Introducing Scholar #16:
Gerrit is currently in Galway!
Here is his winning essay:
The Principle Remains: Robert Emmet’s Fight for Irish liberty
“What light is to the eyes – what air is to the lungs – what love is to the heart, liberty is to the soul of man.”-Robert Green Ingersoll
Robert Emmet was born in 1778 to wealthy Protestant parents, providing him with theopportunity to attend school and enjoy a life free from oppression by the British Monarchy. However, as he was exposed from a young age to groups pushing for parliamentary reform, thespark of patriotism ignited within him. Catholics and Presbyterians “were the two most oppressed elements in Irish Society” (O’Donnell 13). As early as his days in Oswald’s School and Samuel Whyte’s English Grammar School, Emmet took notice of the effects of oppression on the lower classes as a result of the “strong educational ethos promoted by Whyte” (O’Donnell4). The foundations for Emmet’s patriotism and outstanding political values were built from a very early age, and were imperative in his decision to fight selflessly for the equal rights of Irishmen.
Once he began school at Trinity College in Dublin, Emmet became involved in various political groups, including the United Irishmen, a group of Irish nationalists who “pledged to unite ‘Catholic, Protestant, and Dissenter’ in the cause of radical parliamentary reform” (O’Donnell 13). Like his elder brother, Thomas Addis Emmet, Robert Emmet further developed his strong feelings of patriotism while at Trinity College (Geoghegan 61). As he became increasingly radical, Emmet decided to make it a personal goal to do everything in his power to help liberate the oppressed Catholic minority from the tyranny of the British government. Robert Emmet fought for universal liberty and equal treatment, a privilege that Americans enjoy today, but this was not the case for Irish Catholics two hundred years ago. The struggle for liberty remains for oppressed peoples in many areas around the world today. We can draw stark comparisons to current times.
“When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”- Declaration of Independence, 1776
Emmet was influenced by the United States’ Declaration of Independence, written only two years before his birth, as it promoted ideals of, and the freedom to fight for democracy. The Arab Spring, or Arab uprising, is a collection of many revolts and revolutions against tyrannical governmental systems in 21 Arab nations throughout the Middle East and into Northern Africa.The movement started on December 18, 2010, and although the bloodiest revolts we have seen so far have concluded, rebellions and revolts continue in many Arab nations to this day(Gumuchian, Sayah, & Sirgany, 2014). People are drawn to democracy; as Ronald Reagan pointed out: “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.” Aristotle also wrote on the subject that “Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.” The primary goal of the Arab Spring protests is to bring about governmental reforms necessary for a more democratic system, in which there would be less subjectivity and bias in the distribution of wealth, healthcare, and basic goods and services (Gumuchian et al., 2014). In essence, the Arab reformers are pushing for governmental change in order to increase the standard of living for the lower class majority that suffers while the upper classes enjoy lucrative jobs and other luxuries. Unfortunately, as a result of facing great military resistance, the situations in some of the countries became so heatedthat the lower classes reached a breaking point and decided to take up arms. Like Emmet, they knew that the only way to defeat an army is to become one; that they needed to take up arms in order to put a stop to the governmental systems that were oppressing them.
“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”-Thomas Jefferson (First Inaugural Address, 1801)
Thomas Jefferson was the first President to be elected by popular vote in the United States (Heritage Foundation). Robert Emmet lived during a time where the government acted as the absolute authority. For the majority of Egypt’s history, kings ruled in much the same way. In 1954, a revolution broke out in Egypt, acting as a catalyst to the country’s transformation into a democracy. Some of the most documented revolts were those of the protests of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, or the Lotus Revolution, a part of the Arab Spring protests. The goal of the Egyptian protestors in 2011 was to oust the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak because of many social and political issues that had been going on for years (Inskeep, Greene, & Hamid, 2014).Where Emmet had failed to start a revolution in 1798 (O’Donnell 80-82), the Egyptian protestors were able to amass people in the hundreds of thousands, leading to protests and insurrections, and eventually to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. Although the ousting of Mubarak in 2011 was successful, the protests continued as a new president, Muhammad Morsi, was put into power in 2012 and removed in 2013. The situation in Egypt remains heated, but they are moving towards another democratic election scheduled for May 2014 (Inskeep et al., 2014). Emmet’s revolution in 1798 failed, but his ideals and goals will always be shared amongst individuals feeling the pressure of an abusive government.
