How To Research Emmet’s Rebellion

By David A. Fryxell Premium


Family lore says my Irish ancestor participated in Emmet’s Rebellion and may have been hanged as a result. How can I research this?


Named for Robert Emmet (1778-1803), the rebellion was a small uprising in Dublin July 23, 1803. Instigators hoped that it would lead to a nationwide revolt against the British. Rebels targeted Dublin Castle, which had represented British rule in Ireland since the time of King John. 
Robert Emmet of Emmet's Rebellion 

Copyright by Haskell & Allen. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs division.

But the main fighting broke out on Thomas Street, where the sight of a British dragoon being killed on the spot so shook Emmet that he tried to call off the rebellion. Many in the mob ignored him, choosing instead to drag the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Lord Kilwarden, from his carriage and kill him.  

By the time British troops restored order that night, an estimated 50 Irish rebels and 20 military had been killed.Emmet fled but was captured Aug. 25. Convicted of treason, he delivered “the Speech from the Dock,” which became famous among Irish nationalists. He ended with this famous quote: “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written.” 

Emmet was hanged on Thomas Street,  and then beheaded for good measure. A plaque at nearby St. Catherine’s Church lists the names of 15 tradesmen and laborers hanged between September 1st and October 3rd for their part in the rebellion. Check a transcription at <> to see if your ancestor is listed, and learn more about the rebellion at <>

 A version of this article appears in the October/November 2016 issue of Family Tree Magazine.  

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