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Patrick Pearse
Patrick Pearse was chosen as leader of the Irish Republic in the days before the Rising and was in the GPO throughout Easter week. Photo: National Library of Ireland, KE 097

Patrick Pearse

Patrick Pearse was born on 10 November 1879 at 27 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin. Educated at the CBS Westland Row, he then studied at University College Dublin and graduated in Irish, English and French. He also studied law at King’s Inn and Trinity College, and was called to the bar in 1901. Despite his legal training it was language that was Pearse’s true devotion. In 1897 he founded the New Ireland Literary Society and from 1898 began publishing papers and poems.

In June 1900 he took a position as secretary of the publications committee at the Gaelic League, and from 1903 was the editor of its newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis. Pearse’s love of spoken Irish also led him to purchase a cottage in Rosmuc in Connemara in 1907. After his years of work at the Gaelic League Pearse moved into the world of education and opened St Enda’s in 1908. He stressed the value of child centred education and promoted bilingualism as a central tenet of his educational philosophy. The ethos of his educational beliefs and his criticism of British style education in Ireland (as well as a general attack on British culture) was outlined in his 1912 publication The Murder Machine.

Up until 1912 Pearse’s activities were largely restricted to the worlds of the Gaelic League, education and literature. In effect he was a product and part of the cultural revival and while his writings show that he contemplated the national question there is little direct involvement in politics. In 1912 Pearse was supportive of the Home Rule bill. Where Pearse begins to engage fully with politics is in the period from 1912 and the arguments over whether, and in what form, Home Rule was to be enacted. Pearse alarmed at the strength of Unionist opposition to Home Rule, and in particular the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force, began to contemplate if an armed response and indeed rebellion was necessary to secure Irish independence.

In 1913 Pearse wrote widely on the political options for Ireland, and in November was appointed director of organisation in the Irish Volunteers. A month later, in December he was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. After the split in the Volunteers in August 1914, Pearse continued his rise to prominence amongst the ranks of advanced nationalists. In October 1914 he was appointed press secretary of the Irish Volunteers and in December he became the director of military organisation. By May 1915 he was a member of the three man military committee established by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In August 1915, Pearse’s position as a leading figure in the Volunteers and the Brotherhood was underscored by his central role and oration at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa.

Pearse was active in all stages of planning the Rising, and key in the drafting of the Proclamation. He was chosen as President of the Republic shortly before the Rising began, and as such it was he who proclaimed the Republic in reading the Proclamation outside the GPO on Easter Monday. Pearse spent the week inside the GPO until it was abandoned by the rebels on Friday. Once out of the GPO and in Moore Street Pearse had a sense of how much destruction the Rising, and the British response to it, had caused and became acutely aware of the numbers of civilian dead. Pearse was a prime mover on the Saturday, the sixth day of the Rising, in deciding to surrender. He believed that to prolong the insurrection would only further increase the loss of innocent life. After agreeing terms Pearse delivered the surrender to General Lowe on Saturday afternoon. After his arrest Pearse was held in Richmond Barracks before appearing before a court martial and being sentenced to death. He was executed at Kilmainham Gaol on 3 May 1916.

Dr Fearghal McGarry from Queen's University Belfast discusses Patrick Pearse and his involvement with the Easter Rising.

Further reading
Joost Augesteijn, Patrick Pearse: The Making of a Revolutionary, (London, 2010)
Eugene McNulty and Roisin Ni Ghairbhi, Patrick Pearse: Collected Plays, (Dublin, 2014)

The Pearse Museum in his former school, St Enda’s, Rathfarnham.
Pearse Street and Pearse Square, Dublin (renamed in 1926).
Pearse Station, Dublin (renamed in 1966).
Pearse sculpture, Pearse Park, Tralee.


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.