06 January, 2010

The image of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 1916

Last edited 10 August 2010

In a lecture that he gave at Sligo in 1962 the Yeats scholar Edward Malins traced the poet’s shifting attitude in 1916 to the events that had taken place in Dublin in April, and his attempts during the months that followed to find words for his thoughts. One haunting and enduring phrase captures the alteration that took place, both in his own mood and more widely too in Ireland:

‘All changed, changed utterly.’

We now know that the ‘Easter Rising’, which began in confusion and and ended in surrender and apparent failure, coming as it did after so many other fruitless historical ‘rebellions’, proved to be the genesis of the present Irish Republic.

The lecture was published in Dublin in 1965 under the title of Yeats and the Easter Rising, the first of a series of Dolmen Press Yeats Centenary Studies. Edward Malins, a friend of a friend, kindly sent me a copy. It included the illustration of the ‘Proclamation of the Irish Republic’ that appears above. When I first saw it, the image immediately struck me as odd, absurd, or even worse. A fake? A forgery? Whatever the answer might be, when I put the question it did not seem to arouse much interest at the time. However it now appears to me that for a number of reasons this may be a good moment for the image of the Proclamation to be examined rather more critically and closely. One of them is the multiplication of different versions on the Internet, the authenticity of some of which appears questionable. And another is that preparations to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, of which the Proclamation is one of the accepted symbols, appear to be already under way. It seems to me that it may be useful to know which image to trust.

The incongruous feature of the illustration in the essay by Malins (as many readers of this blog will already have spotted) is that the line IRISH REPUBLIC is set in a well-known typeface that did not exist in 1916. It is Gill Sans Extra Bold, made in 1931 by the English Monotype Corporation as a variant of its Gill Sans of 1928. This is how the line looks, set in the present-day digital version of the type:

And this is how it had appeared in the original Proclamation.

The photograph of the Proclamation used in the printed lecture in 1965 appears to have been supplied to the Dolmen Press by the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. The error was all the more unfortunate because the library does possess a genuine original that was presented to it by its former employee, Seán O’Kelly, who had helped to distribute the Proclamation in 1916. Later, as President of Ireland, he gave another copy to Leinster House, the home of the Irish parliament, where it is displayed. He is said to have described himself as bill-poster to the republic.

Of course this example illustrates yet again, as in the case of the Trieste Leaf, the value of at least some knowledge of the history of printing types to librarians who may need to assess the authenticity and the date of a piece of anonymous printing; but it also suggests that there was at the time, as there still is today, widespread uncertainty about the exact details of the original Proclamation. The date of the ‘Gill Sans’ version, if we may call it that, clearly cannot be earlier than 1931. In fact it seems likely to be considerably later, but at present there are no clues to the identity of its maker nor to its exact date. Nor is it easy to guess why this line, among the others in the heading, all of which were set in types that were more or less battered and not at all modern, should have been replaced with one in a widely used and familiar style. (There are in fact a few instances of the ‘Gill Sans’ version of the Proclamation, one of which appears below, in which the line appears artificially ‘distressed’ in the manner of fake antique furniture.) A copy of this version that is in the Special Collections at the James Joyce Library of University College, Dublin, measures 38 cm in height, just half the size of the original, with which it is therefore unlikely to be confused. However, as an image of the Proclamation on web pages, where questions of scale are irrelevant, the ‘Gill Sans’ version is currently in increasingly common use. To use the current phrase, it has ‘gone viral’. A detailed account of the Easter Rising by the BBC shows it and, by implication, endorses it as an authentic image. And so, no doubt in equally good faith, do a great many web sites, based on both sides of the Atlantic, that are dedicated to the Irish republican movement. It is an element in posters that commemorate the seven signatories and the Easter Rising; it appears on T-shirts and mugs; and it is available framed, on a reduced scale but described as ‘a faithful copy of the original document’, for hanging at home.

In his recent account of the Easter Rising Charles Townshend called the making of the Proclamation ‘a minor epic of printing’, and so it was. And he adds this passage on the text of the document:

‘Reproduced countless times, and still serving as the title deed of Irish republicanism, the terms of the proclamation were a kind of distillation of national doctrine, a kind of national poem: lucid, terse, and strangely moving, even to unbelievers.’

The original printed text, produced in circumstances of personal danger to all those involved and completed in the face of formidable difficulties, is a rare and fragile document of which the evident technical imperfections make one all the more aware how risky the whole enterprise was. For this reason the original would seem to be the right image to show, and the present exercise is an attempt to find why there are so many cosmetically enhanced imitations in circulation. The example cited above is only one, albeit one of the worst, of several versions of the Proclamation that do not represent the original printed document with any fidelity. In practical terms, a Google image search for ‘Proclamation of the Irish Republic’ produces more inauthentic versions than genuine originals, without offering any way of distinguishing between them. Thus the object of this enquiry is to identify the different versions, to find where they come from, to see how they differ from the original, and to try to clear up some of the present confusion. This is still very much work in progress, but it seems to be worth reporting on. The project could not have got as far as it has without some very generous help from others, notably from curators of the collections where copies are to be found.

