Washington, DC

This statue stand in a small triangular park on Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC.

Another Irish Hero

For years, members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a fraternal Irish-Catholic organization, would lead a St. Patrick’s Day procession to a small triangular park on Massachusetts Avenue NW, where they would lay a wreath and shamrock at the base of the statue of Irish patriot Robert Emmet, who lived from 1778 to 1803. Now, however, folks are busy doing other things on March 17.

You probably pass by Emmet all the time and never realize it. Near the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and S Street, hidden beneath the long branches of a Yoshino cherry tree, Emmet stands on a granite pedestal and faces the Irish Embassy two blocks away. A member of the United Irishmen’s Party that led uprisings against British occupation of the Emerald Isle, he still appears ready for battle, with one foot forward, a bold jaw and large, muscular hands.

Long before the conflict in Northern Ireland took on overwhelmingly religious tones, Catholic and Protestant Irish men and women fought for independence from Britain. According to James Goode’s book, “The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C.,” the Protestant Emmet’s “last act was to lead an abortive Irish uprising on July 23, 1803, in Dublin, which was quickly crushed by British troops.” Emmet was executed that same year and accounts differ as to whether he was hung or beheaded.

Aside from his valiance in battle, Emmet is best remembered for his famous “speech from the dock” at his trial. “I wished to procure from my country the guarantee which Washington procured for America,” history has quoted him as saying …

When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then let my epitaph be written.”

The bronze sculpture has oxidized over the years to a fitting green. It was designed by American sculptor Jerome Connor, an Irish immigrant, who is said to have employed Irish actor Brandon Tynan as a model for Emmet’s pose while modeling the head from Emmet’s death mask. Other sources say he studied drawings of Emmet made at his 1803 trial. A gift to the Smithsonian in 1917, the statue later was transferred to the National Park Service, which maintains the tiny park where it has resided since 1966.

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