“The Republic guarantees the religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens,……cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”
The men who put their name to this document paid the ultimate price for their vision and bravery. Whilst the British government may have put them to death, they would not find it so easy to silence their ideas. Pádraig Pearse proclaimed the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, at 12 noon on Easter Monday 1916. Nothing would ever be the same again. “All had changed, changed utterly.”
But what was the background to the publication of the Proclamation
that sealed the fate of Thomas Clarke, Seán MacDiarmada,
Thomas MacDonagh, Pádraig Pearse, Éamonn Ceannt, James
Connolly and Joseph Plunkett?
The great social agitator, thinker and writer James Connolly was also busy at this time. The Irish Citizen Army was founded in 1913, at the time of the Lockout, to defend Dublin workers who had been locked out by the bosses and attacked by the police. Connolly was the driving force behind the organisation of the working class in Dublin and as editor of the 'Workers Republic', was the leading voice of socialist thinking in Ireland at that time.
This was also a period of cultural reawakening in Ireland. With the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League and the Abbey Theatre, the people had become invigorated by a sense of national pride around Gaelic sport, language and culture. Pádraig Pearse founded the Irish language school, Scoil Éanna and was for a time editor of 'An Claidheamh Soluis' the newspaper of the Gaelic League. Thomas MacDonagh was a teacher at Scoil Éanna and wrote a number of plays, one of which was produced at The Abbey. Éamonn Ceannt was also a member of the Gaelic League and an accomplished uileann piper. Joseph Plunkett, a poet and editor of the 'Irish Review' was a director of the Hardwicke Street Theatre.
It was the fusion of republicanism and socialism and the ancient
tradition of Irish nationhood that would shake the British Empire
to its core and shape the vision and ideas contained within the
Proclamation. What ultimately bound all of the seven signatories
was the Irish Republican Brotherhood and their membership of its’
Plans are advanced
In the summer of 1914 war had broken out across Europe. Britain declared war on Germany in August. Roger Casement travelled to Germany on behalf of the Volunteers to assess the level of support the Germans would be willing to offer to Irish republicans. Casement was joined by Joseph Plunkett in 1915. After much negotiation it was finally agreed that the Germans would provide a shipment of arms to the Volunteers. On 20th April a steamer, the Aud, arrived off the Kerry coast loaded with 20,000 rifles, ten machine guns and a million rounds of ammunition. Unfortunately the ship arrived three days earlier than expected. The Volunteers were not there to meet it. The following day the Aud was intercepted by British warships. The captain of the Aud Karl Spindler scuttled the ship. The British captured Roger Casement that afternoon. Tragically three Dublin Volunteers who had been dispatched to meet the shipment, arrived in Kerry at what they believed to be the ship’s landing time of 23rd April, drowned when the car they were travelling in took a wrong turn and plunged off Ballykissane pier into Castlemaine harbour.
The careful planning of the Military Council began to fray when MacNeill became suspicious of their ultimate plans for military action on Easter Sunday. In an attempt to win him over, the Military Council published a document (The Castle Document) claiming that the British were about to move against the Volunteers and commence wholesale arrests, occupation of premises used by various republican organisations (as well as the Archbishop of Dublin’s residence) and a curfew of Dublin citizens. In those circumstances he agreed that the Volunteers would have to defend themselves and the people against such repressive measures. He issued orders to the Volunteers to that effect, on Wednesday of that week.
However when MacNeill became aware that the Castle Document was not authentic; that the arms shipment had failed and Casement was captured, he took the decision late on Easter Saturday to countermand the order for the mobilisation of Volunteers on Easter Sunday. A notice was placed in the following morning’s Sunday Independent, signed by MacNeill, cancelling all Volunteer mobilisations planned for that day.
On Easter Sunday morning the seven members of the Military Council
met in Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General
Workers Union to discuss the countermanding orders issued by Eoin
MacNeill. The meeting agreed that plans for the mobilisation of
the Volunteers and Citizen Army be postponed until the following
day Monday 24th April. The Council also agreed the final text (believed
to have been drafted by Pádraig Pearse) of the Proclamation.
On Good Friday James Connolly tasked three men with direct responsibility for printing copies of the Proclamation. They were Michael Molloy and Liam O Briain, both compositors, and the printer Christopher Brady. All of them had worked on printing the ‘Workers’ Republic’ and realised the importance of this particular task that Connolly had asked them to carry out.
The manual printer that was to be used for printing the Proclamation required that the type (lettering) had first to be put into blocks. Their first task was to source the type for the printer, which was obtained from William West, a printer on Capel Street. West gave the men four cases of type and a handful of assorted type.
The three arrived at Liberty Hall on Easter Sunday morning and were immediately placed under arrest by Captain William Partridge, of the Irish Citizen Army, acting under orders from James Connolly. The reason for their arrest was to protect the men in the event of a raid so as they could plead that they were working against their will. The men set about their work and after some time realised that they did not have sufficient type to complete the print. A solution was found whereby the Proclamation would be printed in two halves.
The upper section of the Proclamation, as far as the words; “it’s exaltation among the nations” on the third paragraph were the first to be set up. Once this section was printed the type was broken up and then set up in cases to print the lower section. As a result of the Proclamation being printed in two separate sections, there is a gap between the third and fourth paragraph, which on original copies is not always the same. (When British troops raided Liberty Hall during Easter Week, they came across the print machine and ran off copies of the lower section of the Proclamation, copies of which are now extremely rare).
Connolly had initially ordered 2,500 copies, however there was not sufficient paper to print that amount and approximately 1,000 were actually printed. Given the poor quality of both the print machine and the paper there was quite an amount of smudging of the lettering. The paper sourced by Connolly in the Saggart Paper Mills was of a poor quality, white in colour with a grey tinge.
Added to these difficulties the men also had difficulty with the lettering. The heading ‘POBLACHT NA H-ÉIREANN’ was printed in block capitals in plain wooden type, with the next lines ‘THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT’ of a more ornamental nature.
There was a particular difficulty with the letter ‘e’. The letter ‘e’ appears 154 times in the Proclamation. In the upper section there are 131 regular and 23 irregular ‘e’s which were noticeably smaller than the rest of the text on the finished Proclamation.
The names of the signatories appear at the bottom of the document
in block lettering. ‘THOMAS CLARKE’ appears at the top
with two columns underneath with the names of the six other signatories.
There are commas after the names of all except ‘JAMES CONNOLLY’
and ‘JOSEPH PLUNKETT’ after which there are full stops.
The Republic Is
The Army of the Irish Republic led by James Connolly and Pádraig
Pearse marched to the GPO, headquarters of the Provisional Government.
There, Pearse, Commander in Chief of the Army of the Irish Republic
and President of the Provisional Government read the 1916 Proclamation
aloud to the citizens of Dublin. As he concluded reading, Connolly
grabbed his arm and cried out “Thanks be to God, Pearse, we
lived to see this day.” The Republic was born.
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