Probably the most iconic example of Irish printing, ‘The provisional government of the Irish Republic to the people of Ireland’ was read aloud by Patrick Pearse outside Dublin’s General Post Office (GPO) at the beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising. The history of the Proclamation is well documented. Drafted by Pearse with contributions from James Connolly and Thomas MacDonagh, it was printed in Liberty Hall in Dublin on 23 April 1916 by Christopher Brady and his two compositors Michael Molloy and Liam O’Briain. Using a decrepit Wharfdale Double-Crown press, the men attempted to initially set the work up as one complete piece, but on discovering the scarcity of suitable type, the job was divided in two sections – the cut coming after the text ‘among the nations’. The plan to print 2,500 copies and distribute them around the country was ambitious. It is thought that completed copies numbered little over 1,000 – of which fewer than 50 copies are still in existence. The Library of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin is fortunate to hold a copy and one with a very interesting history.
The Welsh 3/1st Montgomeryshire Yeomanry was sent to Dublin to train with the 6th Reserve Cavalry Regiment which was stationed at Marlborough Barracks (renamed McKee Barracks in 1926). When the conflict began on Easter Monday 1916 the regiment was the largest based in Dublin, numbering 886 personnel. After receiving the alert from the Metropolitan Police of the outbreak, the troops were ordered to Dublin Castle – the administrative base of British rule in Ireland.
During the Rising, squadrons of soldiers from the 6th Reserve were sent out to capture rebels and ammunition in the city and county of Dublin and surrounding counties. Major Louis Tamworth (1864-1942) was in command of Montgomeryshire Yeomanry and secured a copy of the Proclamation which was reportedly torn off the walls of the GPO by a member of the Yeomanry. On his return home to Devonshire he had it framed and mounted for many years. The Library purchased the copy from the Tamworth family in 1970.
Working on the document in the late 1970s, the Library’s Preservation and Conservation Department made an exciting discovery. Backing the Proclamation was a series of 11 World War I recruiting posters in various states of repair. Separating the posters involved immersing the singed fused text block into an amylase enzyme bath at a specific pH value and at a constant temperature of 35°C. Fortunately, the high temperatures in the GPO mitigated against any lithographic ink bleeding as the posters were literally fused or cooked together. Further immersion treatments (water and alcohol based) were required to cleanse the collection and to eradicate the enzyme residue before they were air-dried and (individually) encapsulated. Chief Technical Officer Matthew Hatton recalls the incredible excitement amongst the team of conservators as the history preceding the Proclamation rolled back layer by layer in front of their eyes.
Evidently the Library’s copy of the Proclamation was pasted up not only to pronounce a new republic but to also defiantly denounce the recruitment of Irishmen into British Army. The establishment of the Central Council for the Organisation of Recruiting in Ireland (CCORI) in early 1915 saw the introduction of posters aimed directly at the Irish recruit with the use of Irish motifs such as shamrocks, Irish wolfhounds, St. Patrick and the Irish harp. One such poster ‘Up, the Dublins!’ makes reference to the 1st Dublin Fusiliers landing at Cape Helles on 25 April 1915 as part of the Gallipoli campaign. The language and imagery used by CCORI made a strong impact with the number of Irishmen involved in the War estimated at c.200,000.
- A display in the Long Room of the Library of Trinity College Dublin ‘Changed Utterly: recording and reflecting on the Easter Rising, 1916-2016’ will open in early March 2016.
- A Proclamation Day Symposium will take place in Trinity College Dublin on Tuesday, 15 March 2016.
– Shane Mawe
Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections