Dalton was born in America in the State of Massachusetts in March 1898 to Irish American Parents and he was raised in Dublin from 1900 where the family lived in Drumcondra and he attended the O’ Connell Schools on the north Circular Road.
When still a teenager he joined the Irish Volunteers and was involved in gun smuggling in 1914 but at the bequest of John Redmond he joined the National Volunteers and went to war for the rights of small nations with countless numbers of others but his decision would prove unpopular with his father. He fought bravely with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was promoted for his bravery at the Somme at the battle of Ginchy where Tom Kettle the poet was killed. He spent the rest of the war as a staff captain and returned to Ireland after he was demobilised in 1919.
The War of Independence had started when he returned and re-joined the Irish Volunteers or the The IRA and he was very close to Michael Collins all through and was a leading member of the Squad and the Dublin Brigade. He was the leader of the party of Volunteers that went into Mountjoy gaol to rescue Sean MacEoin in May 1921.
He took the Free State side in the Civil War due to his allegiance to Collins and was the Major General or commander of the bombardment of the Four Courts in late June 1922 and would later command the sea borne invasion of Cork in early August 1922 when he was the one that suggested such raids as a means of taking the IRA from the rear. Unhappy with the treatment of Republican prisoners he left the Army in late 1922 at the time of his marriage and would be employed as a Senate Clerk until 1925.
He left the army because of the killing of Collins and the doubts that lay over his part in the shooting and also because of the executions of late 1922 which saw among others Erskine Childers executed by Free State firing squads. The most galling experience for him during the Civil War was being beside General Michael Collins when he was shot in August 1922. Collins decided to give the order to stand and fight and it was when firing back at the ambush party that a bullet hit him in the head, Dalton was near at hand to whisper an Act of Contrition into The Big Fellow’s ear as he died. This memory was to live with Dalton for the rest of his life.
Later he would tell Cathal O’ Shannon that he considered the actions of the 1916 men as sheer madness because they rose when they were fighting for the rights of small nations and the prospect of Home rule at the front, by the way he was in Kilworth Camp Cork when he learned of the 1916 Rising and this was the reaction of the Irish soldiers in the camp at that time such was the political climate of 100 years ago, but all this would have changed when Dalton returned from the front in 1919.
Dalton worked at a number of jobs after the left political life and the army. He was a book seller and a private eye and then through his contacts in golf and horse racing he entered the world of film making and after spells spent in England and America in film making he decided with Louis Elman to establish an indigenous film industry to link up with the Abbey theatre and make films with them based on the plays but the American film companies had an interest and in 1958 in Wicklow he founded Ardmore Studios and they produced the historical classic of 1959 Shake Hands with the Devil starring James Cagney and they produced many other fine films including The Spy who Came in From the Cold. Emmett Dalton had a daughter who went into acting Audrey Dalton. Audrey is 81 she was born in Dublin in January 1934.
The Irish Film Industry has grown hugely in recent decades since 1990 in particular and this is due in small part to the work that was done by the founders of the Ardmore Studios in May 1958 Emmett Dalton among them. So much so that Irish films have received much international attention in recent years with Irish films winning about every major international award.
Emmett Dalton died in Dublin on the 4th March 1978 his birthday and he is buried close to his old friend and colleague Michael Collins in Glasnevin Cemetery. His life has been comprehensively documented in the recently published Sean Boyne biography Somme Soldier, Irish General, Film Pioneer in 2014.