Major Theme - {title}
Preparing to speak to history
Patrick Pearse rose to prominence after his rousing oration at the graveside of veteran Fenian, Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa in 1915 Photo: National Library of Ireland, 'Political and Famous Figures', Box VI

Preparing to speak to history

Padraig Pearse in Connemara, Summer 1915, ahead of the O'Donovan Rossa Oration as seen by Desmond Ryan.

By Ed Mulhall

Speaking to history on two occasions Padraig Pearse stood to deliver key statements of Irish Revolution. On the second occasion no images survive and what is known of the reception is mixed. On Easter Monday 1916, Pearse read the proclamation outside the GPO. According to volunteer officer and later first Garda Commissioner Michael Staines who had just raised the tricolour and was looking down from the roof of the GPO: 'He stood on the edge of the footpath on the Prince's Street side of the portico. There were a large number of people around when this was happening but there was no demonstration.' [Michael Staines witness statement BMH, WS 284] In that crowd was the writer Stephen McKenna who recalled that he had seen Pearse many times that morning under the portico and on the street, 'very pale... very cold of face... scanning the crowd'. He witnessed the reading: 'I saw him, about noon I think, read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic: but for once his magnetism had left him, a few thin, perfunctory cheers, no direct hostility, just then; but no enthusiasm whatever; the people were evidently quite unprepared, quite unwilling to see in the uniformed figure, whose burning words had thrilled them again and again elsewhere, a person of significance to the country.' [Martin Daly (Stephen McKenna), Memories of the Dead, Dublin, 1917]

The 'burning words' had been delivered almost a year earlier at the graveside of O'Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin in the culmination of a heavily symbolic weekend of pageantry. Pearse stood in his volunteer uniform as he proclaimed 'the fools the fools the fools', his oration followed by an audacious display of militarism as shots were fired over the grave. This time the crowds surrounding the graveside listened in rapt attention to the words spoken. This time we do have a filmed record of the occasion, the lying in state, the funeral cortege moving through thronged streets accompanied by a cross section of all nationalist opinion, from the Irish Party to Sinn Féin, accompanied by both sets of the now split volunteers, the Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna. At the graveside before the volley of shots there is a glimpse of Pearse amongst those crowded around the graveside, speaking his famous words. Sean T O'Kelly present at the graveside and later with Pearse in the GPO recalled: 'He made one of the great speeches of his life. I very well remember the profound impression that Pearse's speech on that day made on me. I was standing alongside him when he spoke and we all felt very proud of his impressive oratorical achievement. He, evidently, had his speech memorised for he used no notes on the occasion.'

The significance of the combination of the speech with the volley that followed was noted by O'Kelly: 'The IRB and the Irish Volunteers were very proud of having been able to accomplish this military demonstration despite the orders of the British against the carrying of arms.' [Sean T O'Kelly witness statement, BMH WS 1765, Rossa funeral footage here:]

Pearse, by being chosen by Tom Clarke to deliver the oration at the focal point of this display of military intent, and by the power of his oratory with its call to action, now moved in public into the key leadership position he had already assumed in secret. He had a month earlier joined the initial three man military council of the IRB tasked with planning a rising.

Footage, courtesy of British Pathé, of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa lying in state in City Hall in Dublin and of his funeral procession in 1915.

By taking on this key role, Pearse sealed his own fate. He had moved from being a supporter of Home Rule to that of a revolutionary, from being a teacher and poet to a military leader. Because of what followed it is hard to distinguish the man from the myth and get a true picture of what his motivations and feelings were at this transitional stage in his life. One work that does try to fill in this detail comes from a close associate of Pearse, a friend of both Padraig and his brother Willie Pearse, who was constantly at his side in those years, from Pearse's school in St Enda's to the GPO in Easter week. This is the writer Desmond Ryan, who wrote one of the earliest chronicles of the rising in 1949 and also notable works on Pearse, Michael Collins and St Enda's. The work in question is his autobiography Remembering Sion.

