Printing the 1916 Proclamation - Transcript

Printer-friendly version

The following is a transcript of "Printing the 1916 Proclamation"  a talk by Dr Mary Clark at Dublin City Hall on Monday, 25 April 2016.


Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode Dublin City Archivist Mary Clark talks about the 1916 Proclamation so kindly donated to Dublin City Council by the family of Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, and tells the story of how the original signatures were chewed to a pulp by Michael Molloy. One of three talks given at a seminar held in Dublin City Hall on 25 April 2016.

Good afternoon. I’d like to open this seminar by welcoming the O’Farrell family to City Hall. We are greatly in their debt as they so generously donated Elizabeth’s 1916 Proclamation to Dublin City Council, which we now have on display in the City Hall Exhibition downstairs.

Of all copies of the Proclamation which survive this is one of the most historic. It was in the GPO with Elizabeth O’Farrell and she herself is one of the most heroic figures in the story of Easter week, as we will hear later on from her grand-nephew Ian Kelly. This seminar is designed to look at the Proclamation in general and at Elizabeth’s Proclamation in particular, through talks on its printing and conservation. We will also look at Elizabeth’s life and career, including her activities after the Rising and we will close with an original poem inspired by Elizabeth’s life and courage.

So I’m up first, my name is Mary Clark and I’m the City Archivist and I am going to talk about printing the 1916 Proclamation. Now there is the 1916 Proclamation and obviously it’s a really historic document, but it’s also a work of art, it’s a simply beautifully object.  You can see that it sits comfortably into its frame with even margins all around, and none of the words at the end of any of the lines has been hyphenated, so it’s been extremely well-designed. This is the achievement of three men, Christopher Brady who was the printer and Michael Molloy and Liam O’Brien, who were the two compositors.  These three men worked for the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, printing up trade union cards and programmes for weekly concerts at Liberty Hall, but also getting out the weekly newspaper The Workers’ Republic.  They were used to working under pressure and meeting tight deadlines, but even so printing the Proclamation was the most important and critical task ever entrusted to them.

Each of these three men gave his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History during the 1950s.  Although each man has his unique perspective, the statements dovetail in essentials. At James Connolly’s request, the three men met at Liberty Hall on Easter Sunday. According to Christy Brady, Connolly introduced them to Thomas MacDonagh, who had the manuscript of the Proclamation in his hand, which is an absolutely riveting historical moment, Thomas MacDonagh standing in front of the three men with the manuscript Proclamation in his hand. So MacDonagh said ‘Well men, the time is about opportune to strike a blow for Ireland’. MacDonagh read the Proclamation to the three men, and when he was finished, he gave it to each man to read. So they were each being empowered to make a personal decision about whether they wanted to print the Proclamation or not.  So he asked them if they would print the document each man agreed to this, reckoning that it was an honour to be asked. Liam O’Brien noted that the ‘manuscript was entirely legible, the script being upright and almost perfect, without any changes or corrections’. He also formed the opinion that the handwriting was that of Padraig Pearse, which he had seen before.

That evening, Easter Sunday evening, work began on typesetting the Proclamation.   The type that was used has been obtained on Good Friday by Michael Molloy, who was asked to find more type by James Connolly, without being told exactly what it was going to be used for. So Michael Molloy went to Stafford Street where there was an Englishman by the name of West, who was a printer, and he asked for type and he then said if you don’t give it to me I’m afraid I’ll have to take it. So with that Mr West handed it over, but he said that he wanted it back, so when you’ve used the type please bring it back to me. But of course, as we know, that never happened. The type was in fact smashed up by the British Army when they raided Liberty Hall during Easter Week.

However, once typesetting began, on the evening of Easter Sunday, it soon became clear that there was a shortage of type, and to remedy this smaller letters, mainly the letter e were used in between the larger ones.  There is a tradition in the family of Councillor Patrick V. Mahon that the smaller letters were obtained from him, as he had a printing works around the corner but I have not found any verification of this – certainly the three men who worked on the document do not mention it.  Christy Brady also made a new letter by converting F to E using sealing wax. The document was ready for printing around 8.30pm and between 12 midnight and 1.00am on Easter Monday, the task was finished with a total of 2,500 copies made. Now that number of copies is what is stated by Christy Brady, and as the printer of the Proclamation he should know. On the Internet you are going to find all kinds of different numbers given, but the total of 2,500 is what is believed to be true.

