St Patrick's Day: The Wearing of the Orange
My father always wore an orange bow tie on Saint Patrick's Day. When asked why he said his Irish ancestors were Orangemen. My grandfather's name was Robert Emmett Gant. His namesake, an Irishman named Robert Emmet is described by one writer as rich, handsome and destined for a life of blissful happiness. With apologies to Paul Harvey, ". . . now for the rest of the story."
Robert Emmet was an Orangeman, a Protestant Irish member of a secret society founded in Northern Ireland in 1795 and named for King William of Orange. That King's victory over England's Catholic King James in 1690 ensured the future of the Ulster-Scots Protestants, or Scots-Irish as they're better known who settled in Northern Ireland to escape oppressive British rule in Scotland. Many Scots-Irish migrated in the early 1700s to Virginia where my grandfather and his ancestors lived.
The British parliament passed an Act of Union in 1801 uniting the governments of Great Britain and Ireland under the British Crown, forcing Robert Emmet, an outspoken Republican member of the United Irishmen, to flee to the Continent to avoid arrest. The French led him to believe Napoleon would soon invade England. With high hopes, Emmet returned to Dublin in October 1802 to prepare for another uprising. A series of misfortunes caused a premature launch of "Emmet's Rebellion," ending in a scuffle in the streets of Dublin in July 1803.
Emmet could have escaped but a true gentleman, he dallied to say goodbye to the girl he loved and try to convince her to flee to America with him. He was captured at her home and tried for high treason. Only 25 years old, he was hanged on September 20, 1803 and then beheaded. Before his sentence was pronounced he delivered his most famous speech ending thus:
"I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world . . . . Let no man write my epitaph; for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them and me rest in obscurity and peace; and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times and other men do justice to my character. When my country takes her place among the nations of earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done."
Indeed his tomb is uninscribed as the British authorities never released his body and his burial place is unknown. Robert Emmet inspired subsequent generations of Irish patriots insuring his memory would live on to this day. Ireland's Sinn Féin, the political branch of the Irish Republican Army, holds to Emmet's teaching and purpose—to break the connection with England and establish an independent Irish Republic, with Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter united under the common name of Irishman, all owing allegiance to the Irish nation. Yet the Orange Order lives on and the old wounds still intrude in the peace of Ireland.
Today the Republic of Ireland's flag consists of three equal rectangles of green, orange and white. First used in 1848, the green by the flagpole represents the native people of Ireland (mostly Roman Catholic). The orange represents the British supporters of William of Orange who settled in Northern Ireland in the 17th century (mostly Protestant). The white in the center of the flag represents peace between these two groups of people.
Perhaps someday all of Ireland will be free and united—Robert Emmet's death will not have been in vain and his epitaph will finally be written.
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17 March 2013