The proliferation of so many images of the document on the Web is a development that has largely taken place during the last decade. So, too, is another element in the story, namely the greatly increased prices that copies have brought in the sale room, from £26,000 at Mealy’s in Dublin in December 1998 to €360,000 in April 2008 and €220,000 in April 2009 at joint sales by Adam's and Mealy’s. Eleven copies have been put up for sale since 1998 to my knowledge, and ten have sold. (See the summary at the end of this post.) They confirm the prominent place that the document holds among the relics of the Rising. It should be said that, thanks not least to careful cataloguing by the auctioneers and the fact that their texts and images are published online, there is not the least doubt that every one of the examples that have been sold has been an original copy.

Any attempt to identify the original Proclamation and to distinguish the various images that are derived from it must begin with the records, such as they are, of its making. There have been effectively only two published accounts that attempt to tell the story (I will give full details and some other references at the end), but an unexpectedly vivid first-hand account has recently been made available, that of the compositor Michael Molloy, which fills in some detail that was lacking.

In 1936, twenty years after the events of 1916, Joseph Bouch published the paper on ‘The Republican Proclamation of Easter Monday, 1916’ that he had given to the Irish Bibliographical Society. In 1986, Michael O’Connor published his own narrative, giving much of his information in Bouch’s own words but adding some further details, including a useful list of copies of the original Proclamation and their locations, and his text was issued in a revised and expanded edition in 1999. Bouch had the advantage of having spoken to the original printers, and his text is on the whole a piece of sober and precise bibliographical description. Unfortunately it is all too clear that there were limits to his understanding of the materials and processes used in printing, and this occasionally makes it unwise to rely on his text. O’Connor evidently used other sources too, including some more recent ones, and the additional detail he provides is useful. But one wishes that he could have said what they were and brought some critical judgement to bear on them.

The image of the original Proclamation shown above (click on it to enlarge it), and some other details of it that appear here, are from a copy that is shown by courtesy of the Providence Public Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

The Proclamation was printed during Sunday 23 April 1916, on an old and poorly-maintained Wharfedale machine in the printing office that had been set up by James Connolly in the basement at Liberty Hall in Beresford Place, the headquarters building of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union of which he was General Secretary, in order to print his paper The Workers’ Republic. (‘Wharfedale’ was a generic name for the stop cylinder printing machine, originally made by manufacturers at Otley in Wharfedale, Yorkshire, that was widely used at the time.)

Bouch names Michael Molloy and Liam O’Brien, the compositors and Christopher Brady, in charge of the machine, as the source of some of his information, but has little personal information regarding Molloy. However Molloy himself filled in a great deal of detail in the statement that he made to the Bureau of Military History in 1952, and which was inaccessible until these documents were released in 2003.

The whole statement can now be seen online, but here is a summary and some extracts. Molloy had joined the Irish Volunteers in about 1914, and when James Connolly started his paper in 1915 Molloy was recruited through this connection and asked ‘to go and take charge as compositor in the printing office of Liberty Hall’. This paragraph gives some idea of the status of the printing office:

‘The Countess Markievicz and Helena Molony ran a Baby Clothing Stores on Eden Quay and it was known as “The Co-Operative Stores”. At the back of this shop you could get direct to the room where the printing in Liberty Hall was carried on. Several times the Co-Operative Stores were raided by plain-clothes detectives. While the reason given for raids on these stores was to search for pamphlets and literature regarded as illegal and seditious the main purpose was to try to locate the exact position of Connolly’s printing press. They were not successful in this because the search party never got past the Countess Markievicz who prevented them at the point of the gun from entering Liberty Hall through her premises. Liberty Hall at that time had 99 rooms and men of the Citizen Army were always there on guard.’

It may be worth adding a note here on an episode which is related in The Workers’ Republic for 1 April 1916, and was clearly written by Connolly himself, since it suggests one reason why the Proclamation was printed at Liberty Hall, in a printing office that was less than ideally equipped to produce it. Some weeks earlier the administration had decided to suppress a Nationalist journal, The Gael. On 24 March ‘a body of military and police raided the premises of the printers in Liffey Street [that is, the printing office of Joseph Stanley in Upper Liffey Street, known as the Gaelic Press], seized all the type formes, dismantled the machinery and carried all the vital parts off to Dublin Castle.’ Members of the DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police) came to the shop of the Workers’ Cooperative Society at 31 Eden Quay looking for copies of the journal. Connolly was called, and he asked if they had a search warrant. When they admitted that they had not, Connolly pointed his revolver and said, ‘Then drop those papers or I’ll drop you.’ At this point Countess Markievicz arrived with news of the raid on the printing plant of The Gael, and the Citizen Army was moblilized to protect Liberty Hall. Other sources suggest that a warrant was obtained eventually.

‘On Good Friday’, Molloy continues in his statement of 1952, ‘James Connolly sent for William O’Brien, Chris Brady and myself. He said that he wanted us to turn out a Bill for Easter Sunday that would be in the nature of a Proclamation, but that we would have to get suitable type for it and he would bear the expenses.’ Molloy recalled in his interview with the Evening Herald in 1966 that Connolly had said that it should be similar in appearance to an auctioneer’s notice.

