could have become the pliant minion of power in the oppression or the miseries of my countrymen. The proclamation of the provisional government speaks for our views; no inference can he tortured from it to countenance barbarity or debasement at home, or subjection. humiliation. or treachery from abroad; I would not have submitted to a foreign oppressor for the same reason that I would resist the foreign and domestic oppressor: in the dignity of freedom I would have fought upon the threshold of my country, and its enemy should enter only by passing over my lifeless corpse. Am I, who lived but for my country, and who have subjected myself to the dangers of the jealous and watchful oppressor, and the bondage of the grave, only to give my countrymen their rights, and my country her independence, and am I to be loaded with calumny and not suffered to resent or repel it–no, God forbid!

If the spirits of the illustrious dead participate in the concerns and cares of those who are dear to them in this transitory life–oh, ever dear and venerated shade of my departed father. look down with scrutiny upon the conduct of your suffering son; and see if I have even for a moment deviated from those principles of morality and patriotism which it was your care to instil into my youthful mind, and for which I am now to offer up my life!

My lords, you are impatient for the sacrifice-the blood which you seek is not congealed by the artificial terrors which surround your victim; it circulates warmly and unruffled, through the channels which God created for noble purposes. but which you are bent to destroy. for purposes so grievous. that they cry to heaven. Be yet patient! I have but a few words more to say. I am going to my cold and silent grave: my lamp of life is nearly extinguished: my race is run: the grave opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom! I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world–it the charity of its silence! 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 repose in obscurity and peace, and my tomb remain uninscribed, 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.


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 11:48 am Comments (0)

Fr. John Murphy

This content was created/compiled by Niamh McDonald.

In Brief:

Fr. John Murphy was a Catholic priest, born in Tincurry, Co. Wexford, who went on to become one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion in his native county. Not long after the rebels were defeated at the battle of Vinegar Hill, he was captured by  British forces. Both he and fellow rebel leader Bagenal Harvey were hanged and then beheaded, before their heads were put on spikes in Wexford town.


More Information:

Before the Rising

Father John Murphy was born in Tincurry, Co.Wexford and was the youngest son of Thomas and Johanna Murphy. He was described as handsome, well built, extremely intelligent and having great strength and agility. He played handball and was called one of the greatest players. He spoke Irish, English, Spanish, Latin and Greek

He was inspired by the local parish priest Dr. Andrew Cassin. In 1772 he was ordained, then went to study further in Spain, as seminaries were still prohibited by Penal laws.

Fr.Murphy returned home to Boolavogue (also known as Kilcormac). He stayed in the house of a tenant farmers family, the Donohues.

Donohue House on left

Bishop Sweetfield (who ordained him) was succeeded by Bishop Caulfield who was known as a government man and ordered the people of his diocese to surrender their weapons and pledge loyalty to George the third. Fr.Murphy originally was against rebellion and urged his parishioners to follow his orders and he with 756 other people took an oath that they weren’t part of the United Irishmen.

How it started

When parishioners saw Yeomen (militia who supported the British crown) light the cabin of a suspect rebel on fire and say they were going to raid Boolavogue, they were outraged. Armed with one gun and a few pikes, Fr.Murphy and thirty local men ambushed the yeomen, while the Lieutenant was setting more houses on fire. When the rebels killed the lieutenant and another yeoman, the rest of Fr.Murphy’s army fled.

The Wexford Rising had begun.

Terror and Oulart Hill

On the 27 May 1798, while Fr. Murphy and some local men robbed a close by arms depot, the redcoats burned down Fr. Murphy’s chapel. The British militia began to burn houses and kill suspects. People fled in terror and headed to high ground, and that is why a crowd had gathered on Oulart Hill. Fr.Murphy spotted a military column and planned an ambush. He ordered his troops to put their hats on their pikes and raise them above cover to draw British gun fire, then attacked the British while they were reloading their guns. The militia were defeated and the rebels stole 100 guns.

Battle and Bagenal Harvey

The next day the rebels captured Enniscorthy in a four-hour battle. Two days later, they captured nearby Wexford town and released Bagenal Harvey from jail; he was a rich Protestant and leader of the Wexford United Irishmen. He was made commander-in-chief of the rebel army.

Battle of Enniscorthy

The army was divided into three groups to attack:

1) New Ross and Waterford


3) Gorey and Arklow,

after which all rebels would join in Co. Wicklow.

