Proclamation of the Irish Republic

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This article is about the 1916 proclamation. For the 1948 statute, see Republic of Ireland Act 1948.
A printed copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

The Proclamation of the Republic (Irish: Forógra na Poblachta), also known as the 1916 Proclamation or Easter Proclamation, was a document issued by the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising in Ireland, which began on 24 April 1916. In it, the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, styling itself the "Provisional Government of the Irish Republic", proclaimed Ireland's independence from the United Kingdom. The reading of the proclamation by Patrick Pearse outside the General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street (now called O'Connell Street), Dublin's main thoroughfare, marked the beginning of the Rising. The proclamation was modelled on a similar independence proclamation issued during the 1803 rebellion by Robert Emmet.

The taking of the GPO[edit]

Before reading the proclamation, Pearse and other Republican leaders seized the GPO and made it their military headquarters, flying the new flag of the republic (see image below) from the flag-pole instead of the Union Flag. The green, white and orange tricolour was also flown on a lower flag-pole. The GPO, the Easter Proclamation and the tricolour (which later came to be seen as the flag of the republic, replacing the original green flag, which is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland) are the three most identifiable symbols of the Easter Rising, alongside the leaders, Thomas J. Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, P. H. Pearse, Éamonn Ceannt, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett.

Principles of the proclamation[edit]

Though the Rising failed in military terms, the principles of the Proclamation to varying degrees influenced the thinking of later generations of Irish politicians. The document consisted of a number of assertions:

  • that the Rising's leaders spoke for Ireland (a claim historically made by Irish insurrectionary movements);
  • that the Rising marked another wave of attempts to achieve independence through force of arms;
  • "the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland"
  • that the form of government was to be a republic;
  • a guarantee of "religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens", the first mention of gender equality, given that Irish women under British law were not allowed to vote;
  • a commitment to universal suffrage, a phenomenon limited at the time to only a handful of countries, not including Britain;
  • a promise to cherish "all the children of the nation equally"

The printing and distribution of the text[edit]

The proclamation had been printed secretly prior to the Rising on a Summit Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press. Because of its secret printing, problems arose which affected the layout and design. In particular, because of a shortage of lettering, the document was printed in two halves, leading to a proliferation of 'half copies', most of which were destroyed by British soldiers in the aftermath of the Rising. The typesetters were Willie O'Brien, Michael Molloy and Christopher Brady.[1] They lacked a sufficient supply of same size and font letters, and as a result the latter half of the document used smaller es than the rest of the text, a distinctive feature of the document.

The language suggested that the original copy of the proclamation had actually been signed by the Rising's leaders. However no evidence has ever been found, nor do any contemporary records mention, the existence of an actually signed copy, though had such a copy existed, it could easily have been destroyed in the aftermath of the Rising by someone (in the British military, a member of the public or a Rising participant trying to destroy potentially incriminating evidence) who did not appreciate its historic importance.

There are about 30 original copies still remaining, one of which can be viewed in the National Print Museum.[2]

The signatories[edit]

The "Irish Republic" flag. Now on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

One question sometimes raised is why the first name among the 'signatories' was not Pearse but Tom Clarke, a veteran republican. Had the arrangement of names been alphabetical, Éamonn Ceannt would have appeared on top. Clarke's widow maintained that it was because the plan had been for Clarke, as a famed veteran, to become the President of the Provisional Republic. Such an explanation would certainly explain his premier position. However others associated with the Rising dismissed her claims, which she made in her memoirs. Later documents issued by the rebels gave Pearse pride of place, though as 'Commanding in Chief the Forces of the Irish Republic, and President of the Provisional Government',[3] not 'President of the Republic'. Whether the plan had ever been to have Clarke as a symbolic head of state and Pearse as head of government, or was simply that Pearse was always to be central but with statements ambiguously describing his title, remains a mystery about which historians still speculate.

All seven signatories of the proclamation were executed by the British military (James Connolly who had been wounded in the fighting was executed sitting down in a chair) in the aftermath of the Rising, being viewed as having committed treason in wartime (i.e., the First World War).[4] British political leaders regarded the executions initially as unwise, later as a catastrophe, with the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and later prime minister David Lloyd George stating that they regretted allowing the British military to treat the matter as a matter of military law in wartime, rather than insisting that the leaders were treated under civilian criminal law. Though initially deeply unsympathetic to the Rising (the leading Irish nationalist newspaper, the Irish Independent called for their execution), Irish public opinion switched and became more sympathetic due to manner of their treatment and executions. Eventually Asquith's government ordered a halt to the executions and insisted that those not already executed be dealt with through civilian, not military, law. By that stage all the signatories and a number of others had been executed.

The document today[edit]

Full copies of the Easter Proclamation are now treated as a revered Irish nationalist icon, and a copy was sold at auction for over €700,000 in April, 2006. A copy owned (and later signed as a memento) by Rising participant Seán T. O'Kelly was presented by him to the Irish parliament buildings, Leinster House, during his tenure as President of Ireland. It is currently on permanent display in the main foyer. Other copies are on display in the GPO (headquarters of the Rising and the place where the Proclamation was first read), the National Museum of Ireland, the Trinity College Library's Long Room and other museums worldwide. Facsimile copies are for sale to tourists in Ireland. Copies of the text are often displayed in Irish schools and in Irish pubs throughout the world. The proclamation is read aloud by a member of the Officer of the Irish Defence Forces outside the GPO during the Easter Rising commemorations on Easter Sunday of each year.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (1959). Fifty years of Liberty Hall: the golden jubilee of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union 1909–1959. Dublin: Three Candles. p. 69. Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  2. ^ "Permanent Exhibitions". National Print Museum (Ireland). 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  3. ^ "The Provisional Government to the Citizens of Dublin" proclamation. (National Library of Ireland poster collection)
  4. ^ Dublin Gazette, Proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne, on 9 May 1916 had proclaimed Dublin under martial law, with the statement that subsequent actions by the Dublin Castle administration would be taken in accordance with that declaration.

Additional reading and external links[edit]

  • Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins (ISBN 0-09-174106-8)
  • Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera (ISBN 0-09-175030-X)
  • Dorothy McCardle, The Irish Republic
  • Arthur Mitchell and Padraig Ó Snodaigh, Irish Political Documents: 1916–1949
  • John O'Connor, The 1916 Proclamation
  • Conor Kostick & Lorcan Collins, The Easter Rising, A Guide to Dublin in 1916 (ISBN 0-86278-638-X)
  • The 1916 Proclamation on the National Library of Ireland's Flickr photostream