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The Easter Proclamation, officially called but rarely referred to as the Proclamation of the Republic, was a document read by Padraig Pearse at the start of the Easter Rising in Ireland in April 1916, in which a supposed republican "Provisional Government" claimed the right to proclaim Irish independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The reading of the proclamation outside the General Post Office (GPO) in Sackville Street (now called O'Connell Street), Dublin's main thoroughfare and the world's widest georgian street, marked the beginning of the Rising. The proclamation was modelled on a similar independence proclamation issued during the 1803 rebellion by Irish rebel Robert Emmet.
Having read the proclamation to bemusement and derision from shoppers and passers-by, Pearse and some leaders seized the GPO and made it their military and symbolic headquarters, flying the new flag of the 'republic' (a green flag with the words 'Irish Republic' emblazoned across it) from the flag-pole instead of the Union Jack which had flown over the GPO. The flag of the military unit that seized the GPO, E Company, a 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 indentifiable symbols of the Easter Rising, alongside the leaders, such as Pearse, Tom Clarke, James Connolly and others.
Principles of the proclamation
Though the Rising proved a military disaster, 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:
- a claim that the Rising's leaders, though unelected, spoke for Ireland (a standard claim made by Irish insurrectionary movements);
- a claim that the Rising marked another wave of attempts to achieve independence through force of arms;
- a statement that the radical Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army were central to the Rising;
- a declaration of "the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland", a statement seen by some contemporaries as quasi-socialist and which some conservatives found troublesome (similar language in later declarations, notably the Democratic Programme adopted by the First Dáil in 1919 was deleted or toned down);
- a declaration that the form of government of the declared Irish Republic was to be a republic (though subsequently it was revealed that some of the leaders countenanced having a German prince, Prince Joachim, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II as 'King of Ireland');
- a guarantee of "religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens", the first mention of gender equality, given that Ireland like most states had not yet given women the vote;
- a statement that the new republic promised to cherish "all the children of the nation equally" (though often mis-interpreted as referring to Irish children and their rights, it actually didn't mean children at all but people of all ages, who were seen as 'children of the nation').
The text of the Easter Proclamation
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 usurption 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 they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hearby 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 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.
The printing and distribution of the text
The proclamation had been printed secretly prior to the Rising. Because of its secret printing by a small printers, 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. Notably also, the typesetter lacked a sufficient supply of same size and font letters. As a result the latter half of the document used smaller es than the rest of the text, a distinctive feature of the document when noticed (though only noticed when studied up close). 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 misguided Rising participant trying to destroy incriminating evidence) who did not know of its historic importance.
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, Eamon Ceannt would have appeared on top. Clarke's widow suggested 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 '1, 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 in the aftermath of the Rising, they being viewed as having committed military treason in wartime (ie, the First World War).2 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. A copy owned (and later signed as a momento) by Rising participant Sean T. O'Kelly was presented by O'Kelly, by then President of Ireland, to the Irish parliament buildings, Leinster House, where it is on permanent display in the main foyer. Other copies are on display in the National Museum of Ireland and other museums worldwide. Facsimile copies are for sale to tourists in Ireland. Copies of the text are often displayed in Irish schools.
- The signatories:
- Anglo-Irish War
- W.T. Cosgrave
- Dáil Éireann
- Eamon de Valera
- Dublin Castle
- Easter Rising
- Robert Emmet
- First Dáil
- Irish Republic (1919–1922)
- Irish Republican Army
- President of Dáil Éireann
- President of the Irish Republic
- "The Provisional Government to the Citizens of Dublin" proclamation. (National Library of Ireland poster collection)
- Dublin Gazette Proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Ivor Churchill, Baron 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.
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