‘He said, “when you have the type ready let me know”. I knew that to meet Connolly’s requirements I would have to get a [Double Great Primer] and it would take two sets of cases, upper and lower, for the purpose. I visited a few places and I was not successful. On going to the third place, which chanced to be West’s of Capel Street, I told him what I wanted. He told me to go upstairs and see Graham, the man in charge of the case room and to tell him what I wanted. I told Graham that Mr. West had sent me up and that I was to get all the [Double Great Primer] that he had, giving Mr. West and Mr. Graham a promise that should anything happen [to] the type the firm would be compensated. Graham at first put many objections in my way and I told him if he did not give it voluntarily it would be taken. Eventually he agreed. He brought it downstairs and put it on the hand-cart which was being pushed by a member of the Citizen Army nick-named “Dazzler”. On returning to Liberty Hall I notified Connolly of my success. He summoned the three of us again to his office and then he told us that he would require us on Sunday morning at 9 o’clock. I told him that I was warned to mobilize with my Company on that morning and he said, “Tell your Captain that you are engaged by me and that I will take responsibility for you”’. In his interview of 1966, Molloy said, ‘Connolly told us that what we would print would be a document that would live in history.’

When the three men arrived on Sunday morning, Connolly told them that the mobilization had been called off – but added ‘We are going ahead with it. If we are able to hold the Capital for 48 hours we would, in fact, be in a position to declare ourselves a Republic.’ He gave them the manuscript of the Proclamation, asked if it was clear, and offered to get some signatures added to it to reassure them.

‘While the Proclamation was being signed we were busy transferring the cases of the type required from the case-room which was in the basement of Liberty Hall to a small room at the back of the Co-Operative Stores on Eden Quay, the idea being that there was an Easter Sunday night commemoration concert in the hall of Liberty Hall. To get from the original case-room to the machine-room we would have to pass through the hall while the concert was on and this would have given rise to suspicion. No one was allowed to contact us in Liberty Hall as we were under a guard of the Citizen Army who were posted on the fanlight over the door entrance to the Co-Operative Stores, also the door leading from the Concert Hall into the Machine Room and also at a rear entrance. At about 11 a.m. we set to work on setting the type and when we had the top portion of it set half way down, even to complete that half we had to treat letters with sealing wax. We could not go any further for the moment. So we sent up a message to Connolly that we would have to print the Proclamation in two halves. And the answer was, “Go ahead”. We then ran off, I think, 1,000 copies with half the Proclamation printed. We then took the form [forme] off the machine and made arrangements for the setting up of the second half which would complete the Proclamation. This was laborious and slow, and the second and final half of the Proclamation was not printed until about midnight on Easter Sunday night.’

The type of the first part of the text was distributed and reused to set the three last paragraphs and the signatures. This section was made up in a forme that was printed at a second impression on the lower part of same sheet, the difficulties of getting good register from the clapped-out machine generally resulting in a gap between the two impressions that varies slightly from copy to copy. ‘It is a wonder how we produced it at all,’ said Molloy in his interview fifty years later. That remark is backed up by the evidence of several witnesses to the Royal Commission on the rebellion that was held during the summer in 1916 and produced its findings very rapidly. (It can be read in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook.) A raid on Liberty Hall, which was believed to house a large stock of gelignite, had been seriously discussed for Sunday evening, just as the printing of the Proclamation was being completed, but the plan was reluctantly abandoned.

Vivid and circumstantial though Molloy’s account is, there are still some details of the printing office at Liberty Hall that need to be clarified. O’Connor wrote simply that it was small, measuring seven feet by nine; but that would have been a space smaller than the printing machine itself. (A Double Crown machine listed for sale by the Edinburgh typefounders Miller & Richard was 9 ft 9 in by 6 ft 5 in overall.) As Molloy indicates, there was a separate ‘case-room’ for the storage of type and a ‘machine-room’ which housed the printing machine. Space would also have been needed for frames at which to set the type, a proofing device and a stone on which to make up the formes. Molloy suggests that on this occasion a small room was found to act as an improvised composing room close to the machine, and this was presumably the area to which O’Connor refers.

As for the materials of the Proclamation, the paper, bought specially for the job and sufficient to print 2,500 copies, was a poor quality Double Crown, a common size for a poster, nominally 30 × 20 inches (about 76 × 51 cm). The larger types are of wood. They are very worn and some are damaged. In original copies, it can be seen that the tail of the letter R of IRISH in the line IRISH REPUBLIC in the heading shows the impact of some square object, and some corners of both R’s are bruised. There is slight damage to the right hand end of the thick and thin rule below the first line of the heading. The E of the word THE in the line TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND is the letter that was contrived by adding a piece of sealing wax to the foot of an F, since there were no more E’s in the fount. (Mind you, sealing wax is, or was, fragile stuff, and it is difficult to imagine it standing up to the stresses of printing a thousand copies or so on a machine. But that is the story, repeatedly told.)

The Two-line Great Primer type (about 36 points) that was used to set the text of the Proclamation can be identified as the Antique No. 8 of the typefounders Miller & Richard of Edinburgh, a type of the latter part of the 19th century that was still in common use for poster work. The text has 4 points of leading: that is, strips of lead to a measurement of 4 points are inserted between the lines. Parts of the leads that have been inked are visible in some copies.

