The Robert Emmet statue in Washington, D.C.
By Ray O’Hanlon
It passed muster in the House of Representatives last year.
It made it to the Senate.
It was hoped that the House and Senate would give their respective approvals in the centenary year of the 1916 Rising.
It seemed like a simple enough task but other matters, more partisan than bipartisan, took precedence in what was a most highly charged election year.
So when Congress rose for the November election the naming of a Washington, D.C. Park in honor of Irish patriot Robert Emmet fell by the wayside.
But not for too long.
The present Congress, the 115th, was asked again early this year to name a plot of land run by the National Park Service after Emmet, he of the immortal “speech from the dock.”
Legislation to this effect was introduced by Congressman Joe Crowley, Chair of the Democratic Caucus.
And it was backed by a repeat group of co-sponsors, Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Peter King (R-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
This combined force was successful and, in recent days, the House of Representatives voted unanimously for the renaming.
Emmet, said a release from Crowley’s office, was an early leader in the cause for Irish independence who drew inspiration from the American Revolution and whose death galvanized generations of Irish-American independence activists. This legislation passed the House of Representatives last Congress after receiving broad bipartisan support.
“Inspired by America’s struggle for freedom, Robert Emmet provided lasting inspiration for the movement for Irish independence,” said Rep. Crowley at the outset of this year’s revamped renaming campaign.
“For many Americans, the admiration for Emmet reflects a deep and abiding pride in Irish-American history, as well as the worldwide influence of our own American history. I’m proud that we are one step closer in recognizing Emmet’s historic role by naming a park in his honor.”
A Robert Emmet sculpture was donated to the Smithsonian Institute by Irish Americans in 1917 to commemorate the Irish struggle for freedom.
In 1966 it was moved to its present location on National Park Service land in Northwest Washington, D.C. near the Irish embassy in a ceremony attended by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and cabinet officials.
The park, officially dubbed “Reservation 42” by the National Parks Service, was refurbished and there was a reopening ceremony last year.
The park is a small triangular piece of property that, once the renaming bill is approved by the Senate on top of the House endorsement, will be officially known as “Robert Emmet Park.”
The Emmet statue was commissioned by the Smithsonian, funded by a group of Irish Americans, completed in 1916 by Irish sculptor Jerome Connor, and installed in the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum.
President Woodrow Wilson, not a great fan of the militant version of the Irish independence struggle, spoke at the dedication ceremony, which was attended by many dignitaries.
On the 50th anniversary of that first dedication, in April 1966, the Smithsonian loaned the Emmet statue to a small National Park Service site near the Embassy of Ireland.
It was duly rededicated.
The then-Speaker of the House of Representatives, John McCormack, presided over the ceremony, and remarks were made by, among others, the Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Ambassador of Ireland.
President Lyndon Johnson conveyed his admiration for Emmet in a message that was read at the event.
The rededication event back in the spring of last year, the second such, saw the now former Irish Ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, and Rep. Crowkey, presiding over a ceremony at the park site, which is at Massachusetts Avenue and 24th Street.
Ambassador Anderson said in part at that gathering: “Patrick Pearse, in particular, venerated Robert Emmet and gave expression to his admiration in stirring speeches he made in New York and Brooklyn during his U.S. visit in 1914.
“The parallels between the two men are striking: both understood heroic failure; both faced execution with stoicism and dignity; in both cases, their voices resonated more powerfully from the grave than they did in life.
“This statue we rededicate today is uniquely important. Although over a hundred years had passed since his death, this was the first statue of Robert Emmet created anywhere.
“And the history of the statue speaks powerfully to the Irish–American connection: commissioned by the Smithsonian, cast by Irish sculptor Jerome Connor, funded by a group of Irish Americans, and unveiled in the U.S. National Museum in the presence of President Woodrow Wilson.”
A separate statement from the Irish Embassy read in part: “The project encompasses re-landscaping the entire site and installing a wayside information marker. The National Park Service is working in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the Irish American Unity Conference and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, all of which have contributed resources to the project.”
Congressman Crowley, who also spoke at the gathering last year, has a strong personal interest in Robert Emmet.
A portrait of Emmet given to him by his father hangs in a prominent place in his office on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Crowley, in a statement following the latest unanimous House vote, said: “For many Americans, the admiration for Emmet reflects a deep and abiding pride in Irish-American history, as well as the lasting worldwide influence of our own American history.
“I’m proud that this famed leader, whose work inspired a movement for Irish independence for generations, is a step closer to being honored with the designation of the Robert Emmet Park.”
The step closer needs to be followed by just one more step in the U.S. Senate which is in recess this week for the July 4th holiday.
It’s an off year in electoral terms so backers of the Emmet bill are more hopeful that the Senate will give it that is for sure a rare thing of late: a bipartisan seal of approval.