Proclamation of the Irish Republic

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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.

Contents

The taking of the GPO

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.

The text of the Easter Proclamation

Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read by Pádraig Pearse outside the GPO at the start of the Easter Rising, 1916.

Poblacht na h Éireann.[1]

The Provisional Government
of the
Irish Republic
To the people of Ireland.

IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years[2] they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and its exaltation among the nations.

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.

Principles of the proclamation

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:

The printing and distribution of the text

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.[3] 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.[4]

The signatories

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',[5] 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).[6] 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

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. Since 2006, the proclamation is read aloud by a member of the Irish Defence Forces outside the GPO during the Easter Rising commemorations on Easter Sunday of each year.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Irish Republic in the Irish language.
  2. ^ Referring here to the Irish Rebellion of 1641, The War of the Two Kings (1689–91), the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Robert Emmet's 1803 rebellion, the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 and the Fenian Rising of 1867.
  3. ^ 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. pp. 69. http://books.google.com/books?ei=funKTffyA5OBhQecp4TECQ&ct=result&sqi=2&id=0zrtAAAAMAAJ&dq=Brady+Molloy+O%27Brien+proclamation&q=Brady+Molloy+O%27Brien#search_anchor. Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "Permanent Exhibitions". National Print Museum (Ireland). 2011. http://www.nationalprintmuseum.ie/permanent.html. Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "The Provisional Government to the Citizens of Dublin" proclamation. (National Library of Ireland poster collection)
  6. ^ 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