Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States of America, Daniel Mulhall, shares his thoughts on the naming of Robert Emmet Park, in Washington D.C.
The gathering part of the Irish American Unity Conference’s annual commemoration of Irish Patriot Robert Emmet was also a celebration of the park’s official naming after Emmet, including an Ancient Order of Hibernians color guard. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), and former congressman Joe Crowley, who championed the park’s naming and dedication in the House of Representatives.
It is an honor for me to be here as this fine piece of land in Washington DC is given the name of Robert Emmet Park.
Robert Emmet never visited America and may not have been the most important figure in modern Irish history (although that could be a subject for debate), but he did become symbolic of Ireland’s struggle for generations of Irish people and their descendants in this country.
19th century Irish Americans formed Robert Emmet Societies in various US cities and more than a century ago this fine monument, created by the Irish sculptor, Jerome Connor, was erected in the lobby of the Smithsonian. It was transferred here in 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s Easter Rising. Other Emmet monuments are to be found in San Francisco, in Emmetsburg, Iowa and in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.
Emmet was part of a generation of Irish people, who were inspired by the ideals of the American and French Revolutions. In his speech from the Dock in September 1803, the 25-year-old Emmet said that he “wished to procure for my country the guarantee which Washington procured for America”, by which he meant, in his own words, for Ireland “to take its place among the nations of the earth.”
The United Irishmen who came to America as political exiles, including Thomas Addis Emmet, quickly became involved in American politics as supporters of Thomas Jefferson. That started a noble tradition of Irish American engagement in American political life, one that continues to this day and accounts for the fact that we have so many dedicated Friends of Ireland in Congress.
Irish immigrants played a key role in the American Civil War, a role epitomized by the story of the Young Ireland patriot, Thomas Francis Meagher, who was honored this week when a commemorative plaque bearing his name was erected at the iconic Washington Monument. That plaque also contains a copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic issued on Easter Monday 1916.
This reflects the key role played by Irish Americans in keeping the flame of Irish independence alive in those dark decades after the Great Famine when so many Irish people departed our shores to make new lives for themselves in other lands, most notably these United States. Historians credit Irish Americans with a major contribution to bringing about the Easter Rising of 1916. The Rising’s chief organizer, Tom Clarke, was sent to Ireland by American-based Fenians for the purpose of organizing a rebellion. Irish America’s unstinting support for Irish independence in the years that followed 1916 was also critical to the emergence of an independent Irish State a century ago.
Irish Americans have always had Ireland’s back in good times and troubled ones, and this continues to be the case. Today’s mature relationship between Ireland and the United States, with its strong, two-way, economic links, is anchored in the proud history of Irish America’s contribution to the United States and to Ireland.
As Ireland’s faces into new challenges brought about by our nearest neighbor’s decision to leave the European Union and the risk this poses to the precious peace that has prevailed in Northern Ireland for more than two decades, we again look to our friends in America for support and understanding. And this has been richly forthcoming, including the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee for the Defence of the Good Friday Agreement.
Those in America who held dear the political legacy of Robert Emmet during the generations following his execution played a major part in Ireland’s achievement a century ago in taking its place “among the nations of the earth”. In more recent times, the influence of Irish America was crucial in bringing peace to Northern Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement. We continue to cherish our connections with today’s heirs to that proud Irish American tradition, people who are both deeply American and deeply conscious of their Irish heritage.