The 1916 Proclamation copy supposedly owned by Dr James Ryan

Mealy Auctioneers yesterday sold a copy of the 1916 Proclamation which they claim was in the possession of my grandfather Dr. James Ryan, a member of the GPO garrison. This provenance is based on a letter from a nephew of Dr Ryan who originally sold the document through Mealy’s approximately 20 years ago. Dr. Ryan’s family, including his son Seamus O’Riain and daughter Nuala Colgan, strongly refute this claim for a wide range of reasons. Below is a synopsis of our knowledge and beliefs in this matter:

1. The 1916 proclamation is a hugely historic document, yet nobody in Dr. Jim Ryan’s family has ever heard of a copy being in his possession, or indeed of its possession by any member of the wider family in Dublin or Wexford.

2. Despite the fact that Jim Ryan left detailed accounts of his experiences as medical officer in the GPO, and of the evacuation, there is no mention whatever of his supposed removal of this document. During the last-minute plans for evacuation he was busy getting the wounded ready, and notes that immediately prior to departure “there was an accident inside the GPO which resulted in the wounding of four men. This meant delay for me as I had to bandage them as quickly as possible, and provide stretchers and stretcher bearers, and I was consequently one of the last to leave the burning building’ (1). There is no mention here, or in his other articles (2) of any Proclamation being taken. Neither is there any such story in the accounts of any of the other final evacuees which are available in the Bureau of Military History database (3).

3. When the GPO garrison surrendered, they were thoroughly searched several times. One of Jim Ryan’s companions, Liam Tannam, wrote about their arrest and noted that “Just around the corner of Moore Street towards the Parnell Monument, a couple of yards or so, we were searched. … Before being put into the guard room we were again searched. Our personal belongings were carefully inventoried…” (4) . This process is well documented. All of the prisoner’s belongings were confiscated and put in storage in Richmond Barracks. The files related to the confiscation process, and to the recovery of some personal items and money by members of the garrison, are in the Military Archives (5). Political documents were not returned to the prisoners.

4. Dr. James Ryan and his family were actively involved in the 1916 rebellion and he and three of his sisters were imprisoned following the Rising. They were also prolific letter writers. Hundreds of these letters survive and have been presented to the National Library (6). In the ~130 letters for the period around 1916 and there is no mention whatever of a copy of the Proclamation in the family possession. A second batch of letters from the period immediately following 1916 is in the Military Archives, and a third batch of letters (1918-23) is still in the family’s possession. Nowhere in these hundreds of letters is there any mention of a copy of the proclamation being in the family possession.

In summary:

• Even if the document had been taken from the GPO by James Ryan, it is highly implausible that the British Authorities would have returned this seditious document to him after his release from prison.
• The possession of this important historical document could not have escaped attention or reference by members of James Ryan’s immediate or extended family for over 80 years
• It is highly unlikely that the supposed presentation of the document to the family home would have escaped attention in any of the hundreds of letters written by the political-active members of that family
• It is not credible that my grandfather ignored his possession of this important document in any of his accounts of the Rising, or in any subsequent conversation with any family member.

In summary, we do not believe that this document has ever been in the possession of Dr. James Ryan. Mealy Auctioneers were made aware of these points and it is regrettable that this highly dubious provenance has been used as the basis for sale of this important document. For reference, all of Jim Ryan’s files and documents have been presented to public archives by himself or his family. These archives include UCD Archives; National Library of Ireland; and the Military Archives and are available for all to view.

1. My Easter Week in the GPO. James Ryan, Capuchin Annual 1944.
2. ‘In the GPO: the Medical Unit’. From ‘The Easter Rising 1916 and UCD. Browne & Nolan 1966.
3. The Bureau of Military history contains witness accounts by over 1700 persons who were active in republican activities from 1913 to 1921.
4. Statement by Liam Tannam. Bureau of Military history Document WS 242
5. Military Archives file. BMH CD 264/1/6D.
6. Papers of the Ryan Family of Tomcoole 1879-1977. National Library of Ireland Ms. 48,017/1 – 48,018/18.

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