At Tubberneering Fr. Murphy’s men defeated a strong force and captured Gorey. When besieging towns, he would create a cattle stampede, creating a diversion while rebels attacked from behind. But they failed to take Arklow, where they were badly beaten.

Meanwhile, Harvey’s force was defeated in New Ross. This was the bloodiest battle of the Rebellion.  The battle was followed by a rampage by the red coats. More than 3,000 rebels were killed during and after the battle. Bagenal Harvey resigned as commander-in-chief

Massacre on Vinegar Hill

Bagenal Harvey was replaced by Fr. Philip Roche, who told Fr. Murphy to retreat to the main camp, Vinegar Hill. With reinforcements rushed from England, General Lake, commander of the British forces, launched a fierce attack on the rebels here. His 20,000 soldiers, defeated the poorly armed rebels in this last big battle of the Rising, at Vinegar Hill on 21 June. About 500 rebels, among them Fr. Murphy’s brother, were killed. Lake took no prisoners and shot every wounded rebel captured.  The Enniscorthy courthouse, used as a hospital, was burned down with 80 wounded rebels inside.

Fr. Murphy’s Final Efforts

The rebels tried to branch out of Wexford and crossed the border at Scullabogues Gap. On the 24 June they captured Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, though at the loss of 100 men. On June 26th, at the battle of Kilcummney hill in County Carlow, they were tricked and defeated. Fr.Murphy and his bodyguard, James Gallagher, were separated from the main group and stayed in a friend’s house in Tullow.

A Bitter Outcome

On the 2nd of July, Fr. Murphy and James Gallagher were captured and brought to Tullow before a military tribunal. Both were sentenced to death and were tortured to try and get more information from them. They were both hanged in Market Square, Tullow,  as well as that Fr Murphy was stripped, flogged, decapitated, his corpse burnt in a barrel of tar and his head impaled on a spike. This final gesture was to set an example to

Statue of Fr. Murphy in Tullow, Co. Carlow.

any other suspect rebels. The five week Wexford Rising was one of the bloodiest periods in Irish history. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people died in that short time, during which the British forces confiscated 79,630 pikes and 48,109 guns.


The Boys of Wexford



Useful Links:

Catholic Ireland Father John Murphy – http://www.catholicireland.net/church-a-bible/church/history/479-father-murphy-of-boolavogue

Wikipedia Father John Murphy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_John_Murphy

Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 9 – http://www.aohplymouth.com/Division%209%20History.htm

National 1798 Centre – http://www.iol.ie/~98com/leaders.htm


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published in: on May 11, 2010 at 8:42 pm Comments (1)
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Robert Emmet

This content was created/compiled by Hilary Newcombe.


In Brief:

After the Act of Union (1801) abolished the Irish parliament, forcing Ireland to become part of Britain, some Irish opponents of the Union tried to break it by force. The most famous of these was a young man called Robert Emmett (brother of one of the United Irishmen, Thomas Addis Emmet). He had bought weapons and amunition and explosives to stage a rebellion. However, some of these exploded prematurely in one of the Dublin houses where they were stored forcing Emmett to bring forward his plans. The rising took place on 23 July 1803, but was generally a disaster and was easily crushed by the military with only a few shots fired. Although Robert Emmett escaped, he was captured a month later at the home of his fiancée Sarah Curran. He was tried in Dublin where after he was sentenced to death at a corupt trial. It was then that he made his famous ‘speech from the dock’ which was to inspire future rebellions both in Ireland and abroad. Robert Emmett was convicted of treason before being hung and then beheaded at Thomas Street, Dublin on September 20th 1803.




Robert Emmet

Robert Emmet was born in Dublin on 4 March 1778.

He was the youngest son of Dr Robert Emmet (1729–1802), and Elizabeth Mason (1740–1803).

His dad was a state physician, so the family were financially comfortable, with a house at St Stephen’s Greenand a country residence near Milltown.

One of his older brothers was a nationalist called Thomas Addis Emmet, a close friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, who visited the house a lot when Robert was a child.

Robert 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 himself became secretary to a United Irish society in college, and was expelled in April 1798 as a result.

After the 1798 rising, Robert Emmet was involved in reorganizing the defeated United Irish Society.

In April 1799 a warrant was issued for his arrest, and he escaped. Soon after, he travelled to the continent in the hope of securing French military aid.

