17 September, 2010

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic: notes from Dublin

The image above shows a full-size facsimile of the original Proclamation (made from a scan of the copy at the Providence Public Library, Rhode Island, USA) propped against the stonework of one of the northern gateways to the yard of Dublin Castle, which was the centre of political administration in Ireland for many hundreds of years. It was made during ‘The Word’, the typographical conference of ATypI, which took place there in September 2010. Here below, as a reminder of things past, is a photograph posted online by the National Archives, Dublin, taken just the other side of the same gate on a cold, damp, misty day early in the 20th century.

My visit to Dublin, where I made a contribution on the Proclamation to ATypI, enabled me to see an example of the original document at Trinity College, which was my very first sight of it, and also at the National Library, together with many different versions of it of varying date and quality. During my visit to the National Library a brief radio interview was made for RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) by Luke Clancy. It can be heard and downloaded as a podcast.

Most of what I know about the Proclamation can be read in my original post, nominally made in January 2010 but which is in fact a text that ever since has been revised, expanded and corrected. Since it is already far too long for comfortable reading in its blog form, I thought it might be useful to make a few additional notes after my visit to Dublin and to post them here.

The sight of the original document added to my respect for the abilities of the men who made it, during Sunday the 23rd of April 1916, under circumstances of great stress. There can have been no real opportunities for proofing the text except by reading it ‘in the metal’, but it is in printer’s language a very clean piece of setting, with no errors save for the inversion of a single letter ‘e’ in the first line of the last paragraph, the omission of a space between ‘worthy’ and ‘of’ in the last line but one, and of course for the use of letters from a different fount, mostly letter ‘e’, in place of the sorts that had run out in the case. As for the machining of a text that almost fills the sheet, in two successive impressions on a worn out machine, using some types that were barely printable, it is also something of a triumph of skill and ingenuity over the materials that were to hand.

My visit did little to resolve the chief mystery relating to images of the Proclamation, namely the origin of what I called in my first blog ‘the Gill Sans version’, in which the battered wood letter of the line ‘IRISH REPUBLIC’ is replaced by one in Gill Sans Extra Bold, a typeface first made by the Monotype Corporation in England in 1931. This is the version that is now widespread on the Web, and it appears on countless artefacts made in all good faith for sale to collectors.

However, it does look as if Edward Malins, having given me a copy of his lecture, Yeats and the Easter Rising, printed in Dublin at the Dolmen Press of Liam Miller in 1965, may have provided me with what is still its earliest known use in print. Thanks are expressed in it to ‘the Department of External Affairs and the National Library of Ireland’ for supplying images, but there is no indication which of them come from which source. It was all too easy to assume from this wording that the photograph of the Proclamation must have been from the National Library in Dublin. But that does not seem to have been the case: no copy of this version can be traced there. However there is one, as I noted in the previous post, at University College, Dublin. It is half the size of the original Proclamation. No date has been recorded for its acquisition, but it looks fresh and new and it appears to be printed by offset lithography. The version of the Proclamation that it reproduces (apart from that line in Gill Sans Extra Bold) is one that is well retouched, with the damage to R in IRISH eliminated, the improvised E in THE redrawn, and the damage at the end of the thick and thin rule below the top line repaired. It is not unlike, though not wholly identical with, the half-scale version that is placed online by the University of Kansas and shown in the previous post.

So who made it, and why and when? It has been suggested to me that it is not impossible that Liam Miller himself, a great admirer of Eric Gill, might have had some involvement in its production. This may seem on the face of it to be one of the wilder guesses – but who knows? Any information, however sketchy, will be gratefully received.