Work came to a halt, as Molloy relates, because there was not enough of it to set even the first three paragraphs of the text. So, as he told Bouch, the letter e from a very different fount, Abbey Text, was used in the last lines of the third paragraph in order to eke out the failing supply of this letter. This was a gothic type of US origin that was cast in Britain by Stephenson, Blake & Co., Sheffield. In fact the types look more like a similar but broader design, Miller & Richard’s Tudor Black. An inverted e appears in first line of the last paragraph of all.

There are a few other wrong-fount characters throughout the text of the Proclamation. (One of them is the t in ‘to’ in the third line of the detail of the setting of the Proclamation shown above.) They appear to be De Vinne, of which an example is shown just above, a common type that was used for display setting in The Workers’ Republic and in other items printed at Liberty Hall. The 24-point size of De Vinne is used for the line ‘Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government,’ in the Proclamation.

Molloy said that it took about three hours to complete a thousand copies of the Proclamation on the ‘old crook machine’, finishing late on Saturday night. ‘Nolan, Connolly’s confidential man’, picked up the copies and took them away. Molloy spent the rest of the week on guard duties at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, one of the strongholds of the rebels in Dublin.

The forme of the ‘half-sheet’ that was set to complete the text remained intact on the machine and, notwithstanding the damage that was done to Liberty Hall during the next few days by artillery fire, according to Bouch, when British soldiers entered on 27 April, they found the machine and printed some copies which they gave or sold to ‘their admirers and other sightseers’. (According to the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, ‘bundles’ of the Proclamation itself were also found.) One of the half-sheets came into the hands of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, who – it appears from an annotated letter in the National Archives, Dublin, addressed to the Chief Commissioner and dated 11 May – had at that date still failed to locate a complete copy of the Proclamation.

There are copies of the half-sheet at the National Museum of Ireland and Kilmainham Jail Museum. One, as noted below, is among the documents in the National Archives of the United Kingdom relating to the Courts Martial that were held in May. Four have come into the sale room during the last decade.

The complete wording of the Proclamation (and of an extract from the Irish War News that is referred to below) was reprinted, set in type, in the issue of the Weekly Irish Times for 13 May. It is in column 4 of page 8, under the heading: ‘Irish Republic declared. The Proclamation of the Rebels. Text of the Document.’ It seems likely that this was the first widely distributed printed text of the Proclamation.

The earliest reproduction of the Proclamation that has so far been identified appears in the so-called Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, a very detailed and relatively objective account in book form of the events of the week of 24 to 29 April, from the taking of the General Post Office to the surrender of the rebels, that appeared in the special issue of the Weekly Irish Times dated 13 May 1916 and in later issues. It reprints many of the documents produced by the authorities and the rebels (including, as noted below, an image of the Proclamation). The rebels, as the wording of their text made clear, were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and of James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army and nothing to do with Sinn Féin, who at first were generally believed to have been responsible for the Rising. The narrative was compiled from material gathered day by day by the reporters of the Irish Times. At the time the journal was frankly hostile to the actions that had resulted in what it called in this promply produced account ‘The darkest week in the history of Dublin — an orgie [sic] of fire and slaughter.’ Several editions of the Handbook were published from 1916 to 1918. A copy in the British Library lacks a title page but bears a printer’s imprint dated ‘August 1916’.

This is the reduced image of the original Proclamation that was published in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, from a scan kindly supplied by the Providence Public Library. It is a photographic ‘line block’ or ‘zinc etching’ 220 × 145 mm in size. Line blocks were relief plates that were made from photographs that reduced an image to black or white, with no intermediate tones. The image was printed onto a zinc plate to act as as a ‘resist,’ and the exposed metal was etched away, thus creating a relief plate that was mounted on a wooden base for printing. It was common practice to ‘spot out’ the inevitable specks of dust and other unwanted marks that appeared on the negative and would have printed. The block maker, with or without encouragement, would often ‘improve’ the image in other ways before the block was made, restoring defective parts, a habit that was all too familiar to publishers of facsimiles of early printing who often found that long s had been helpfully converted to f by completing its apparently damaged crossbar. Something of the kind happened to Bouch, who mentions the damage to the tail of the R in IRISH in the original Proclamation; but his reader may have been puzzled, since in the image that accompanies his text the damage he refers to had been removed by retouching.

In the reproduction shown above, the image of the Proclamation has been very thoroughly improved, especially in the lines of the heading, where there is much redrawing. The damage to the two R’s in line 4 was eliminated. The improvised E in line 5 was completely redrawn to match the others, and the two inconsistent O's in the same line were made more like the others by filling in their decorative indents, though nothing could be done to make their different widths equal. The counter (the enclosed space) in the P of POBLACHT was enlarged horizontally. One last, small-scale piece of retouching in line 5 is worth noticing. The lower left-hand serif of the L in IRELAND failed to print well because the E to its left was higher, perhaps because it was less worn. At all events it prints heavily. The retoucher carefully restored the imperfect serif on L.

To give some idea of the quality of the retouching, here is a detail from the top left hand part of the original Proclamation, showing the conspicuously damaged R of IRISH and the improvised letter E. Below it is the same area from the reproduction in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook. In the original the letters of the first line, IRISH, are about 34 mm high, or one inch and three eighths. The reproduction is of course on a much smaller scale.