His efforts were unsuccessful, and so he returned to Ireland in October 1802.

In March the following year, he began preparations for another rising.

1803 rebellion

After he returned to Ireland, Robert began to prepare a new rebellion, with fellow revolutionaries Thomas Russell and James Hope.

He began to manufacture weapons and explosives at a number of locations in Dublin and even invented a folding pike which could be concealed under a cloak, which was fitted with a hinge.

Unlike in 1798, the preparations for the uprising were successfully concealed, but a premature explosion at one of Emmet’s arms depots killed a man and forced Emmet to bring forward the date of the rising before the police got suspicious.

Emmet wasn’t able to secure the help of Michael Dwyer’s Wicklow rebels, and many Kildare rebels who had arrived turned back, due to the scarcity of firearms they had been promised, but the rising went ahead in Dublin on the evening of July 23, 1803.

Failing to seize Dublin Castle, which wasn’t defended very well, the rising amounted to a large-scale riot in the Thomas Street area.

Emmet witnessed 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. However, he had lost control of his all followers and in one incident, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Lord Kilwarden, the judge who granted habeas corpus to Wolfe Tone in 1798, was dragged from his carriage and hacked to death. Clashes continued into the night until finally quelled by the military at the estimated cost of twenty military and fifty rebel dead.


The trial of Robert Emmet

Emmet’s fate

Emmet fled into hiding but was captured on 25 August, near Harold’s Cross.

He endangered his life by moving his hiding place from Rathfarnam to Harold’s Cross so that he could be near his sweetheart, Sarah Curran.

He was tried for treason on 19 September; the Crown repaired the weaknesses in its case by secretly buying the assistance of Emmet’s defense attorney,Leonard Macnally, for £200 and a pension.

However, his assistant Peter Burrowes could not be bought and pleaded the case as best he could.

After he had been sentenced Emmet delivered a speech, the Speech from the Dock, which is especially remembered for its closing sentences and secured his posthumous fame among executed Irish republicans. However no definitive version was written down by Emmet himself.

An earlier version of the speech was published in 1818, in a biography on Sarah Curran’s father John.

On 19 September, Emmet was found guilty of high treason, and Chief Justice Lord Norbury’s death sentence required that Emmet was to be hung, drawn and quartered.

The following day, 20 September, Emmet was executed in Thomas Street.

Emmet's execution

He was hung and then beheaded once dead. The remains were then secretly buried. The whereabouts of his remains is still a mystery.

It was suspected that it had been buried secretly in the vault of a Dublin Anglican church. When the vault was inspected in the 1950s, a headless corpse that could not be identified, but which was suspected to be Emmet’s, was found.

In the 1980s the church was turned into a night club and all the coffins removed from the vaults.

What was done with the mysterious corpse? No one knows.

Even though Emmet’s rebellion was a complete failure, he became an heroic figure in Irish history. His speech from the dock is widely quoted and remembered, especially among Irish nationalists.

Emmet’s housekeeper, Anne Devlin, is also remembered in Irish history for enduring torture without providing information to the authorities.[4]

Robert Emmet wrote a letter from his cell in Kilmainham Jail, Dublin on 8 September 1803.

He addressed it to “Miss Sarah Curran, the Priory, Rathfarnham” and handed it to a prison warden, George Dunn, whom he trusted to deliver it. Dunn betrayed him and gave the letter to the government authorities, an action that nearly cost Sarah Curran her life.

His attempt to hide near Sarah Curran, which cost him his life, and his parting letter to her made him into a romantic character, which appealed to the Victorian Era’s appetite for Romanticism, which prolonged his fame.

His story became the subject of stage melodramas during the 19th century, most notably Dion Boucicault’s hugely inaccurate 1884 play Robert Emmet

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

Robert Emmet’s older brother, Thomas Addis Emmet would emigrate to the United States shortly after Robert’s execution and would eventually serve as the New York State Attorney General.

His great-grand-nieces are the prominent American portrait painters Lydia Field Emmet, Rosina Sherwood Emmet, Jane Emmet de Glehn and Ellen Emmet Rand. Robert Emmet’s great-great nephew was the American playwright Robert Emmet Sherwood.

Places named after Emmet include Emmetsburg, Iowa, Emmet County, Iowa, and Emmet County, Michigan. There is a statue of Emmet in front of the California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Statue of Robert Emmet in Washington D.C.


