The statue of Robert Emmet in Washington, D.C.
By Ray O’Hanlon
The legislation to name a park in Washington, D.C. after Irish patriot Robert Emmet has now been approved by both houses of Congress.
The House of Representatives earlier this week added its approval to an earlier passed Senate bill, S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act, a piece of legislation which deals with land management across huge swathes of the United States – and the few square yards in the nation’s capital that is home to a statue of Emmet.
The House approved the act by 363 votes to 62 and so cleared the way for the formal naming of the park after the leader of a failed uprising against British rule in 1803.
The legislation now awaits President Trump’s signature in order to become law of the land.
The approval of both the Senate and the House is the culmination of a fits and starts process that almost saw approval of the park naming several times in recent years but, ultimately, did not.
This time around it was a different outcome and those who have campaigned for the naming, foremost among them Jack O’Brien of the Washington, D.C. Ancient Order of Hibernians, are celebrating at the outset of a month replete with Irish celebrations.
The Robert Emmet statue 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 in 2016.
The park is a small triangular piece of property that, with the president’s signature, will be known henceforth 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, spoke at the dedication ceremony.
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. President Lyndon Johnson conveyed his admiration for Emmet in a message that was read at the re-dedication event.
But while the statue was formally rededicated, the land around it retained its bland numerical designation. That is about to change.