This image, unfaithful to the original as it is in many details, is nevertheless of considerable importance in the iconography of the Proclamation. It appears not only to have been the basis of countless reproductions in printed publications ever since, but it is also the source of one of the images that is most frequently found online and downloaded, since it is the version offered by Wikipedia, and it can be seen on the web site of the Taoiseach. Such ‘improving’ of the image would have been found completely normal and even praiseworthy at the date when it was done, but the result is not authentic by modern standards and it does complicate the task of the historian of the original document.

For details of the making of the next version of the Proclamation we have only the account given by Bouch, who has a long section on the ‘re-printing and re-posting of the Irish Republican Proclamation at Easter, 1917’ to mark the anniversary of the Rising. This, he says, was done as part of a plan ‘to resuscitate the spirit of rebellion, and once more fan the flames of patriotism and intense nationalism’. Its promoters were, in his cautious phrase, ‘a small group of women attached to the Irish Citizen Army.’ They were members, as later commentators have added, of Cumann na mBan. ‘Their plan was to print and post up once more the printed Proclamation upon all the public buildings and vantage points in the City of Dublin’.

This is what Bouch wrote:

‘Mr. Walker (senior) and his son Mr. Frank Walker, employees of Mr. Joseph Stanley, a well-known Dublin printer, were the actual printers of this rare publication, and the order was given, by one of these women, for a re-issue which should bear more than a close resemblance to the original. Here again these two men had to work through the whole of Good Friday and part of Saturday, in the workshop at Upper Liffey Street, to fulfil their promise to carry out the order in time to allow of its distribution and posting. Such type as remained in the workshop at the rere [sic] of the “Co-op.” in Liberty Hall was collected, and it is of undoubted interest to relate that the same old fount was here again used for the second occasion. Naturally all the type sent out by West of Capel Street in the first instance could not be collected, but as much as possible was gathered and handed over to the printers. As results turned out they succeeded very well.’

This account looks to me like nonsense. It is highly unlikely that enough of the original type, which could not set the whole text in the first place, was recovered to make a complete resetting. The illustration of the ‘reprint’ that is given by Bouch shows that it reproduced the original setting of the text very exactly, with all its wrong fount characters and variable word-spacing, although the inverted letter ‘e’ near the end is corrected. (Characters in the right-hand margin are lost in the image shown here, made from a tightly bound copy.) But he also says that the type measure (the length of line) in the reprint was 17.75 inches instead of the 18.25 of the original. Reducing the measure, even by only half an inch, would have made an exact resetting with the original type, line for line, a great deal more difficult if not impossible, and even supposing that it had been possible to find enough of the original type in the Capel office, to attempt to recreate the exact mix of the wrong-fount characters and the inconsistent spacing of the original (including the gap between the third and fourth paragraphs) would have been pointlessly laborious.

The inevitable conclusion is that the ‘reprint of 1917’ was not printed from reset type at all but was produced by means of a photographic process, either a line block or (perhaps more likely in this case, given the size of the sheet) photolithography. The ‘improvement’ to this image is similar to that of the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook: a redrawn E is substituted for the adapted F, the damaged R of IRISH is repaired and, as noted above, the inverted e in the sixth paragraph is corrected, making this the only known reproduction of the Proclamation in which this was done. The M in the name of Eamonn Ceannt among the signatures, obscured by dirt in the original printing, is mistakenly retouched as N. All the variable spacing of the original is exactly reproduced, and the wrong-fount letters of the original are all in their places. The questions that are raised concerning Bouch’s own account of this version are hardly worth pursuing at length, since no original copy is known to survive today. Bouch’s account of the recovery of the original types and their reuse was perhaps derived from a story, one that may not have been meant to be taken too literally, that was offered by the printers to the women of Cumann na mBan. However, since the myth of reprinting from the original type has been accepted uncritically by later sources it needs to be questioned here, since it is abundantly clear that photographic processes were used for this and for all subsequent reprints of the original document. (A few of the original types do survive, and can be seen on display in the National Museum in Dublin.) Bouch was well aware of the habit of photographers of retouching images in order ‘to help them get a satisfactory result’, and he warned his readers not to look ‘in all the reduced facsimiles and photos’ for the minute typographical details of the text that he had described. Paradoxically, the warning is valid where the damaged big R of IRISH is concerned and the improvised E, but in fact, because a photographic process was used, the detailed setting of the text with all its peculiar features was inevitably reproduced more or less faithfully in all the ‘reduced facsimiles’.

