Bastille Day celebrated in Dublin

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 3 (Autumn 2003), News, Volume 11

On Sunday 13 July 2003 the people of Dublin were treated to an impressive parade of hundreds of marching pikemen and women who were commemorating both Bastille Day (albeit a day early) and the 1803 Robert Emmet Rising. The last Bastille Day celebration in Dublin was in 1803, when the United Irishmen gathered in Smock Alley and Coal Quay (now Wood Quay). A major riot followed, alerting the authorities to the possibility of further unrest. At the time, Emmet was finalising plans for his abortive rising, launched on 23 July 1803.
Because the United Irishmen were inspired by the French Revolution’s ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, and because of French support in the 1798–1803 period, the Robert Emmet Association decided to focus on Bastille Day as a key event. The Association convened the first Bastille Day committee meeting in October 2002 and drew in representatives from the French Embassy, Dublin City Council and the South Inner City Community Development Association (SICCDA), who organise the annual Liberties Festival. Lord Mayor Dermot Lacey agreed to be chairperson, a role that has since been taken over by his successor as lord mayor, Royston Brady.
In order to create a French ‘flavour’, Dublin City Council organised a French market in Smithfield from Thursday 11 July until Sunday 13 July. There was a carnival atmosphere in Smithfield as the ‘pikers’ assembled from lunchtime onwards. (Smithfield had been the gathering point for Dublin’s United Irishmen in 1798 but because most of their leaders had been arrested and because the authorities had anticipated their plans by calling out the Yeomanry, the rebels failed to mobilise and the Rebellion didn’t happen in Dublin.)
The parade was led by the lord mayor and followed by the Fire Brigade Band and a delegation of French naval officers. Then came the ranks of the foot soldiers, with their fearsome eight-foot-long pikes, marching behind their respective parish banners. There were groups from Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow, Kilkenny and predominantly Wexford. They were greeted warmly by the people of Dublin as they progressed through the streets. The parade made its way to O’Connell Street, College Green, and Christ Church before stopping at St Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street (site of Emmet’s execution), where they were joined by a large pageant of children from the Liberties in period costume. The French ambassador, Gabriel de Bellescize, laid a wreath, as did Richard Roche, former chairperson of the Robert Emmet Association and member of the Robert Emmet Society when it was reformed in the 1960s.
From there the parade moved through Pimlico and the Coombe before arriving at St Patrick’s Cathedral for an ecumenical service. Readings were given in French by Ambassador de Bellescize, in Irish by Emmet Association chairperson Brian Cleary, and in English by Dean Robert McCarthy. Historian Patrick Geoghegan gave a moving talk on Robert Emmet. The gathering then proceeded into St Patrick’s Park, where the Garda Band played the Marseillaise and Amhrán na bhFiann. Philip Emmet, a lineal descendant of Thomas Addis Emmet (Robert’s brother), addressed the crowd on behalf of the Emmet family. Ambassador de Bellescize then thanked those concerned for celebrating Bastille Day in such numbers and referred to the important historic links between France and Ireland. He then declared the Emmet 200 Liberties Festival open.

Robert Emmet Association,
27 Pearse Street, Dublin 2,
(01) 6776593,,


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