The Meaning

What is the Proclamation, Its meaning

When they signed the Proclamation the signatories must have been certain that in consequence they would soon be dead. That in itself entitles the document to some serious consideration. They could not foresee the future of events, the outcome of the Rising, the manner of their executions, the war of independence, the civil war, and finally independence. We have nearly 100 years of hind sight, and it is this hind sight that we must put to one side and try to hear the words in the context of that uncertain period as they were proclaimed outside the GPO on Easter Monday morning 1916.

It is not certain what words were composed by each of the signatories, but the expression of faith, pride in the Irish Nation , the passion for freedom, and social justice for all Irish citizens, independent from foreign interference and conquest and the tradition of blood sacrifice are uppermost. Believed to be composed in the heroic language of Padraic Pearse  but it also shows in parts the trace of change and amendment by Connolly and perhaps MacDonagh in its social influence, asserting the claims of a sovereign people to social justice and the control of the country’s natural resources.


 POBLACHT NA H EIREANN are the only words in Irish in the text except for some of the signatory names. The word POBLACHT itself would have caused a problem to the composers as there is no direct translation of the word Republic into the Irish language and the word Poblacht did not exist in 1916. Riocht na h Eireann the “kingdom of Ireland” was the nearest and oldest translation at the time but was obviously inappropriate. This was a new Proclamation, not a restoration of the Gaelic past of high kings. By replacing Ri, “Kingdom” with Pobal “people” POBLACT NA H EIREANN which could reasonably be translated as democracy or people Government was exactly what was required.  It was a Proclamation to the legitimate heirs of Ireland, the Irish People. This expression in form has been adopted in language today in the expression in the widely used “The Peoples Republic of Cork” or Poblacht Na Corcaigh.


The Ulster Unionist council had set up a Provisional Government in waiting in Nov 1913 in response to the tabling of the Home Rule bill, they did not attempt to seize power but organised, armed, and drilled the UVF and waited. Pearse also revered Emmet and took from the opening lines of Emmet’s Proclamation of 1803 “The Provisional Government to the People of Ireland”. The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic is not the same as The Provisional Government of the Republic of Ireland in scope, the term as stated in the opening implies the Provisional Government is representative of the Irish People’s Republic and not the geographical land mass as inferred to in of the Republic of Ireland. Again the emphasis is that the Irish People are the Irish Republic. To enforce the ownership of the Irish Republic the Proclamation is addressed not to the King of England, the British Army, or the British Government to whom Independence is being proclaimed from, but to the heirs, the rightful owners of a Country that has in the past and continues to exists but without a Government “the People of Ireland”.


The first words of the first paragraph set out the recognition that women are equals and inclusive in the new Republic, this is a strong and progressive statement considering the active sufferage moment in Britain at the time. In the name of God, is appealing to the righteous most high power, the patron of the proclamation which is divinely inspired through history and the dead generation, it is she, “mother Ireland” not the signatories that is calling her children to her flag. This is a call to JIHAD in the name of God and the nations martyrs, and to strike which imples violent action, a declaration of war in the first case and secondly a declaration of freedom and independence. A free act of a sovereign state.

THE SECOND PARAGRAPH Having organised …..

It is implicit that Ireland “the Irish People”did all this not the signatories, it is the personified nation in action, who have put a well trained and organised army onto the field of battle. To emphasise the organisation and planning involved the organisations are named The Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army. These organisations have been patiently perfecting their discipline and here dispel the perception that they were boys playing with toys. The timing to strike was now, England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity, seizing the moment at last taking action, this was the end of, organising, planning, and training. The support and recognition of America was important, America being an extension of the Irish rebellion, they were her children Clan Na Geal exiled through famine driven out by forced migration under British rule, America was now the foster parents of the Irish Republic. The Gallant allies in Europe is obviously Germany although not named as America was, if the German guns were landed and all had gone to plan they would most likely been given providence. It was also hoped that the recognition of an independent Irish Republic would be part of the peace negations after Germany won the war. Nevertheless it was enough to sign the death warrants of the signatories.

Relying first on her own strength it is independent Ireland not America or Germany that strikes in full confidence of victory. There is an element of self delusion along with ingredients of courage and confidence shown in the face of bleak reality necessary to sustain the moral of soldiers and persuade the Irish People to whom it was expressed, a mixture of fantasy and propaganda.

THE THIRD PARAGRAPH We declare the right…..

Here we feel a change of mood with war being justified and declared Pearse sets out the principals on which the Proclamation is founded, the right which has been asserted in arms. It sets out not the rights of individuals but of a collective, the people of Ireland. The third paragraph is a condensation of Pearse’s final pamphlet “The Sovereign People”.

The end of freedom is human happiness.

The end of national freedom is individual freedom: therefore individual happiness

National freedom implies national sovereignty

National sovereignty implies control of all moral and material resources of nation, and the nation consists of all its men and women without exception.