The only other version of the Proclamation that needs to be looked at here, reproduced above, is also known in only one copy, but the conspicuous damage makes it easy to recognise and a relatively high-resolution image is easy to find on line, coming up early in a Google image search. It is closely related in its details to the ubiquitous ‘Gill Sans’ version. This is the version of the Proclamation in the O’Hegarty Collection of the Spencer Research Library of the University of Kansas, a half-scale reproduction that is 38 cm in height. There is extensive retouching, but it has been done quite independently of the version in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook. The retouching was applied not only to the heading but to some quite minute details throughout the whole text, where imperfections in the original are painstakingly redrawn. The M in the name of Eamonn Ceannt is cleaner and sharper than it was in the original. The damage to the R’s in line 4 of the heading is repaired, and the improvised E in line 5 is of course redrawn, but in a different manner from that of the Irish Times version, and several letters like H, of which the serifs were almost closed up, have had them opened out. Another instance of redrawing that is not found elsewhere is the F of OF in line 5 which has a sharp top right-angled corner which looks very different from the equivalent letter in the original. On the other hand, the serif of the L in the same line is not retouched (nor had it been in the ‘1917’ reprint). The broken end to the rule under the first line is repaired for the first time. It seemed worth taking some trouble to analyse this half-scale version because it corresponds closely – with the exception of the reset line – with the ‘Gill Sans’ proclamation with which we began. However, there is one other detail in the ‘Kansas’ version that does not appear in the ‘Gill Sans’ one. On the right hand side of paragraph 4, the first part of the text that was reset, some spaces between the words have risen in several of the lines and their inked impressions are visible. These rising spaces can be seen in a few copies of the original Proclamation: those at Leinster House and the Ulster Museum, for example. In the ‘Gill Sans’ version they are all eliminated.

In the relatively high-resolution image of the ‘Kansas’ version that has kindly been provided and is shown above by courtesy of the Spencer Research Library, it can be seen that the printing has the even overall ‘colour’ of a photographic reproduction, and is clearly the product either of a line block or photolithography. There appears to be no evidence with which to establish an exact date for this document, and one would need to examine it carefully to be sure of the process used, but it does not show the irregular inking and impression produced by the worn and damaged types of the original Proclamation. If the half-scale ‘Gill Sans’ version was produced in the 1950s or later, as seems at least possible, then printing by offset lithography may have been be the more likely process for its production.

There is a variant of the ‘Gill Sans’ version that has an added and wholly fictitious first line, THE PROCLAMATION OF, which is set in Cheltenham Bold Extended, an ingenious choice since it is a typeface of which the date was more or less contemporary with that of the Proclamation.

Not only does this especially inauthentic version of the ‘Gill Sans’ Proclamation appear in Wikipedia’s related site Wikisource, and on some artefacts, including mugs and T-shirts, but in the second edition of O’Connor’s book we find it reproduced (see above) with the claim that it is an image of the heading to the original Proclamation.

There are several puzzles relating to some of these later versions that are still to be resolved (who made them, and when and where?), but here, for the time being, is a summary of my conclusions.

The original Proclamation measures about 30 × 20 inches in size, and it was printed from visibly worn and damaged type on a poor-quality paper. The damage to the tail of the R in IRISH in the heading is very prominent, and it can generally be spotted in reproductions, even in thumbnail-size images, where it has not been removed by retouching.

There are two basic variations of the image of the Proclamation in common use, and both are retouched:

The earliest appears to be the version made for the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook by August 1916, adopted by Wikipedia among many other current users, and, since it is on the web site of the Taoiseach, might be said to be the version with official approval.

The second is the post-1930 (and possibly post c. 1950) ‘Gill Sans’ version that has recently multiplied in ‘viral’ mode across the Internet. With the exception of the words IRISH REPUBLIC, set in Gill Sans Extra Bold, it appears to be derived partly from the half-scale ‘Kansas’ facsimile, to which no date or maker can at present be assigned.

And finally there is the variant of the ‘Gill Sans’ version with the wholly fictitious first line reading ‘THE PROCLAMATION OF’.

There are at least two largely unretouched reproductions of the original – and who knows how many more there may be? A image of the original Proclamation appears online among illustrations of exhibits in an exhibition that was mounted in 2008 at the University Library, Otago, New Zealand, entitled ‘Éire á Móradh: Singing the Praises of Ireland’. The caption reads: ‘Facsimile, celebrating the 50th Anniversary, 1966. Private Collection.’ It is not known who made this large scale (perhaps full-scale) reproduction, nor from which original copy, nor whether more copies of it were made. The colour of the paper appears curiously reddish, but seen online, in its frame, it looks remarkably convincing.

The Historical Documents Company, Philadelphia, produces a series of ‘antiqued parchment replicas that look and feel old’, mostly of documents relating to the history of the United States. Among them is a reduced reproduction of the original Proclamation on a sheet measuring 16 × 14 inches. The reproduction appears not to be retouched, except for a slight reduction to the damage to the R of IRISH in the heading, but it is of course smaller than the original, and the image is not very sharp. The words ‘Easter Monday April 24, 1916’ are added in an incongruous later sanserif typeface at the lower left hand corner.

Copies of the original Proclamation
A census of copies of the original is in preparation. This is a list of the copies that are known to exist in publicly accessible collections.

There are eight copies in Dublin, at these locations: General Post Office, Kilmainham Jail Museum, National Library of Ireland, National Museum of Ireland (3 copies), National Print Museum, Parliament Buildings (Leinster House), Trinity College Library (2 copies).

Only four copies are known to exist outside Dublin. One is at the Ulster Museum, to which it was presented by a Belfast man who, being in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916, reputedly had a copy thrust into his hands as he passed the GPO and later realised its historical significance. It is on view in the new ‘Plantation to Power-sharing’ history gallery of the museum, which was re-opened after refurbishment in October 2009. Three copies are known in the United States. One is at the Providence Public Library, Providence, Rhode Island (which incidentally houses the typographical library of D. B. Updike), by whose courtesy a scan has been provided from which some of the images in this essay are derived. It was acquired in Dublin in 1949. Another, at the Chapin Library, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, was acquired in 1917. A third copy, of which the provenance is uncertain, belongs to the Irish Historical Society in New York. A report that there is a copy at Harvard turns out to be unfounded. The half-scale reproduction at Lawrence, Kansas, an image of which can be found online, is discussed above.