As Nelson Mandela once said, “to be free is not to merely cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. Robert Emmet did not have his own chains to cast off; he was Protestant, and thus did not belong to the demographic that was being oppressed. However, he knew that it was not right to sit idly by and ignore the injustices made by the British government. While on trial in 1803, Robert Emmet argued, “Let no man dare, when I am dead, to charge me with dishonor; let no man attain my memory by believing that I could have engaged in any cause but of my country’s liberty and independence” (Geoghegan 13). Emmet found in himself the desire to fight for others. He could have easily not involved himself, and would have been able to go on to live a fulfilling life with his only love, Sarah Curran. Speaking of the possible life the two would no longer be able to share together, Sarah Curran wrote in her last letter to Emmet, “I long to know how your wife and ten small children are. Good-bye my dear friend, but not for ever” (Geoghegan 23). Robert Emmet knew that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. As Aristotle wrote, “The securing of one individual’s good is cause for rejoicing, but to secure the good of a nation or of a city-state is nobler and more divine.” Robert Emmet’s poem, entitled “Erins Call”, serves as a testament to the devotion of Emmet to securing Irish liberty:
Brothers arise! Our country calls-
Let us gain her rights or die;
In her cause who nobly falls,
Decked with brightest wreaths shall lie;
And freedom’s genius o’er his bier,
Shall place the wreath and drop a tear.
Long by England’s power opprest,
Groaning long beneath her chain,
England’s ill-used power detest;
Burst her yoke; your rights regain;
The standard raise to liberty-
Ireland, you shall be free!
Brothers, March, March on to glory-
In your countries cause unite;
Freedom’s blessing see before you-
Erin’s sons, for freedom fight:
England’s legions we defy
We swear to conquer or to die.
-Robert Emmet (Geoghegan, 277)
“We war not against property – We war against no religious sect - We war not against past opinion or prejudices - We war against English Dominion.”- Robert Emmet (Geoghegan 160)
The 2014 Ukrainian revolution was the result of the then Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, overstepping his authority as president (Gumuchian, Wedeman, & Lee, 2014). Although Yanukovych may have had good intentions, he tried to install a new interim government and started passing many reforms to sociopolitical systems in quick succession without the blessings of the majority of Ukrainian citizens, upsetting them. Riots began as Ukrainians wanted to undo the changes made to the constitution and restore the government to its previous unaltered state (Gumuchian et al., 2014). The British government during Emmet’slifetime, under George III, acted in a similar way. The powerful began taking advantage of the powerless. Although Yanukovych has since fled into Russia under the protection of VladimirPutin, the situation in Ukraine remains heated. Emmet would have preferred a diplomatic solution to the injustices imposed upon the lower classes in Ireland, but this was impossible during a time when the British Government was arresting and executing those who were opposing the British agenda in Ireland.
The 2014 Venezuelan protests, like the Ukrainian revolution, are the result of an oppressed people who decided that enough was enough. Venezuelan protestors decided that they should no longer have to be subjected to the violent crime and lack of basic goods (Shoichet, & Castillo, 2014). Emmet took a stand against an unfair system in which few lived healthy and wealthy lives while the majority struggled and suffered. Two hundred years ago, Irish Catholics were not allowed to own land; Venezuelans are currently finding it more and more difficult to purchase basic goods necessary to survival as a result of political interference in the economic system. Although the people in Venezuela are not being subjected to widespread discrimination, as the Catholics of Emmet’s time were, there are similarities between the Venezuelan protests and those of Emmet’s time in that the popular majority are pushing towards a shared goal of equal treatment.
Much like the comparisons that can be made to political issues, we can find comparisonsbetween Emmet’s fight for liberty two hundred years ago and the fight for LGBT rights in the United States and other countries today. Americans in every US state and territory are now, as a result of the ruling of Lawrence v. Texas (2003), able to legally practice same-sex sexual activity, but this was not always the case (Halloran, 2013). Anti-gay laws and homophobia are not new issues. The fight of the LGBT community for equal treatment and protection under the law has been a struggle in the United States for decades and remains a struggle in many countries, some of which still impose the death penalty upon suspected or proven homosexuals. Currently, 21states outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately for Emmet, he took a stand against a corrupt system in a day and age where execution was used to make an example of those who defied the British Monarchy. Today, when so many aspects of our culture are being redefined, it is more possible for revolutions to be successful.
