The Proclamation: Promise or Rhetoric?

Over a year and a half ago I wrote a post which posed the question “Was Patrick Pearse bad at maths, or at history, or at both (or at neither)???” You can read the full post here, but in brief it was about the uncertainty over one of the “six times” (meaning six previous rebellions) referred to in the Proclamation.

More recently a plausible answer was suggested to me on twitter which I have so far neglected to pass on. It was suggested that the ‘missing’ date was 1849, a kind of second attempt by those left over from the Young Ireland rising of the previous year, like Fintan Lalor and John O’Leary. In terms of dates it would fit.

Checking up on it, I discovered Wikipedia has a (very comprehensive) list of Irish uprisings, but 1849 is not listed there! The list does include 1882–83, the dates of the the Invincibles’ Assassinations, which I suggested in a supplementary post might be a candidate.

So the matter remains unsettled. There is another possibility, though, which is that Pearse simply thought that “six times during the last three hundred years” sounded better: it would mean on average twice a century, and most likely once a lifetime. In 1916 the Fenian Rising was 49 years in the past, so in that sense the Easter Rising was just about ‘due’.

Patrick Pearse posts the 1916 Proclamation at the GPO.

Patrick Pearse posts the 1916 Proclamation at the GPO.

The Proclamation’s content is sometimes evoked as an unfulfilled promise and set in contrast to actual conditions in Ireland today. (For example, campaigners for women’s rights have often pointed out the gender balance in the text.) However, what if it was not intended as a definite sketching out of a political programme, but rather as an inspiring gesture – much as some have claimed the whole Rising was? On that reading , it would be tactically clever to appeal to both Irishmen and Irishwomen, and if (again, as some have claimed) Pearse really was intent on sacrificing himself, then he would have known he’d never have to put any of those promises into practice.

All of which raises the intriguing possibility that the text of the Proclamation should be looked at as rhetoric rather than as a thought-out political programme. These, at least, are my speculations on this Easter Sunday. They may be completely ill-informed. I’ll have to do some more research.

The Proclamation: Promise or Rhetoric? by