IRELAND. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE IRISH REPUBLIC, 1916
- Poblacht Na H Eireann. The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland. [Dublin: Christopher Brady, Michael Molloy and Liam O'Brien, 23 April, 1916]
When purchased in 1996 the Proclamation was mounted on early stiff card. This was subsequently removed and the Proclamation carefully washed and repaired by the respected Williamstown Art Conservation Centre in Massachusetts in February 1999 (conservation report available upon request).
Brennan-Whitmore, Dublin Burning (Dublin, 1996)
M. Caulfield, The Easter Rebellion (Dublin, 1963; reissued, 1995)
Thomas M.Coffey, Agony at Easter (London, 1970); N.Grant, The Easter Rising (London, 1972).
John O'Connor, The Irish Proclamation, Anvil Books, (Dublin, 1986; revised 1999)
Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Seven: The Lives and Legacies of the Founding Fathers of the Irish Republic, 1916
Of the utmost rarity, the proclamation is undoubtedly the most important document in the history of the Irish Nation, containing the first aspirations of the Republic as well as being a Proclamation of Independence.
The tragic events of Easter 1916 in effect initiated modern Irish history and led eventually to the foundation of the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland. The text of this document was read from the steps of the General Post Office, Sackville (now O'Connell) Street, Dublin, on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, by Pádraig Pearse, who, with Thomas J. Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett, the instigators of the Rising, were the signers of the Proclamation. Pearse is credited with the authorship of the document, with amendments made by Connolly and also probably by MacDonagh. The original manuscript, which did not survive the Rising, was handed to Connolly by MacDonagh at the meeting of the Military Council at Liberty Hall, Dublin on Easter Sunday morning. Three men, Christopher Brady, the printer, and two compositors, Michael Molloy and Liam O'Brien, handled the printing. According to Bouch, these men were kept under virtual arrest by Connolly, in case the Hall were stormed by the British, in order it might be seen that the three men were working under duress.
In such straitened times, the quality of the printing and paper was not paramount, and the three workers had to improvise to print off the required 2,500 copies. In fact, because of shortage of paper, it would seem that only 1000 were printed on the somewhat dilapidated "Wharfdale Double-Crown'' press operated by Brady. The surviving copies show that Brady had difficulties in ensuring an even coverage of the ink and this resulted in a good deal of smudging and in some examples faint printing.
The printing press was not the only problem. There was insufficient type for the whole document and a number of different (and in some cases inappropriate) fonts had to be used. It was run through the presses twice: the text from "Poblacht'' to "among the nations'' (end of the third paragraph) was printed first. The type was then broken up and reset for the second half of the document ("The Irish Republic'' to "...Joseph Plunkett.''). As a result the spacing between the upper and lower sections varies between 8mm and 16mm. In the present copy it is 14mm. The second section was in the press when it was found by the British soldiers on 27 April 1916. Some examples were printed by the British and used as evidence against the conspirators. The finished documents were strung up around the centre of Dublin on Easter Monday. One was held in place by stones at the foot of Nelson's Column where it might be read by the passing populace.
The document soon passed into history as a moving symbol of the violent events of Easter week 1916 and those terrible days. It was reprinted soon after and efforts were made to produce a replica incorporating the typographical idiosyncrasies of the original. In 1935 Joseph Bouch attempted to collate the bibliographical evidence to ascertain the original printing. He established six main points which characterise the first issue: size and quality of paper; the styles of typography; measurement of the length of line; differences in spelling and typographical inexactitudes (or idiosyncracies). The present exemplar corresponds to Bouch's criteria, and has the typographical peculiarities identified by others later, such as John O'Connor in his 1986 study. These include the converted "O" to make a "C" for "REPUBLIC" in the fifth line, the "E" in "THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND" in the sixth line being formed from a converted "F" with the use of sealing wax, and the inverted "e" in the first line of the last paragraph (corrected in all subsequent reprints).
As with the American Declaration of Independence, the Irish Proclamation is of literary worth as well as historical interest. Pearse himself was a poet and writer and the text mingles lofty, deftly expressed idealism with Christian Socialist principles. In its emphasis on freedom of the individual, and equal rights and opportunities for all, the document is a twentieth-century expression of its American predecessor. Indeed, a transatlantic debt is acknowledged with a phrase which echoes the "banished children of Eve" of the popular Catholic hymn Salve regina ("...she now seizes that moment...supported by her exiled children in America...''). Unfortunately, the next line, in which the assistance of the "gallant allies in Europe'' is recorded, meant that the British, at war with Germany, would have to stamp out the rebellion at their back-door. They did, and with considerable brutality. In less than one week the rebellion was at an end and by the following week, Pearse and his fellow signers had all been executed. Connolly was shot seated, being unable to stand because of his wounds.
The 2016 centenary of the Easter Rising has led to a renewed debate about this hotly contested event in Irish history. What were the seven conspirators really like and what did they want to achieve? Were their goals aligned or would a different kind of civil war have erupted had they not been summarily executed by the British? Did the 1400 or so people who became involved in the rising miscalculate the likely reaction of the British Government at a time of existential threat and war with Germany -- and had they been lured into a false sense of security by the recent promises of Home Rule? Whatever the answers to these and other questions there is no doubt that the martyrdom of the conspirators fed into profound religious and national narratives, with the memory of the events sustained by ongoing rituals of bereavement. Two months later thousands of Irishmen died at the Battle of the Somme fighting for Britain, but it was not until 2006 that the first ceremony of remembrance was held in Ireland to mark their passing. The events of the Easter Rising very understandably took precedence in the later collective consciousness of the new Irish nation. The conspirators perhaps knew that they would not achieve their immediate military aims but that their project would succeed via their ritual, almost Christ-like sacrifice. But the Rising and its aftermath also tragically created seemingly irrevocable sectarian and religious divisions which have persisted ever since, with the conspirators' ultimate aims -- centred around a completely united Ireland -- remaining unfulfilled to this day.