Taken from The Life And Times of Robert Emmet by R.R. Madden (1798-1886)

The plan was comprised under three heads: – Points of Attack – Points of Check – and Lines of Defence.


The points of attack were three – the Pigeon House, the Castle, and the Artillery Barracks at Island Bridge.

The attack was to begin with the Pigeon House – number of men 200 – the place of assembly, the Strand, between Irishtown and Sandymount – the time, low water – the men to divide into two bodies; one to cross by a sandbank, between the Pigeon House and Light House, where they were to mount the wall; the other to cross at Devonshire Wharf, both parties to detach three men with blunderbusses, and three with jointed pikes concealed, who were to seize the sentries and the gates for the rest to rush in. Another plan was formed for high water, by means of pleasure or fishing boats, going out in the morning, one by one, and returning in the evening to the dock at the Pigeon House, where they were to land. A rocket from this was to be signal for other two, viz: –

The Castle, the number of men 200. The place of assembly, Patrick-street Depot. A house in Ship-street was expected, also one near the gate. A hundred men to be armed with jointed pikes and blunderbusses, the rest to support them, and march openly with long pikes. To begin by the entrance of two job coaches, hackney coachmen, two footmen, and six persons inside, to drive in at the upper gate into the yard; come out of the coaches; turn back and seize the guard (or instead of one of the job coaches, a sedan going in at the same time with two footmen, two chairmen and one inside); at the same moment a person was, in case of failure, to rap at Lamprey’s door, seize it and let in others, to come down by a scaling ladder from a window, on the top of the guard-house, while attacks were made at a public-house in Ship-street, which has three windows commanding the guard-house, a gate in Stephen-street, another at the Aungier-street end of Great George’s-street, leading to the Ordnance, another at the new house in George’s-street, leading to the riding yard, and another over a piece of a brick wall near the Palace-street gate. Scaling ladders for all these. Fire halls, if necessary, for the guard-house of the upper gate. The Lord Lieutenant and principal officers of government, together with the bulk of artillery, to be sent off, under an escort, to the commander of Wicklow, in case of being obliged to retreat. I forgot to mention, that the same was to be done with as much of the Pigeon House stores as could be. Another part with some artillery, to come into town, along the quays, and take post at Carlisle Bridge, to act according to circumstances.

Island Bridge, 400 men. Place of assembly, Quarry-hole opposite, and Burying-ground. Eight men with pistols, and one with a blunderbuss to seize the sentry walking outside, seize the gates, some to rush in, seize the cannon opposite the gate; the rest to mount on all sides by scaling ladders; on seizing this, to send two cannon over the bridge facing the barrack-road. Another detachment, to bring cannon down James’s-street, another towards Rathfarnham, as before. To each of the flank points when carried, reinforcements to be sent, with horses, &c., to transport the artillery. Island Bridge only to be maintained (a false attack also thought of, after the others had been made, on the rear of the barracks, and, if necessary, to burn the hay stores in rear.)

Three rockets to be the signal that the attack on any part was made, and afterwards a rocket of stars in case of victory, a silent one of repulse.

Another point of attack not mentioned, Cork-street Barracks; if the officers could surprise it, and set fire to it; if not, to take post in the house, (I think in Earl-street, the street at the end of Cork-street, leading to New-market, looking down the street with musketry, two bodies of pikemen in Earl-street), to the right and left of Cork street, and concealed from troops marching in that street. Another in (I think Marrowbone-lane) to take them in the rear. Place of assembly, fields adjacent or Fenton-fields.


The old Custom-house, 300 men, gate to be seized, and guard disarmed, the gate to be shut or stopped with a load of straw, to be previously in the street. The other small gate to be commanded by musketry, and the bulk of the 300 men to be distributed in Parliament-street, Crane-lane, and those streets falling into Essex-street, in order to attack them if they forced out. The jointed pikes and blunderbusses lying under great coats rendered all these surprises unexpected; fire balls if necessary, and a beam of rockets.

An idea also was, if money had been got, to purchase Rafferty’s cheese shop, opposite to it to make a Depot and assembly; and to mine under and blow up a part of the Custom-house, and attack them in confusion, as also the Castle. The miners would have been got also to mine from a cellar into some of the streets through which the army from the barracks must march. The assembly was at the Coal-quay.