The good of the Nation is ultimately the good of the individual, men and women of the Nation, without any exception the whole people, it is the people who have the right of ownership of Ireland, and we can see Connolly’s Socialist influence “the right” of material distribution the railways, canals, stolen land etc. There is a compromise here in the words of the text between the socialist uprising by the Citizens Army and the Republican volunteers. The second right  “unfettered control of Irish destinies” goes far beyond Home rule and demands extreme separatism, independence from the British Empire at a time when the Empires, emperors,  and monarchs of Europe were at war and ruled the Continent of Europe, Russian, French, German, Austro-Hungarian, Spanish, and Turkish Empires. The IRB, Volunteers, and Citizens Army were fighting only for a sovereign independent Ireland, for the Irish People. The long usurpation … Here Pearse turns to history, heroic myth, and sacred drama, which also embodied some truth in the propaganda war over the next two sentences, the Irish people long rejected in their own country, set against those who ruled over them the English, the usurpation (implied and stated above over 700 years) of rights refers to the English claim to poses Ireland by right of conquest and this is categorically denied “over my dead body” by the Irish people. In every generation… The aborted 1867 Fenian rebellion was 50 years previous, a long time ago, so for the propaganda myth better to say every generation and emphasise six times in  the past three hundred years (just one generation missing in reality) The six times 1641, 1689, 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867 were not all uprisings against England some were dynastic or civil or religious wars and could not all be described as a rebellion of National Freedom from England. Pearse uses this poetic version of history supplemented by Republican ideology that is the essence of the Proclamation. Standing on the fundamental… this is what the previous paragraphs have been building to, the rights and justification in arms have been established and explained, The authors of the Proclamation are announcing in the capacity as the new established Provisional Government, not that the Republic should or was about to be, but that IT IS Proclaimed, as a Sovereign Independent State. The pledge immediately following the formal Proclamation is a mutual pledge of total commitment under God and not just a simple soldiers pledge to be prepared for the struggle ahead for Ireland, it is a pledge to put Ireland among the nations of the earth as Connolly put it (echoing Emmet) and to aim for something higher :- Ireland was not just to take her place but a higher place, to be exalted among the nations.

THE FOURTH PARAGRAPH The Irish Republic is entitled to…

The emphasis changes again here from the Provisional Government addressing the nation, to “We declare” in the third person, not of Ireland but following the logical and intellectual Proclamation of the Irish Republic in the previous paragraph, it is the Irish Republic who is now speaking and claiming the allegiance of every Irish man and every Irish woman. This single sentence sums up what the Proclamation was issued for – to call on the people of Ireland to make up their minds finally to be free. It is the moral conclusion of the previous paragraph, Ireland justly assuming the mantle of the Republic has the authority to command all her children. Although the command is issued to all the children of the nation, particular emphasis and attention is place on Ulster as the paragraph develops. The Republic guanantees… The Republic is responding to the “Ulster Covenant” and although the signatories did not expect Ulster Unionists to sign up they set out the guarantees to which one day they might, religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities to pursue happiness and prosperity of the whole nation, of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation. The Republic would be oblivious of the differences of Republican and Unionist traditions, there were no differences, all were Irish men and women in an all inclusive Republic. It was England who had promoted and fostered these differences in the past to her own aim. The signatories did not expect Unionist to fall in behind them but this was a statement of goodwill and honest intensions that future generations could build on.

THE FIFTH PARAGRAPH Until our arms have brought…..  

Although this statement today echoes that of a military Junta executing a coup, there is no reason to believe that this statement was not truthful and sincere. It is clear that the signatories had envisaged a system of representative Government with universal inclusiveness appeal, including women in Government, and reference is made in particular to the suffrage movement causing great agitation at the time in Britain but which had not yet been granted, here it is declared as part of the policy of the new Irish Republic.

THE SIXTH PARAGRAPH We place the cause of the Irish Republic…..

The invoking of a higher power or God for blessing on arms and war was, and still is a very common practice in the belief of a just cause. The belief being God is on the side of the righteous. Pearse did not see war as an evil act, but the things that make war necessary as evil, Ireland had not known the exhilaration of war for over 100 years but who would say she has known the blessings of peace, when war comes to Ireland she must welcome it as an angel of God.  And we pray that… The army was not made up of conscripts or mercenaries but of unpaid volunteers, this is an appeal to the volunteers not to act as other military armies in pillage and plunder but behave in the act of high moral dignity. It is in the spirit of the time as well as the traditions taught in the schools of its Irish nationalism, civilian soldiers should be worthy of the high cause that they were defending. It is not just the volunteers who are being called to uphold this ideal but all who “serve that cause” and as was expressed earlier “all” had been called into Ireland’s service. In this supreme hour…  With perfect symmetry the proclamation concludes as it began, Ireland summons her children to her flag. The Irish nation has now in the final sentence become or been equated with its people, its children. It is commanded by the provisional Government which in two or three paragraphs has become assured in its authority to sacrifice for the common good, and to prove itself worthy of the “August destiny” freedom and independence.