|photo courtesy Paul Huang|
Emmet was born in Cork into a respected family; his father served as surgeon to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and to members of the British Royal Family on their visits to Ireland. His education at Trinity College, Dublin was cut short when he joined the patriotic United Irishmen. When the rising under Theobald Wolfe Tone was crushed in May, 1798 Emmet and others sought exile in France, joining the groups of emigre revolutionaries in Paris. In 1802 during a brief lull in the Napoleonic Wars Emmet joined a Irish delegation to Napoleon asking for support. However the delegation returned unsuccessfully when Napoleon signed a peace treaty with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with which he had been at war.
When European conflict was renewed in May 1803 Emmet and other revolutionaries returned to Ireland to head a rebellion. The uprising began prematurely on July 23, 1803 in Dublin but did not get much further than an failed attempt to take Dublin Castle which collapsed into general rioting, during with the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland was murdered in his carriage. Emmet fled into hiding but was captured on August 25 near Harold's Cross. He was tried for treason on September 19 and on September 20 he was executed by hanging and beheading in Dublin. The remains were then secretly buried. During his trial, after he had been sentenced Emmet delivered a rousing speech, the Speech from the Dock, which secured his posthumous fame. "Let no man write my epitaph... When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then shall my character be vindicated, then may my epitaph be written".
The whereabouts of his corpse has remained 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 of being Emmet's, was found. In the 1980s the church was turned into a nite club and all the coffins removed from the vaults. What was done with the mysterious corpse is unknown.