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Pearse, Patrick

Pearse, Patrick

Educator, poet, journalist, and leader of the Easter Rising, Patrick Pearse (1879–1916) was born in Dublin on 10 November. Although he received a bachelor of law degree from the Royal University of Ireland, Pearse managed his late father's church-statuary business while pursuing his love of native culture.

A member of the Gaelic League since 1897, he edited its weekly newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis from 1903 until 1909. Contrary to his later disingenuous claims, Pearse did not use his post to undermine the nonpolitical stance of the organization. His most important writings from this period focused on education. Pearse was not an original thinker, but he energetically pursued concepts that interested him, and in 1908 he established his own school, Saint Enda's, based on the bilingual schools in Belgium. Innovative in an Irish context, the venture was financially draining and increased Pearse's growing personal desperation after 1910.

A proponent of Home Rule until 1912, he came to believe that constitutional agitation was ineffectual, and his growing affinity for Robert Emmet, Theobald Wolfe Tone, and John Mitchel led him to gravitate toward militant expressions of nationalism. Critically, his writings from this period reflect that he—like others in contemporary Europe—became fixated on the idea that a blood sacrifice was needed to "cleanse" and reinvigorate the national spirit.

By December 1913, his public speeches had convinced skeptical Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) leaders that he had developed into an "advanced" nationalist, and one month after Pearse helped to found the Irish Volunteers, Bulmer Hobson swore him into the IRB. When the Volunteers split over whether to fight alongside Britain in the Great War, Pearse was a central figure in surreptitiously securing control of the smaller, breakaway faction for the IRB. He was also part of a secret military council within the IRB that planned to use the Volunteers in an armed revolt at Easter 1916.

Alongside labor activist James Connolly, Pearse commanded forces in Dublin during the six days of fighting, proclaiming that they fought on behalf of an existing Irish republic. In contrast to his more disappointed comrades, Pearse believed that the failed Rising fulfilled his vision of blood sacrifice and positioned himself centrally as a Christ figure. Although the public was initially hostile toward the insurgents, the court-martials and executions of their leaders, including Pearse on 3 May 1916, did gradually turn public sentiment against the existing regime.

Subsequent idealizations emphasized Pearse's piety and his romantic commitment to Gaelic culture and militant republicanism, but his true legacy is both more pragmatic and more ambiguous: He was a gifted teacher whose last days facilitated the foundation of an independent Irish state and perpetuated the use of the gun in politics.

SEE ALSO Gaelic Revivalism: The Gaelic League; Hyde, Douglas; Home Rule Movement and the Irish Parliamentary Party: 1891 to 1918; Sinn Féin Movement and Party to 1922; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Primary Documents: O'Donovan Rossa Graveside Panegyric (1 August 1915); The Proclamation of the Irish Republic (24 April 1916)


Dudley Edwards, Ruth. Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure. 1977.

Moran, Sean Farrell. Patrick Pearse and the Politics of Redemption: The Mind of the Easter Rising, 1916. 1994.

Ó Buachalla, Séamus, ed. A Significant Educationalist: The Educational Writings of P. H. Pearse. 1980.

Pearse, Mary Brigid, ed. The Home Life of Padraig Pearse. 1934, 1979.

Timothy G. McMahon

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