Emmet's speech from the dock


Madam, - Thank you for printing Robert Emmet's speech from the dock in full, with an excellent introduction by Prof Kevin Whelan, in your issue of September 19th.

At a recent symposium on Emmet at Trinity College, a contributor mentioned a theory that Emmet's speech had influenced Winston Churchill's famous speech, rallying the nation, as they feared a German invasion after the retreat from Dunkirk. The mainly academic audience reacted with great laughter. But in fact there are sound reasons for taking the theory seriously.

The story of Robert Emmet became a major part of Irish-American culture. His speech was often memorised for public performance or for practising elocution or oratory. As a young politician Winston Churchill had some difficulty in making speeches. He had a slight stammer so he memorised his speeches in full, and practised at length in front of mirrors.

In 1895, en route to the Spanish-Cuban war, he stopped off for some weeks in New York to stay with an old friend of his mother's, Bourke Cockran. Sligo-born, Cockran was a leading Irish American. He was a Congressman, and famous for his oratory. He tutored Churchill in oratory, a fact that the recipient acknowledged for the rest of his life.

Churchill was enthralled by Cockran's mastery of English. He reported that Cockran advised that "what the people really want to hear is the truth - it is the exciting thing - speak the simple truth".

It is not inconceivable that his host might have given Churchill the most famous speech in Irish-American culture to practise with.

A comparison of the two speeches immediately throws up similarities. Emmet said: "If the French came as a foreign enemy, oh, my countrymen, meet them on the shore, with a torch in one hand, a sword in the other, receive them with the destruction of war. Immolate them in their boats, before our native soil should be pillaged by a foreign foe. If they succeed in landing, fight them on the strand. . ."

Churchill said of a possible German invasion: "We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender". - Yours, etc.,

TONY JORDAN, Gilford Road, Dublin 4.