The 1916 Proclamation is probably the best known piece of writing in Irish history, but recently I was asked a question about it I just can’t answer.
In the text, Patrick Pearse1 refers to previous uprisings and rebellions as precedents for the Easter Rising:
In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades in arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.
(The emphasis is mine.)
The question I was asked was: what were the six times? Taking 1616 (1916 minus 300) as a starting point, I can only think of five:
- 1641-1642: ‘Irish’ rebellion
- 1798: United Irishmen rebellion
- 1803: Robert Emmet’s rebellion
- 1848: ‘Young Ireland’ rebellion
- 1867: Fenian rebellion
The only other candidate that occurs to me is the Williamite War (1689-1691), which fits into the large gap between the first two nicely, but that was hardly an attempt by the Irish to gain independence from British rule. It was more of a British political and dynastic conflict that happened to be carried out in Ireland.
Another suggestion that was made to me was that 1916 itself was the sixth time, but I don’t think that’s right. The next line in the Proclamation says “Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State…” To me that clearly means six times plus this one.
I can hardly believe Pearse made a slip in such a significant document. Is he referring to the land wars of the late nineteenth century? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
- I am going along with the general belief that it was Pearse who (largely or entirely) composed the Proclamation. ↩
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