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1 August 2014
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Wars and Conflict - 1916 Rising

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The Proclamation Hear audio clips Audio Clips
Image of the Proclamation

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The seven signatories were among those executed ©

The drafting of the Proclamation was one of the final steps taken by the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council who planned the Rising. Its flowing phrases suggest that it was composed mainly by Patrick Pearse, probably aided by the others, particularly James Connolly. Certainly all seven Council members approved it on 17th April 1916 and later signed it; in doing so, they were virtually guaranteeing that they would face the firing squad should the insurrection fail.

On 23rd April, the Council agreed to proceed with the Rising next day, Easter Monday. It also decided that the Proclamation should be read to the public outside Dublin’s General Post Office (after it had been occupied by the rebels), by the President of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic. At the meeting this post was offered to Thomas Clarke in recognition of his services to the republican cause. He declined but as a tribute to his past sacrifices, his signature was given pride of place at the head of the list of seven names who had signed the document. It was then agreed that Pearse should act as president. He had the presence and the requisite oratorical gifts. As arranged, at 12:45 on Easter Monday, Pearse accompanied by an armed guard stood on the step outside the GPO and read the Proclamation. Though the occasion was momentous, the crowd who gathered there was sparse and uncomprehending. There were a few perfunctory cheers but no enthusiasm.

The Proclamation expressed the hopes and plans of the revolutionaries. Its primary purpose was to declare that an independent Irish Republic had been established and that a provisional government had been appointed - i.e., the seven members of the Council - to administer temporarily its affairs. Ireland’s ‘national right to freedom and sovereignty’ was powerfully asserted. Though a tiny minority, the rebels claimed: ‘Ireland through us summons her children to her flag’ and could thus ‘prove itself worthy of [its] august destiny’. This appeal for support sprang from their conviction that they were acting in the country’s best interests.

The Proclamation stated explicitly who had organised and planned the Rising and also referred to the help provided by ‘gallant allies in Europe’. In fact, German aid failed to reach the rebels. Nonetheless the claim damned their leaders in the eyes of the British government. It had been included in order to increase the likelihood of Ireland being granted independence at a post-war peace conference, when it was assumed a victorious Germany would dictate the terms.

An artist's impression of Pearse reading the proclamation

An artist's impression of Pearse reading the proclamation outside the GPO, Dublin 1916 ©

In part, the text was concerned to justify the Rising; it did so by linking it to previous Irish history. It stated that: ‘the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom … in arms … six times during the past 300 years’. This implied that the present action was not a sudden, opportunist outbreak but part of a long-established nationalist tradition. The historical tradition the rebels identified with was the republican one. The document uses the term ‘republic’ on five occasions. Its signatories would have had difficulty agreeing on a definition of the term, nonetheless it is what the leaders declared in 1916 and what they fought and died for. Their actions and sacrifice helped implant this as a future national aspiration of the Irish people.

The Proclamation suggested that the Rising was not just a political event but also foreshadowed social and economic change. It provided a vision of a free Irish state which would oversee the welfare of all its citizens. The republic would guarantee ‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities’ and would ‘pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation … cherishing all the children of the nation equally’. This section shows the influence of Connolly’s socialist principles. It held the brightest hope for the future but also the seeds of the deepest disappointment. In the years that followed, national energies focussed on the struggle for political independence; questions of social, civil and economic reform received scant and secondary attention.

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Image of Professor Tom Garvin Tom Garvin, Professor of Politics, University College, Dublin
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Image of Dr. Michael Laffan Dr. Michael Laffan, Modern Irish History, University College, Dublin
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Image of Dr. Eamon Phoenix Dr. Eamon Phoenix, Political Historian, Stranmillis University College, Belfast
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Image of Dr. Margaret Ward Dr. Margaret Ward, Historian
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