Mary-street barracks, sixty men. A house-painter’s house, and one equally removed on the opposite side (No. 36, I believe), whose fire commands the iron gate of the barracks, without being exposed to the fire from it, to be occupied by twenty-four blunderbusses; the remainder, pikemen, to remain near Cole’s-lane, or to be ready, in case of rushing out, to attack them. Assembly, Cole’s-lane market, or else detached from Custom-house body.

The corner house is Capel-street, (it was Killy Kelley’s), commanding Ormond-quay, and Dixon, the shoemaker’s (or the house beyond it), which open suddenly on the flank of the army, without being exposed to their fire, to be occupied by blunderbusses; – assembly detached from Custom-house body.


Beresford-street has six issues from Church-street, viz., Coleraine-street, King-street, Stirrup-lane, Mary’s-lane, Pill-lane, and the Quay. These to be chained in the first instance, by a body of chainmen; double chains and padlocks were deposited;1 and the sills of the doors marked.

The blockade to be afterwards filled up; that on the Quay, by bringing up the coaches from the stand, and oversetting them, together with the butchers’ blocks from Ormond-market. The houses over the chains to be occupied with hand-grenades, pistols, and stones. Pikemen to parade in Beresford-street, to attack instantly, any person that might penetrate; the number 200. Assembly, Smithfield Depot, where were 800 pikes for reinforcements. The object was, to force the troops to march towards the Castle, by the other side of the water, where the bulk of the preparations and men to receive them were.

Merchant’s-Quay. In case the army, after passing the Old Bridge, marched that way, Wogan’s house, and a Birmingham warehouse next to it, to be occupied with musketry, grenades, and stones; also, the leather crane at the other end of the Quay; a beam to be before the crane, lying across the Quay, to be fired at the approach of the enemy’s column. A body of pikemen, in Winetavern-street, instantly to rush on them in front; another body in Cook-street to do the same, by five lanes opening on their flank, and by Bride-street in their rear. Another beam in Bridge-street, in case of taking that route, and then Cook-street body to rush out instantly in front, and the Quay on the flank.2 A beam in Dirty-lane; main body of pikemen in Thomas-street to rush on them instantly on firing the beam. The body on the Quay to attack in the rear; in case of repulse, Catherine’s Church. Market-house, and two houses adjacent, that command that street, occupied with musketry. Two rocket batteries near the Market-house, a beam before it; body of pikemen in Swift’s-alley and that range, to rush on their flank, after the beam was fired, through Thomas-court, Vicar-street, and three other issues; the corner houses of these issues to be occupied by stones and grenades; the entire of the other side of the street to be occupied with stones, &c., the flank of this side to be protected by a chain at James’s-gate, and Guinness’s drays, &c.; the rear of it to be protected from Cork-street, in case their officer there failed, by chains across Rainsford-street, Crilly’s-yard, Meath-street, Ash-street, and Francis-street. The Quay body to co-operate by the issues before mentioned (at the other side), the chains of which would be opened by us immediately. In case of further repulse, the house at the corner of Cutpurse-row, commanding the lanes at each side of the Market-house, the two houses in High-street, commanding that open, and the corner houses of Castle-street, commanding Skinner-row, (now Christ-Church-place), to be successively occupied. In case of a final retreat, the routes to be three; Cork-street, to Templeogue, New-Street, Rathfarnham, and Camden-street department. The bridges of the Liffey to be covered six feet deep with boards full of long nails bound down by two iron bars, with spikes eighteen inches long, driven through them into the pavement, stop a column of cavalry, or even infantry.

The whole of the plan was given up by me for the want of means, except the Castle and lines of defence; for I expected three hundred Wexford, four hundred Kildare, and two hundred Wicklow men, all of whom had fought before, to begin the surprises at this side of the water, and by the preparations for defence, so as to give time to the town to assemble. The county of Dublin was also to act at the instant it began; the number of Dublin people acquainted with it, I understand, to be three or four thousand. I expected two thousand to assemble at Costigan’s mills – the grand place of assembly. The evening before, the Wicklow men failed through their officer. The Kildare men, who were to act, (particularly with me) came in, and at five o’clock went off again, from the Canal harbour, on a report from two of their officers that Dublin would not act. In Dublin itself, it was given out, by some treacherous or cowardly person, that it was postponed till Wednesday. The time of assembly was from six till nine; and at nine, instead of two thousand, three were eighty men assembled. When we came to the Market-house, they were diminished to eighteen or twenty. The Wexford men did assemble, I believe, to the amount promised, on the Coal-quay; but three hundred men, though they might be sufficient to begin on a sudden, were not so, when government had five hours notice by express from Kildare.

