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Misquoted and misunderstood – It’s time for a fresh interpretation of the 1916 Proclamation

Influence of revolutionary proclamations in France and US on 1916 Rising under the spotlight at Trinity ‘Proclamation Day’ Event

The 1916 Proclamation is regularly misquoted and often misunderstood, according to Professor Patrick Geoghegan who, along with twelve other Trinity scholars, provided a fresh interpretation of one of the most iconic documents in Irish history at a public discussion in Trinity College Dublin yesterday to mark the country’s first ‘Proclamation Day’. The 1916 Proclamation in its National and International Context was organised by the Department of History in association with the Trinity Long Room Hub.

Trinity experts demonstrated how key moments in Irish history shaped the 1916 Rising and analysed the proclamation alongside similar documents in China, France and America in the Edmund Burke Lecture Theatre.  

Despite being a foundation document of the Irish state, the 1916 Proclamation is often misquoted or misunderstood and the ideals set out in the Proclamation do not match up to the Irish state which emerged a few years later, according to Patrick Geoghegan, Professor in History, and organiser of the event. “So many politicians quote the line about cherishing the children of the nation equally, but in the context of the document it is clearly a reference to all the people on the island, Unionists as well as Nationalists, Protestants as well as Catholics, and not to little children. 1916 left behind an ideal and a reality. The ideal was the iconic Proclamation, the reality was the state which emerged out of the war of independence a few years later. The reality has not always matched the ideal, and for many the 1916 Proclamation remains both an inspiration and an indictment, a Declaration of Independence, as well as a vision for a better future.”


The authors of the 1916 Proclamation made reference to six previous rebellions in the past 300 years when the Irish people took up arms to “asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty”.  At yesterday’s symposium, Trinity experts assessed the influence of each of these rebellions – 1641, 1690, 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867 – on the events of 1916.

Jane Ohlmeyer, Professor of Modern History and Trinity Long Room Director who chaired the event said:“This Symposium really showcases the breadth of expertise in Trinity’s Arts and Humanities schools in relation to the events of 1916. In our unique take on the 1916 Proclamation, we will uncover an added layer of depth in re-interpreting the Proclamation from a historical and global perspective.”


The event also discussed the 1916 Proclamation in a global context and how the forces which culminated in rebellion in Dublin in 1916 were shaped by international events including the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789 and a comparison was also made with the Declaration of the Republic of China in 1911.

In the final part, Christopher Morash, the Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity, looked at some of the ways in which the Irish theatre helped shape the events that culminated in Easter Week, 1916 — and asked whether we should understand the Rising itself as a form of theatre. Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History, spoke about interpreting 1916 in 2016.


Listen to yesterday’s podcast on the Proclamation: Scroll through the list below to listen to each individual speaker


Full list of speakers available here

Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer |Trinity Long Room Hub | | 01 896 3895