The presence on the Web of some online images of the original Proclamation that do not appear to tally with any of the copies listed above suggests that there may be some in small museums or other collections in Ireland or elsewhere. These are under investigation, but suggestions for additions to the list will be welcome. There are certainly copies in private hands, including many of those sold recently at auction.

The catalogue entry for the copy sold at Whyte’s, Dublin, 12 June 2005, included this statement: ‘Two [copies] exist in British Government archives and there is one in the Royal Collection in Buckingham Palace.’ The custodians of the Royal Collections say that they are not aware of one. It is not impossible that there may be copies in England: O’Connor writes (but without giving a source) that a letter of 25 April from Wimborne, the Lord Lieutenant, to the Prime Minister, Asquith, enclosed a copy.

Reprints of the text
The manuscript copy for the text of the Proclamation is not known to survive. The chief hand in its composition is often said to be that of P. H. Pearse, but all the signatories took responsibility for it. The text is read aloud on national occasions and it has been cast in bronze. It appeared as a small book, designed by Liam Miller, set in the Hammer Uncial type and printed at the Dolmen Press in 1975. Many versions of the wording are, of course, findable on the Web. Reprints of the text have been made ever since 1916, and the first of these to be at all widely distributed, as noted above, appears to have been in the issue of the Weekly Irish Times dated 13 May 1916. I have collected details of many of these later reprints but, with one important exception which is shown and discussed below, they do not really belong to the present essay. However there are many reprints that have been modelled closely on the original in size, or layout, or the choice of type (and sometimes in all three). They should be given close and wary examination.

The first of the two images above is probably the first reprinting of the text of the Proclamation that was made, and it is worth recording because it is not widely known and also because it is intimately tied to the original version by its date and the personalities who appear to have been responsible for it. A barely legible note in ink on the reverse of this copy appears to include the date 30/4/16. It is a small leaflet on poor quality paper 218 × 142 mm, which is in the British National Archives at Kew, among the personal papers of William Wylie, the young KC who was selected as prosecutor at the Courts Martial of May 1916. There is also a copy at the National Library of Ireland, with the call number POL/1910-20/12 (Size 2) and a manuscript annotation ‘1916’.

The type that is used in this small-format Proclamation for the words IRISH REPUBLIC, a sanserif titling (a distinctive type in its way, but virtually identical versions were made by the two English typefoundries Caslon and Stephenson, Blake), is also used to set CITIZENS OF DUBLIN in the leaflet that is shown below it, which is the same size and is printed on similar paper. It was reproduced in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook and it is known to historians as ‘the Second War Bulletin’. The lines ‘The Provisional Government of the’ in the small-format Proclamation and ‘Sovereign Independent Republic’ in the Second War Bulletin are set in the same size of De Vinne. The first line of the Proclamation and Pearse’s signature in the Second War Bulletin are also set in an identical type, apparently the Long Primer Wide Latin of the London typefoundry Pavyer & Bullen. Where three different and distinctive types can all be identified in use in two very similar documents of about the same date, there is a strong probability that they may be the work of the same printing-office.

The same distinctive sanserif titling type is also used to set the words THE IRISH REPUBLIC in the heading of the first and only issue of Irish War News, dated Tuesday 25 April, which prints a text that is known as ‘the First War Bulletin’. O’Connor tells how, having lost much of his own printing material in the police raid in March 1916, Joseph Stanley commandeered the printing office of O’Keeffe in Halston Street on behalf of Pearse and Connolly in order to print the bulletins that would carry their messages from the Post Office to the outside world, and he put Matthew Walker (from whom he had acquired his own plant) in charge. It thus seems highly probable that this small-format version of the Proclamation, like the bulletins, was printed at the O’Keeffe printing office during the week of the Rising, under Stanley’s supervision and with the authority of Pearse and Connolly.

In the memoir he wrote for his daughter in 1939 (having destroyed all the original notes that he made at the time), William Wylie included this passage relating to the trial of Thomas MacDonagh in May 1916:

‘It was during this trial that General Blackadder [Brigadier-General C. Blackader, the president of the court] asked me wasn’t there a proclamation of a Republic which was signed by McDonagh amongst others and why did I not draw their attention to it. I said that I understood there was such a document (as matter of fact I had a copy in my pocket) but I was not in a position to prove it. The General asked “why not”? I replied that a printed document with printed names at the end of it was not proof against any of the alleged signatories. That my name or the General’s might have been put there by the printer. That unless I could get the original and prove the accused’s signature to it, that it was not evidence against the accused and that I must ask the Court to obliterate all knowledge of it from their minds.’

