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New York recalls contributions of United Irishmen

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

They came to America impoverished leaders of a defeated movement but left a political legacy that is still remembered today.

Two hundred years after British forces crushed the United Irishmen’s 1798 rebellion, sending its leaders into exile, Irish-American and Irish leaders paid tribute to the contribution the rebels made to Irish history and to the development of the fledging American democracy.

In a wreath-laying ceremony on Friday at St. Paul’s Church in lower Manhattan, descendants of Thomas Addis Emmet, politicians and Irish American leaders paid tribute to Emmet and another leader of the United Irishmen who found a home in America, Dr. William MacNeven.

Before a small crowd of onlookers, New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, State Senator Martin Connor and Irish Ambassador Sean O hUiginn drew broad contrasts between the ideals for which the United Irishmen had fought and the current political climate in Northern Ireland fostered by the Good Friday peace agreement two centuries later.

It was fitting, Ambassador O hUiginn, said that the ideals of the Emmet and MacNeven were recognized as the Good Friday Agreement had brought the people of the North together. The relevance of their agenda of equality for all Ireland’s traditions had never moved from Irish politics into history, he said.

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They were, the ambassador said, a tragic mirror image of America’s own Founding Fathers.

To the accompaniment of a lone piper, Alexandra Emmet Schlesinger laid a wreath at her descendant’s monument and her son Robert Emmet Kennedy Schlesinger read an extract from the inscription on Emmet’s cenotaph. O hUiginn and Connor laid another wreath at MacNeven’s monument.

Later, at a City Hall reception attended by more than 600 people, Irish author and journalist Sean Cronin joined Pulitzer prize-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger, who is married to Ms. Emmet Schlesinger, to talk about the movement’s impact on American history and the roles those leaders who came to America played in forging the new nation’s early political culture.

More than 2,000 United Irishmen settled in America — among them doctors, journalists and scientists — and brought with them their skills and political talents, Schlesinger said. The Emmet family plan to start an Emmet scholarship for Irish students to study in the United States and foster Irish-American relations much in the same way as the Rhodes program had done for Anglo-American ties.

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