“The man dies, but his memory lives.”- Robert Emmet (Speech from the dock, 1803)
Emmet charged, “When my spirit shall have joined those bands of martyred heroes who have shed their blood on the scaffold and in the field in defense of their country, this is my hope, that my memory and name may serve to animate those who survive me” (Geoghegan, 10).Although Emmet died for his cause, the principle remains: a people under such tyranny and oppression will find within themselves the sparks of patriotism. Throughout history, many who have shared Emmet’s outstanding moral and political values have risen up to fight for and safeguard liberty. He is one of many who have made a fine example of themselves by fighting for what is right. Today, many people enjoy lives free from institutionalized oppression; however, oppressive acts are still carried out within some social and political systems. Although I do not believe that there will ever exist a world absolutely free from oppression, patriots will still rise up, as Emmet did, and constantly move towards better systems in which more individuals may enjoy the benefits of liberty and live their lives free from tyranny and oppression. The best we can do is to learn from Emmet’s examples, and pursue a life in which we promote the ideals of this Irish patriot.
Robert Emmet Society’s 15th Scholarship Winner!
Read her winning essay here.
Katelynn’s second letter Home
Katelynn’s First Letter Home
Dear RES Members,
Every day, I wake up amazed that I am really here. When I walked out of the Shannon airport, I knew this was going to be the greatest experience of my life so far. I am currently living at the Glasan Student Village (approximately one minute away from GMIT) with three roommates. Mayetta and Vaqueria are from Brazil and Noelia-who I share a room with- is from Spain. In the past two weeks, I have learned quite a bit of Spanish from Noelia and even a little Portuguese from the Brazilians. We actually call our section of Glasan the “Mini Brazil” because we have so many Brazilian neighbors. Each state in Brazil has its own flag, so Brazilian flags decorate all the windows in our neighboring houses (I’m currently looking for an American flag to hang in ours). I’ve been very lucky to have such welcoming roommates and neighbors; they always invite me on their adventures. Our latest journey took us over to the Cliffs of Moher, where I was introduced to the sheer beauty of this place. Words cannot describe what an incredible trip it was -we even had sunshine- and I hope to go again (and again and again). I still have so much to see, but I did make it over to Dublin last week to do a little exploring. I crossed the Ha’penny Bridge and strolled the streets until I realized that there’s far too much to see in just one day. Then, I took a train through Castleknock and back down into Dublin. We passed the Croke Park Stadium where the GAA All Ireland Championship finals will be taking place this Sunday. I will be heading over to Dublin with a few classmates to enjoy the craic there this weekend. Getting down to business though, I have five classes at GMIT this semester. I’m currently enrolled in Archaeology, Modern Irish History, Irish Biogeography and Natural History, Early Irish Literature, and Spanish. My Biogeography class travels to the beach almost every day to explore the salt marshes and unique ecosystem. All of my professors are very lively and passionate about what they teach. I will be getting a job soon to help fund my “travel wish list” which includes visiting most of the United Kingdom and Europe. I cannot thank you enough for what you have given me.
Message from Katelynn
Dear Robert Emmet Society Members,
Ever since I picked up a flier with Robert Emmet’s name, I had to find out who he was. When I read about him, I was immediately struck by many characteristics similar to my own hero- Jack Diener. Both men had lived for others selflessly, never asking for anything in return for their sacrifices. Your society lives by the same morals today and helps our future generations remember just what it means to be a hero.Everything the Robert Emmet Society stands for has inspiredme, and it will always be a huge part of my life. Someday, when I become a registered transcultural nurse, I can only hope to brighten lives the way you have for the past fifteen years.
Thank you so much!
Message From Jess
Robert Emmet Society’s 14th Scholarship Winner.
Dear Robert Emmet Society Members,
Thank you so very much for this wonderful opportunity. Most days I can barely contain my excitement for my upcoming adventure, which would not be possible without everything you have done. I am so glad historical societies like this one still appreciate the importance of honoring great people who many have forgotten. Researching Robert Emmet has been thoroughly enjoyable, fulfilling, and enlightening. I really cannot imagine an opportunity I would be more excited about, and I will remember it forever. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
The Robert Emmet Society was founded in the early 1990s to honor Robert Emmet, the namesake of Emmet County, Michigan, and to make area residents more aware of Emmet’s brief, but courageous life and his enduring legacy as a champion of freedom and democracy throughout the world.
The Joseph W. McCarthy-William McCullough, M.D. Memorial Scholarship award is the Society’s major activity year year. In conjunction with the Blissfest Music Organization, the Society also awards The Judge Ned Fenlon Music Award. All fundraising activities support these scholarship awards. Join us by becoming a member.