The collection in the National Library offered a possible clue to an answer to another of the current puzzles, namely the origin of the words THE PROCLAMATION OF, set in an extended version of the typeface Cheltenham, which are sometimes placed at the head of the Gill Sans version, and which do not appear in the original Proclamation. At the National Library there is a sheet in landscape orientation in which a reduced image of the Proclamation appears on the left (a neatly retouched version, like the one in Kansas). On the right is a long text set wholly in sanserif capitals, denouncing the partition that arose from the ‘truce’ with England, and urging the initiation of a fight to overturn it. It is ‘signed on behalf of the Republican Government and the Army Council of Oglaigh na h-Eireann (Irish Republican Army)’. There are six signatures, the first of which is that of Stephen Hayes, a member of the Army Council of the IRA in 1939 when it declared war on the British Government, and for a time its chief of staff. A date for the document of about 1940 seems possible, and something about its layout suggests an origin in the USA. Across the top of the sheet, centred over both the parts, are the words THE PROCLAMATION OF THE IRISH REPUBLIC, set in the same style of Cheltenham that appears in the truncated version of the phrase that is added to the ‘Gill Sans’ images. The phrase in Irish that begins the Proclamation, POBLACHT NA H EIREANN (more correctly ‘Poblacht na h-Éireann’) means ‘Irish Republic’, so there is some slight justification for the adding of these three words to images of the Proclamation. This version (below), using the same typeface, is shown, inexplicably, as an image of the heading to the genuine Proclamation in the most recent reprint (1999) of John O’Connor’s little book, The 1916 proclamation. This version of the Proclamation is also shown online by Wikisource.

Here is a note of the chief versions of the image of the Proclamation that are currently in circulation.

First of all are the reproductions of the original, made from one of the 12 copies that are in publicly accessible institutions and identified, so that it is clear which of them has been used. I gave a summary list of these in my earlier posting, and I am working on a more detailed and revised census of copies to which I shall be glad to receive additions. The monograph by Charles Townsend, Easter 1916: the Irish rebellion (London: Allen Lane, 2005) includes a good reproduction, properly acknowledged, of one of the copies in the National Museum of Ireland. A slightly reduced facsimile of the copy at the General Post Office is included in The 1916 proclamation: a brief history and wall poster, with a text by Stephen Ferguson, available from the museum within the Post Office in O’Connell Street. The copy at the National Library can be seen in its post on Flickr. The image above is from the example at Providence Public Library.

It should be added that there are many anonymous reproductions of the original of which the origin is not given, some of which are full-scale (the original is 30 by 20 inches) and some are on a smaller scale, generally 50 per cent linear (15 by 10 inches). These are mostly simple unscreened black and white images which exaggerate the visible faults of impression and inking of the original.

The second, above, is the version that appears to be the origin of the image offered online by Wikipedia. It is the ‘line block’ printed in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, a compilation from the texts of its own printed reports by the Irish Times, and apparently first published in August 1916. This is probably the first image ever to have been printed. It was small, and it was made from a photograph the quality of which was evidently not really adequate for reproduction, and was extensively and roughly retouched. There is a characteristic droop to the top lines, perhaps the result of distortion from the camera lens. This version has been widely used in print, and it is also frequently seen on the Web. As I have noted, it has received some official endorsement by being placed on the web site of the Taoiseach, though its appearance there seems slightly compressed in its proportions.

There are also more carefully retouched examples, of which the 'Kansas' (see the earlier post) is one of the better; but these are open to the same objection: the retouching of selected parts, however skilfully, has produced a false image of the original.

Thirdly, there is the ‘Gill Sans’ version, and its variant with the first line reading ‘THE PROCLAMATION OF’. Although its origin is so mysterious and its degree of authenticity wholly inadequate, this appears to be the version that is currently most widely seen on the Web, and on artefacts produced for sale, from T-shirts to framed facsimiles.

I need hardly say that the first of these options is the only one that seems to me worth adopting. The second image in its most common form is not only inferior in quality, with a poor rendering of the type of the text, but certain details of the heading, like the damaged R in IRISH and the improvised E below it, are crudely redrawn, so that it does not give a faithful picture of the document, and the same basic objection applies to the more carefully retouched examples. Using the third version, with its anachronistic substitution of one line in a type that did not exist in 1916 and the occasional addition of a first line that is not in the original, seems to me simply wrong. It would be helpful if an image of one of the better copies of the original, in a variety of file sizes, were more widely available.

‘Iconic’ is a much abused term, but it applies in a real sense to the ‘image of the Proclamation’, a term that I borrowed inadvertently for my first post from the title of an excellent essay of 2001 by Linda King. As she pointed out, its form can be widely recognized independently of the text that it carries, and it is thus one of the most enduring symbols of the Irish Republic.

I should like to express my thanks to those who helped me in Dublin, especially to Honora Faul of the National Library of Ireland and Charles Benson at Trinity College. And my thanks once again to Providence Public Library for the scan of their copy of the Proclamation.