It seems highly likely that the small format Proclamation that is shown here was the copy that Wylie refers to. No complete copy of the original Proclamation has been found among the records of the courts martial in the National Archives at Kew, though there is a very under-inked copy of the lower half, with all the signatures, in the dossier relating to Sean MacDermott. It does not appear to have been referred to during the trial. However notwithstanding Wylie’s exchange with Blackader, there is no doubt that the Proclamation was a factor in the execution of the signatories. In a note of 11 May addressed to Asquith, General Maxwell, the military commander in Dublin, included among the categories of rebels condemned to death ‘those who signed [the] proclamation on behalf of [the] Provisional Government.’

The Proclamation in the sale room, 1998 to 2009
This is a summary list of recent auctions at which copies of the Proclamation have been put up for sale, with a note of the prices realized. I shall be grateful for additions and corrections.
5 December 1998. Mealy’s, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny. £26,000.
1 January 2001. Whyte’s, Dublin. £52,000.
11 December 2003. Sotheby’s, London (L03409). Lot 5. £69,600.
8 July 2004. Sotheby’s, London (L04407). Lot 9. £123,200.
16 December 2004. Sotheby’s, London (L04413), Lot 35. £168,000.
12 June 2005. Whyte’s, Dublin. €125,000.
12 April 2006. James Adam & Sons, Dublin. Lot 404. €200,000.
17 April 2007. James Adam & Sons, Dublin. Lot 409, €240,000.
15 April 2008. Adam’s and Mealy’s, Dublin. Lot 587. €360,000.
11 December 2008. Sotheby’s, New York (N08501). Lot 179. Estimate $180,000 to $275,000. No sale.
28 April 2009. Adam’s and Mealy’s, Dublin. Lot 630. €220,000.

These are the chief printed sources that relate directly to the printing of the Proclamation:

Joseph J. Bouch, The Republican Proclamation of Easter Monday, 1916 (Dublin, 1936). Bibliographical Society of Ireland. Publications, vol. 5, no. 3. Reprinted 1954.
John O’Connor, The 1916 Proclamation (Dublin: Anvil Books in association with Irish Books and Media, Minneapolis, 1999; revised reprint Anvil Books, 2007). Second revised edition of The Story of the 1916 Proclamation (Dublin: Abbey Press, 1986).
Tom Reilly, Joe Stanley, printer to the Rising (Dingle, Co. Kerry: Brandon Books, Mount Eagle Publications, 2005).
Michael J. Molloy, ‘He helped to print the Proclamation.’ My Easter week, by members of the rank and file. The first in a special daily series of first-hand accounts of events during, or leading up to, the Easter Rising. Evening Herald, Dublin, 4 April 1966, page 6.

Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: the Irish rebellion (London: Allen Lane, 2005), cited above, is the most recent general study, with an up to date bibliography and list of sources.

Among online sources, the Irish Times web site, made in 2006 in association with the Department of Education & Science, gives an excellent overview of the events and has an extensive reading list.

See also The 1916 rising: personalities and perspectives, the online exhibition of the National Library of Ireland. The image above, which gives a useful reminder of the true scale of the original, is from the exhibition and is shown here by courtesy of the National Library. Its caption, with the reference to the original photograph, is: ‘Dr Edward McWeeney reading a copy of the Proclamation on Easter Monday, 24 April. Seeing it posted on the railings of 86 St. Stephen’s Green, McWeeney, a University College Dublin academic, took it to the garden at the back where he had this photograph taken by Fr Sherwin CC. (PC04, Lot 28)’.

The records of the Bureau of Military History, which for many years were inaccessible, were released to historians in 2003. Duplicate copies of the Witness Statements were placed in the National Archives in Dublin, and a small selection from them has been placed online, including that of Michael Molloy (1952) from which some extracts are quoted above.

The Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, cited above, compiled and published by the Weekly Irish Times, is an invaluable narrative of the events. It appears to have been reprinted several times between 1916 and 1918, mostly from existing stereotype plates but with the addition of some new matter. Fortunately – since it was printed on an acidic ‘mechanical wood’ paper that has decayed badly – there is a digital version of the 1917 edition, issued by Archive CD Books Ireland, Dublin.

This text could not have been compiled without the help of members of the staff of many institutions who have responded with great generosity to my queries. I would like to thank most especially individuals at the National Library of Ireland, the National Museum of Ireland, Trinity College and University College, Dublin; the Ulster Museum, Belfast; the National Archives, Kew; the Chapin Library, Williams College, Williamstown, MA; the Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS; and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. My especially heartfelt thanks are due to Richard Ring, curator of special collections at Providence Public Library, Providence, RI, USA, for his help, and to the library for providing and permitting the use of a scan of the copy of the Proclamation in their possession. It is a part of the George W. Potter and Alfred M. Williams Memorial Collection on Irish Culture, and was acquired in Dublin in 1949. The notes that are given above on the types used in the Proclamation, however limited in their scope they may be, were made possible by the use of this image. The library also supplied the image of the reproduction of the Proclamation that appears in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook of 1916.

I should mention the following text as one that came belatedly to my notice, and with the title of which, unintentionally on my part, that of this post shares a word: Linda King, ‘Text as image: the Proclamation of the Irish Republic’, in History, technology, criticism: a collection of essays, pp. 4–7. Published by Circa, issue 98 (Winter 2001), for Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

I shall be grateful to receive notice of things to add and to correct.

Last edited 10 August 2010.