Sarah Curran

Sarah Curran (1782-1808) was the youngest daughter of John Philpot Curran, an eminent Irish lawyer.  She met Emmet through her brother Richard, who was a follow student at Trinity College.  Her father considered Emmet unsuitable, and their courtship was conducted through letters and clandestine meetings.  When her father discovered that Sarah was secretly engaged, he treated her so harshly that she had to take refuge with friends in Cork, where she met and married Captain Robert Sturgeon in November 1805. They had a child who died in infancy.  Sarah died of consumption (tuberculosis) on May 5, 1808.

September, 1803

My dearest Love,

I don’t know how to write to you. I never felt so oppressed in my life as at the cruel injury I have done you. I was seized and searched with a pistol over me before I could destroy your letters. They have been compared with those found before. I was threatened with having them brought forward against me in Court. I offered to plead guilty if they would suppress them. This was refused. My love, can you forgive me?

I wanted to know whether anything had been done respecting the person who wrote the letter, for I feared you might have been arrested. They refused to tell me for a long time. When I found, however, that this was not the case, I began to think that they only meant to alarm me; but their refusal has only come this moment, and my fears are renewed. Not that they can do anything to you even if they would be base enough to attempt it, for they can have no proof who wrote them, nor did I let your name escape me once. But I fear they may suspect from the stile [style], and from the hair, for they took the stock [Emmet’s cravat into which Sarah had sewn a lock of her hair] from me, and I have not been able to get it back from them, and that they may think of bringing you forward.

I have written to your father to come to me tomorrow. Had you not better speak to himself tonight? Destroy my letters that there may be nothing against yourself, and deny having any knowledge of me further than seeing me once or twice. For God’s sake, write to me by the bearer one line to tell me how you are in spirits. I have no anxiety, no care, about myself; but I am terribly oppressed about you. My dearest love, I would with joy lay down my life, but ought I to do more? Do not be alarmed; they may try to frighten you; but they cannot do more. God bless you, my dearest love.

I must send this off at once; I have written it in the dark. My dearest Sarah, forgive me.


History@Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna

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Background to Rebellion in Ireland

After the plantations and wars of the sevententh century, by the eighteenth century the make up and wealth distribution in Ireland had changed considerably. The population of Ireland was made up of three distinct groups:

  1. Catholics: made up 75% of the population, yet owned only 15% of the land and had no political power
  2. Anglican (Church of Ireland) owned the vast majority of the land and had huge political and financial power.
  3. Presbyterians: Mainly based in Ulster; had done well in business and farming but were banned – like the catholics – from being elected to parliament.

* Both Catholics and Presbyterians had to pay ‘tithes’ (religious tax) to the official church of Ireland (Anglican church).

To protect the interests of the protestant ruling classes, a number of harsh laws called the Penal Laws were introduced. These included:

  • No Catholic could build or attend schools or churches.
  • No Catholic priests, bishops or religious orders were allowed to remain in Ireland.
  • No Catholic could buy land from a Protestant and any land that was inherited had to be ‘subdivided’ between the sons, keeping the Catholic farms small and unviable.
  • No Catholic could become a solicitor, barrister or judge
  • No catholic could live in a town.

The result of these laws was to keep millions of Catholics poor and uneducated with little chance of making any progress in life. It also caused huge bitterness among the population. Many Catholics – as well as the Ulster Presbyterians – were impressed by the equal, just and fair societies that the Americans and French were trying to create following their revolutions. They also felt that with the help of the French army they could achieve the break from Britain that they felt was needed to create an equal and tolerant society. They eventually set up a group to help them achieve their aims through violence if necessary called the United Irishmen.


History@ Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

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Results of the French Revolution

  • The ideas of the Revolution especially those of the Republic: Liberty, equality and brotherhood spread across Europe.
  • Other countries were inspired to fight for these rights – including Ireland.
  • The French offered military assistance to any nation that wanted to fight to establish the principles of a republic.
  • The Bourgeoisie (middle-classes) of France had gotten their hands on the power that had been denied to them before the Revolution.
  • The French built up a huge army through the use of conscription (all men over the age of eighteen had to join the army). This army and its clever leader Napoleon Bonaparte had huge successes across Europe before being eventually defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.


History@ Banagher College, Colaiste na Sionna

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