Patrick Pearse was a central figure in recent Irish History. Patrick Pearse was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916. Pearse was born in 1879; his father, James, was a stone worker who worked on church buildings in Dublin and his mother, Margaret, came from a family that had endured the Great Famine in 1846 and had left County Meath for Dublin. Here she brought up four children – Patrick was the second. Patrick Pearse had a comfortable childhood as his father was in constant work.
It was at school that Patrick Pearse first developed a love of Irish history. He was also taught the Irish language for the first time and while still a teenager, Patrick joined the Gaelic League which was an organisation that wanted to promote the Irish language and Irish literature. Patrick Pearse graduated with a law degree from the King’s Inns and in 1901, he started a BA course in modern languages – at the same time as he was called to the Bar in Dublin.
Regardless of his law training, Patrick Pearse was more interested in what he was learning about Ireland as a nation. All his knowledge about law had been based around the English language and Patrick Pearse wanted to know more about what he considered to be the rightful language of Ireland. This was not the Gaelic used in Dublin. Pearse had convinced himself that the real Irish language was based in Connaught and he taught himself the dialect of the area. Connaught was also a region that had been severely affected by the Great Famine. Therefore, the number of people who spoke what Patrick Pearse considered to be proper Gaelic had been greatly reduced. From 1903 to 1909, Pearse developed his involvement in the Gaelic League’s ‘An Claidheamh Soluis’ (The Sword of Light) which sort to expand the use of Gaelic in Irish life, and, inn particular, literature.
By 1909, Patrick Pearse had developed some political leanings. He could not accept the impact England and all things English had on Ireland and the Irish people, but his concern was more for Irish culture rather than Irish politics. Patrick Pearse wanted Irish history and culture taught as compulsory subjects in both Irish schools and colleges. He ‘broke’ with the Roman Catholic Church when its national college, Maynooth, demoted courses in Irish history/culture to topics a trainee priest could do rather than had to do. Patrick Pearse was keen for Maynooth to have compulsory Irish courses simply because priests then had a major influence in the areas where they worked – and what use would priests be to developing Irish culture if they knew little or nothing about it?
However, all Patrick Pearse’s protests fell on deaf ears. As a result, Pearse founded his own school in Dublin – an “Irish-Ireland” school called St Enda’s. In the school’s prospectus, Pearse wrote that the school would try to:
Instruct pupils in a love of the Irish language
Educate pupils in a love of chivalry and self-sacrifice
Teach pupils to have “charity towards all”; a “sense of civic social duty”
However, in the Irish language version of the prospectus, Patrick Pearse wrote that youths:
|“should spend their lives working hard and zealously for their fatherland and, if it should ever be necessary, to die for it.”|
Between 1909 and 1912, Patrick Pearse became more and more interested and involved in politics. Despite a limited income and the problems of keeping St Edna’s on an even financial keel, Pearse launched his own newspaper called “An Barr Buadh” (The Trumpet of Victory). At this time the Home Rule issue had reared its head again. Sinn Fein and other republican movements had far more impact than Patrick Pearse who seemed to many to be no more than a political maverick – a man with a keen sense of romanticism and literature. Many felt that Pearse was out of his depths in politics. There were those who felt that Patrick Pearse‘s input into Irish politics was no more than romanticism with an Irish slant. It may have been at this time that Patrick Pearse developed a belief in martyrdom.
By 1913, Patrick Pearse had become more depressed about the way Ireland was going under the rule of London. Those who knew him, described him as becoming more and more melancholy as the year progressed. Others believed that he was becoming more and more fanatical. He helped to organise the Irish Volunteers before the outbreak of World War One. The Irish Volunteers were the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Brotherhood. In 1914, he was sent on a fund-raising tour of America by Clan-na-Gael, an organisation that aided the Irish Republican Brotherhood. While the tour was a reasonable success financially, not that many Americans were swayed by Pearse’s speeches.
By the time World War One had started, Patrick Pearse had taken an extreme political stance. He wanted full Irish independence – not what the suspended Home Rule Bill of 1912 offered. He did not support the part Ireland played in the war effort – he saw the 250,000 volunteers to the British war effort as men who had been taken in by British propaganda. He also split the Irish Volunteers. He took a small number of these men with him when John Redmond gave his agreement to suspend the Home Rule Bill until the war was over. By now, Patrick Pearse had become extreme. He published a pamphlet called “The Murder Machine” which was a severe condemnation of the Irish educational system. He also realised that with London totally focused on the war in Europe, the time was ripe to overthrow British rule in Ireland.
However, in this respect, Patrick Pearse was totally wrong. The young men who had volunteered to fight in the war had done so because they wanted to. Patrick Pearse had no mass support in Ireland whereas John Redmond had far more public support in the south. Patrick Pearse also assumed that all those in southern Ireland were completely against British rule – this was not so either. What Patrick Pearse failed to recognise, was that many people in Dublin itself relied on the British for work. They may not have liked this, but work brought in money regardless of where or who it came from.
Those who participated in the Easter Uprising of 1916 were in the minority. Patrick Pearse decided to take command of the rebellion and he read out the declaration of independence at the General Post Office. Pearse also was one of the signatories of “Poblacht na h-Eireann” (To the People Of Ireland).
If Pearse expected the actions of the rebels in Dublin to spark off other uprisings in other Irish cities and towns, he was mistaken. In Dublin, the people of the city failed to offer the rebels any support. In fact, some Dubliners took the opportunity of the rebellion to loot the shops in Sackville Street. The Uprising was doomed from the start. Patrick Pearse had said:
|“The day is coming when I shall be shot, swept away, and my colleagues like me………Willie (Pearse)? Shot like the others. We’ll all be shot.”|
During the rebellion, Pearse said:
|“When we are all wiped out, people will blame us for everything, condemn us…..(but) in a few years they will see the meaning of what we tried to do.”|
Ironically, he was probably correct in this assessment.
Patrick Pearse surrendered to the British army on Friday 28th April. By Saturday 29th April, all the rebels had surrendered. As they were paraded through the streets of Dublin before going to Kilmainham Prison, they were jeered and verbally abused by Dubliners who had seen parts of their city destroyed – and they blamed not the British but Patrick Pearse and his followers.
At Kilmainham Prison, Pearse was charged with treason by a military court and sentenced to death. On May 16th, Pearse was shot by firing squad. Eventually fourteen other rebel leaders would also be shot – though, whether Willie Pearse was a ‘leader’ is open to dispute. It would seem that Willie Pearse’s crime was to have been Patrick Pearse’s brother. Patrick Pearse’s body, and those of the other leaders, was thrown into a pit without a coffin or a burial service. Ironically, it was in death that Patrick Pearse found real fame.
No-one knew the fate of the rebel leaders until after the executions. Many in Ireland were horrified at the way they had been treated. If Pearse had not got national support in his life, his movement certainly got it after his death. When the news of James Connolly’s execution got out, there was barely concealed outrage in southern Ireland. Pearse had written that he wanted his fame and deeds to “live after me”. This he got. In death, Patrick Pearse was known as the “First President of Ireland” and Irish history and culture became part of the educational system after 1922.