Because of the shortage of type, the document was printed in two parts, using a Wharfedale cylinder printing press. James Connolly checked the proofs against the original manuscript Proclamation. So on Easter Monday morning, the Proclamation, the manuscript Proclamation was still in Liberty Hall. And apart from the incorrect spelling of Eamon with one N instead of two, he pronounced himself satisfied.  As far as I can make out, this is the last known sighting of the original manuscript Proclamation. Where it is, if it has survived nobody knows. However, the seven signatures were on a separate piece of paper appended to the document and Michael Molloy put them in his pocket for safe keeping.  When he was later imprisoned in Richmond Barracks, he remembered that he had the signatures in his pocket and that this would be dangerous if found.  He began to tear up the paper but a fellow-prisoner advised him to chew the paper up instead and spit it out on the floor for added safety, so Molloy followed his advice. So that was the end of the seven signatures to the 1916 Proclamation.

When the Proclamation was ready, the 2,500 printed copies were brought by Helena Molony to the General Post Office, which was to be the centre of the 1916 Rising.  Sean T O Ceallaigh, who was aide-de-camp to Patrick Pearse, was charged with arranging for the Proclamation to be pasted up around the city on walls and boards – wherever possible.  There are around thirty extant Proclamations left out of 2,500 and people wonder why so few have survived.  The historian Lorcan Collins tells a very good story about the nurses in the GPO making a bed out of comfy Proclamations to prevent their patients from lying on the bare floor. There were just so many Proclamations that it was felt that these few wouldn’t be missed. And certainly the Proclamations pasted up around the city centre would have been torn down by the British Army or else in time worn away by the weather. Even as early as 1917, the first anniversary of the Rising, Helena Molony was concerned that the Proclamation was in danger of being forgotten, because there were so few copies of it.  It’s interesting that she decided to have facsimiles made for distribution around Dublin. She just didn’t have any, or very few from 1916 - so she just needed more. She asked Tower Press to prepare these facsimiles and when they reported having a shortage of type, same problem a year on. Helena found some type still intact from the 1916 printing in Liberty Hall and she gave it for inclusion in what is knows as ‘The 1917 Proclamation’.

As for the three men involved in printing the 1916 Proclamation.  Christy Brady went home but after three sleepless days he headed out to Howth, where he had a tent, the tent seems to have been there in permanence and he tried in vain to relax in his tent.  He then walked home to Little Mary Street as no trains or trams were running.  There he noticed some ‘shawlies’ pointing out his house to the British military and he decided to go on the run and he was on the run for six months.  He escaped capture, but his father, who was also a printer, was arrested on suspicion of having been involved in printing the Proclamation. So he was mistaken for his son and arrested. After working for various printers, Christy Brady got a job with the Bank of Ireland in 1922.  He lived firstly in Cabra and later in Dundrum, dying in December 1974 at the home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Michael Molloy served during the 1916 Rising with the Irish Volunteers under Thomas MacDonagh in Jacob’s Factory. So once they had finished printing the Proclamation they started to get involved in the 1916 Rising. Liam O’Brien served in St Stephen’s Green.  Both men were interned at Knutsford and afterwards at Frongoch, and were released some months later.

So that’s the amazing story of how this beautiful object was created. So I’m just going to show you one or two things that I think are interesting about it. This is the first line of the Proclamation Poblacht na hÉireann. This word Poblacht is very important. It means of course Republic. But it was the name chosen by the signatories for the 1916 Rising to express what they meant by Republic. Poblacht is a portmanteau word and it is pobal acht, so it’s the 'actions of the people'.  And it is much more meaningful than the word Republic, which is from res publica, in latin 'public things'. So there is a great deal more impact in the Irish, it means 'people acting together' and that’s what a republic really is all about. So I just think their choice of word is very important there.

Now you will see a couple of capital letters there. If you look at ‘Irish Republic’ you will see that the ‘r’ is slightly banjaxed, if you can see that there. That is a proof that this is an original Proclamation, because the type was indeed banjaxed and this flaw runs right through all of them. And if you look at the other end of it, the ‘c’, that is an ‘o’ which has been cut, not particularly well I must admit, to create a ‘c’ out of it, so you can work that one out. This is the first incidence of the small letter e that I was able to find in the Proclamation and it’s in the third paragraph. You can see quite a difference between the e and the rest of it and it’s quite likely that this was a letter e that was actually fashioned by the type setters in order to continue on the story.

‘Extinguished’ has a small letter ‘t’ - there you see that, and also at the very end of the word [extinguish]‘hed’ it’s actually a letter ‘a’ with the tick deleted. You will see a number of ‘e’s together there. A correct ‘e’ in ‘the’ but then ‘three’ has two small ‘e’s and ‘hundred’ and ‘years’ have small ‘e’s as well. And you can also see in the ‘r’ of ‘years’ that it was originally a ‘p’ and a little bit has been cut off to try and make it look like a ‘r’, the same with ‘three’ there.

I just thought this was too good to miss for my final comment, ‘sovereign independence date’ and this, of course, is what the men and women of 1916 fought and died for, and it something that we need to maintain for present and future generations. Thank-you very much.

Thank-you for listening to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. To hear more, please subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud. You can also visit our website - and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Add new comment