Connolly on Emmet’s rebellion
In chapter IX of Labour in Irish History, Connolly deals with Emmet’s movement and their rebellion in 1803. Connolly records they were even more politically radical than the original United Irish movement. This is because all that was left after the crushing of the 1798 rebellion were the rank and file plebeian elements, whereas the UI had been an alliance of the more radical section of the Protestant middle class and the Catholic peasantry. But Emmet’s group was more specifically working class – it was also tiny, as was the working class at the time.
It was less able to be infiltrated by the state as Irish workers were well used to secrecy because of the anti-trade union laws. Workers at the time made good underground activists. The area with the best-organised trades (weavers, tanners, shoemakers) was also the best-organised in Emmet’s rebellion in Dublin. Wicklow rebels brought to Dublin by Dwyer were, Connolly records, sheltered by dock labourers.
In Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary, rebellion was also working class-centred.
Emmet’s rebellion was very much economically-focussed. It brought together a working class social base and the national question. The class and national questions were merged. Emmet’s group also were linked to English radicals democrats, 8 of whom were hung.
Robert Emmet, records James Connolly, was “the Irish apostle of a worldwide movement for liberty, equality and fraternity.”
The manifesto of his rebellion was very much anti-clerical. The very first article decrees taking over and nationalising church property (the established church in Ireland at the time was, of course, the Church of Ireland) and bans the transfer of land, bonds, etc until public will and independent government is established.
Robert Emmet was probably the first major republican figure to so clearly merge the national and socio-economic. He realised that the exploited class – the emerging working class – had no reason to rally to independence unless they were freed from social bondage as well as British rule.
Subsequently, of course, he was hung, drawn and quartered by the British ‘civilisers’ of Ireland. His body was never returned to his family and its whereabout remains unknown.