Add to this, the preparations were, from an unfortunate series of disappointments in money, unfinished; scarcely any blunderbusses bought up.

The man who was to turn the fuzes and rammers for the beams forgot them, and went off to Kildare to bring men, and did not return till the very day. The consequence was, that all the beams were not loaded, nor mounted with wheels, nor the train bags, of course, fastened on to explode them.

From the explosion in Patrick-street, I lost the jointed pikes which were deposited there; and the day of action was fixed on before this, and could not be changed.

I had no means for making up for their loss, but by the hollow beams full of pikes, which struck me three or four days before the 23rd. From the delays in getting the materials, they were not able to set about them till the day before; the whole of that day and the next, which ought to have been spent in arrangements, was obliged to be employed in work. Even this, from the confusion occasioned by men crowding into the Depot, from the country, was almost impossible.

The person who had the management of the Depot, mixed, by accident, the slow matches that were prepared with what were not, and all our labour went for nothing.

The fuzes for the grenades, he had also laid by, where he forgot them, and could not find them in the crowd.

The cramp irons could not be got in time from the smiths, to whom we would not communicate the necessity of dispatch; and the scaling ladders were not finished (but one). Money came in at five o’clock; and the trusty men of the Depot, who alone knew the town, were obliged to be sent out to buy up blunderbusses; for the people refused to act without some. To change the day was impossible; for I expected the counties to act, and feared to lose the advantage of surprise. The Kildare men were coming in for three days; and after that, it was impossible to draw back. Had I another week – had I one thousand pounds – had I one thousand men, I would have feared nothing. There was redundancy enough in any one part, to have made up, if complete, for deficiency in the rest; but there was failure in all, – plan, preparation, and men.

I would have given it the respectability of insurrection but I did not wish uselessly to shed blood. I gave no signal for the rest, and they all escaped.

I arrived time enough in the country to prevent that part of it, which had already gone out with one of my men, to dissuade the neighbourhood from proceeding. I found, that by a mistake of the messenger, Wicklow would not rise that night; I sent off to prevent it from doing so the next, as it intended. It offered to rise, even after the defeat, if I wished it; but I refused. Had it risen, Wexford would have done the same. It began to assemble; but its leader kept it back, till he knew the fate of Dublin. In the state Kildare was in, it would have done the same. I was repeatedly solicited, by some of those who were with me, to do so; but I constantly refused. The more remote counties did not rise, for want of money to send them the signal agreed on.

I know how men without candour will pronounce on this failure, without knowing one of the circumstances that occasioned it; they will consider only that they predicted it. Whether its failure was caused by chance, or by any of the grounds on which they made their prediction, they will not care; they will make no distinction between a prediction fulfilled and justified – they will make no compromise of errors – they will not recollect that they predicted also, that no system could be formed – that no secrecy nor confidence could be restored – that no preparations could be made – that no plan could be arranged – that no day could be fixed, without being instantly known at the Castle – that government only waited to let the conspiracy ripen, and crush it at their pleasure – and that on these grounds only did they predict its miscarriage. The very same men, that after success would have flattered, will now calumniate. The very same men that would have made an offering of unlimited sagacity at the shrine of victory, will not now be content to take back that portion that belongs of right to themselves, but would violate the sanctuary of misfortune, and strip her of that covering that candour would have left her.


1 In the original a sketch is given of these double chains.

2 “There was also a chain higher up in Bridge-street, as well as diagonally across John-street, and across New-row, as these three issues that led into the flank of the Thomas-street line of defence, which it was intended only to leave open at the other flank, as it was meant to make them pass completely through the lines of defence. Wherever there were chains, the houses over them were occupied as above, and also such as commanded them in front. For this reason the Birmingham warehouse, looking down Bridge-street, was to be occupied if necessary. There was also to be a rocket battery at the crane, on the Quay, another in Bridge-street. The number of men, 300, assembly, Thomas-street Depot.”