Fionnuala Perry on her feelings and experience around the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Fionnuala is a member of the Anne Devlin Society Belfast. She is a former Irish republican prisoner, who campaigns on behalf of interned Irish republicans.
What The Proclamation Means To MeI can’t remember a time when the Proclamation was not visible in our home, it usually had pride of place beside the Sacred Heart. Occasionally though the seven signatories would have found themselves placed beside Pope Pious XII or Ireland’s pride across the waves John F. Kennedy, depending on whether church or politics were uppermost in my mother’s mind at that particular time.
When I was very young my father did a lot of work in the local convent. He was a fluent Irish speaker who also spoke quite a bit of Latin, the latter he learned in school and built upon whilst in prison. His work in the convent would mostly consist of helping the nuns to translate certain religious texts from Latin to Gaelic and vice versa.
One Christmas, in recognition of his work, the nuns presented him with a huge, beautiful silk-threaded picture frame. For days the green, white and orange frame remained empty, causing a bit of anticipation as to which of the many religious images that adorned our home would be placed in it. Then, the night before Christmas, the vacant spot was finally filled, not with any of those who my mother claimed ‘had earned their spot at the right hand of God’ but with an image that had hung beside my grandmother’s bed for a forever-time, the Irish Proclamation.
My awareness of the reverence my parents placed on the text inside the hand crafted frame grew around the time that I became aware of the cause of the escalating conflict. The green, white and gold frame containing the Proclamation remained a constant during the house raids and wreckage, the sandbags and the petrol bombs, the arrests and internment and sentencing of friends and family.
The immortal script stood with us as we protested against injustice. It walked with us behind the perpetual stream of coffins. It was there at the moments of hope and glory and it remained like the Sacred Heart light through the darkest hours of sacrifice and loss.
The promise of equality, the revolutionary message of universal suffrage, the entitlement of the Irish people to the ownership of Ireland and the blessing upon our arms was as much on our lips during the conflict, in the prisons and at the gravesides as our silent prayers.
This rebellious claim was no longer just a piece of paper inside a beautiful frame that held pride of place in every home our family lived; the declaration came down from our wall, stepped outside the silk threads and became a tangible and intrinsic part of our lives. Taking shape the message walked with us, it talked with us. It provided us with clarity and justification, it lived and breathed through us and we in turn learned through it.
The words became the living testimony of their authors – the Proclamation was the active verification of its reading on Sackville Street. The statement of revolt thrived outside the stone breakers yard, transcending death and firing squads. The call to arms gave birth to a terrible beauty and the blood spilled onto the rose.
This progressive text would produce an inextricable link; between revolution, patriotism, socialism and the power and the glory. The self sacrifice that fuelled every line not only found its way into our home but every heart with a republican beat and that is what the Proclamation means to me.