Remembering Padraig Pearse
The Irish Revolutionary, poet and leader of the 1916 rising was executed in Kilmainham Gaol on May 3rd 1916.
Patrick Henry Pearse Pearse, his brother Willie, and his sisters Margaret and Mary Brigid were born at 27 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, the street that is named after them today.
Pearse grew up surrounded by books. His father had had very little formal education but was self-educated. Pearse was radicalised from an early age. He recalls that at the age of ten he prayed to God, promising him he would dedicate his life to Irish freedom.
Pearse's early heroes were ancient Gaelic folk heroes such as Cúchulainn, though in his 30s he began to take a strong interest in the leaders of past republican movements, such as the United Irishmen Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet.
Pearse soon became involved in the Gaelic revival. In 1896, at the age of 16, he joined the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), and in 1903, at the age of 23, he became editor of its newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis ("The Sword of Light").
In 1900, Pearse was awarded a B.A. in Modern Languages (Irish, English and French) by the Royal University of Ireland, for which he had studied for two years privately and for one at University College Dublin. In the same year, he was enrolled as a Barrister-at-Law at the King's Inns.
Pearse was called to the bar in 1901. In 1905, Pearse represented Neil McBride, a poet and songwriter from Feymore, Creeslough, Donegal, who had been fined for having his name displayed in "illegible" writing (i.e. Irish) on his donkey cart. The appeal was heard before the Court of King's Bench in Dublin. It was Pearse's first and only court appearance as a barrister.
The case was lost but it became a symbol of the struggle for Irish independence. In his June 27th 1905 An Claidheamh Soluis column, Pearse wrote of the decision, "...it was in effect decided that Irish is a foreign language on the same level with Yiddish."
Pearse believed that saving the Irish language was of major importance, he started his own bilingual school for boys, St. Enda's School (Scoil Éanna) in Cullenswood House in Ranelagh, a suburb of County Dublin, in 1908. The pupils were taught in both Irish and English. Cullenswood House is now the home of a Gaelscoil, Lios na nÓg.
Two years later St. Enda's School moved to The Hermitage in Rathfarnham, County Dublin, now home to the Pearse Museum. However, the new home, while splendidly located in an 18th-century house surrounded by a park and woodlands, caused financial difficulties that almost brought Pearse to disaster.
He strove continually to keep ahead of his debts while doing his best to maintain the school. In February 1914, he went on a fund-raising trip to the United States, where he met John Devoy and Joseph McGarrity both of whom were impressed by his fervour and supported him in raising sufficient money to secure the continued existence of the school.
Pearse was a supporter of Home Rule, in 1912 he addressed a large Home Rule Rally in Dublin at the end of March 1912. Speaking in Irish, Pearse said he thought that "a good measure can be gained if we have enough courage", but he warned, "Let the English understand that if we are again betrayed, there shall be red war throughout Ireland."
In November 1913 Pearse was invited to the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers—formed in reaction to the creation of the Ulster Volunteers—whose aim was "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland".
In December 1913 Bulmer Hobson swore Pearse into the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), an organisation dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland and its replacement with an Irish Republic. He was soon co-opted onto the IRB's Supreme Council by Tom Clarke.
On August 1st 1915 Pearse gave a graveside oration at the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. He was the first Republican to be filmed giving an oration. It closed with the words:
"They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! – They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."
It was Pearse who, on behalf of the IRB shortly before Easter in 1916, issued the orders to all Volunteer units throughout the country for three days of manoeuvres beginning Easter Sunday, which was the signal for a general uprising.
When Eoin MacNeill, the Chief of Staff of the Volunteers, learned what was being planned without the promised arms from Germany, he countermanded the orders via newspaper, causing the IRB to issue a last-minute order to go through with the plan the following day, greatly limiting the numbers who turned out for the rising.
When the Easter Rising eventually began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, it was Pearse who read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from outside the General Post Office, the headquarters of the Rising. Pearse was the person most responsible for drafting the Proclamation, and he was chosen as President of the Republic.
After six days of fighting, heavy civilian casualties and great destruction of property, Pearse issued the order to surrender. On May 2nd 1916 Pearse was court-martialed in Richmond Barracks and sentenced to death.
On the morning of May 3rd Padraig Pearse aged 36 was taken to the stone breakers yard of Kilmainham Gaol and executed by firing squad.
Fuair sé bás ar son saoirse na hÉireann