Desmond Ryan at the age of 15 was one of the first 40 students in Pearse's Irish language school St. Enda's. His father was the newspaper editor and radical journalist W.P. Ryan. He stayed at the school's premises the Hermitage in Rathfarnam while attending UCD, teaching there and also acted as Pearse's secretary. While at St Enda's he had joined the Fianna Éireann the youth organisation of the volunteers and was recruited into the IRB by Con Colbert, becoming a member of the secret society along with some other St Enda's pupils before their headmaster. The pupil members were evidently sounded out about Pearse by Bulmer Hobson before he approached Pearse to join the IRB in late 1913. In St Enda's Ryan worked closely with Pearse and his brother Willie Pearse and became a confidant of both, visiting their family and as recounted in the memoir, also going on holiday with them in the summer of 1915. Through the school and their shared IRB connection Ryan was with Pearse through many of the key events of that period. He attended public meetings such as the one in 1912 where Pearse appeared on a platform with John Redmond, Tom Kettle and Joseph Devlin to advocate 'the expediency of Home Rule', he recalled Pearse telling him on the night the volunteers were founded 'we started a Rising tonight'. He was at the graveside for the O'Donovan Rossa oration, Pearse confided in him about the difficulties in persuading James Connolly to hold back on his plan to lead the Citizen Army in a rebellion in early 1916 and wait for a coordinated action and he was present at many secret meetings in the Hermitage between Pearse, Liam Mellows and Sean Mac Diarmada as the rising plans progressed. He was involved, together with many of the St Enda pupils, in moving arms around the city in advance of Easter 1916. On Easter weekend he acted as a messenger for Pearse, to Sean T O'Kelly to arrange lodgings for the Pearse brothers for those evenings and to Connolly to set up the key Easter Sunday meeting which confirmed the rising. He mobilised on Easter Monday and marched with Pearse to the GPO, where he stayed by his side until the surrender in Moore Street at the end of the week. He was interned in Stafford detention camp, Wormwood Scrubs and in Frongoch and on his return finished his degree in UCD and became a journalist with the Freeman's Journal. (Biographical detail from Lawrence White, 'Desmond Ryan', Dictionary of Irish Biography, and Ryan witness statement BMH WS 725]

As a writer and journalist with an inside view of the events of 1916, Ryan became one of the most prolific chroniclers and referenced authorities on the events of 1916 and their aftermath up to his death in December 1964. His first work was in fulfilment of a request by Pearse to present the story of St Enda's through a compilation of Pearse's articles on the school brought up to date by Ryan and published as The Story of a Success in 1917. He wrote the first book-length study of Pearse, using a phrase coined by Trinity College Provost Dr Mahaffy as its title; A Man Called Pearse was issued in 1919. He compiled a five-volume Collected Works of Padraic Pearse in 1922 and also wrote a biography of James Connolly, a novel based around Michael Collins and studies of Eamon de Valera, Sean Treacy and James Stephens as well as editing collections on the writings of James Connolly, John Devoy's letters and the 1916 poets. Ryan also contributed to a number of Radio Éireann programmes on the rising and was one of the veterans of the rising filmed by Teilifís Éireann in preparation for the fiftieth anniversary programming. [See below]

Desmond Ryan in conversation with Brian Farrell as part of his series 'The Survivors' for Teilifís Éireann in the 1960s. Click to visit the RTÉ Archives website to watch the episode in full. (Image: RTÉ Archives)

His major work of history on the rising called The Rising: The Complete Story of Easter Week was published in 1949 and became one of the most referenced works on the period with its mixture of personal testimony, portraits of figures he knew and researched narrative. The term 'Triumph of Failure' used by Ruth Dudley Edwards as the title of her biography of Pearse was coined by Ryan to describe the legacy of the insurrection. His papers are in the UCD archives.

Desmond Ryan's autobiography Remembering Sion was published in 1934. It is written in a very distinctive style, much criticised at the time, but which manages at times to capture both the facts and the emotion of the time. In a lecture he defended and explained it: 'My muse and I were similarly unmoved by remarks about style and journalism, knowing that the style adopted by us was the only one for what we had set out to do: to evoke all, or most of the sides of Irish life we had known, and as the sides were different, we changed the style to suit the side; and, in that, brazenly and openly and with deep gratitude, took several leaves from the book of Mr James Joyce, who gave us a title and a chapter; in that used flowery journalism, swear words, slang, and threw all commas, semi-colons, colons, dashes and dots and grammar and sense and all desiccated word-polishing and mincing phraseology and restraint itself to the very devil when it suited us. We, my muse and I, enjoyed ourselves for we had rather be in a pub with a journalist than in heaven with a professional critic, and in this we know what we are talking about, for we have enjoyed the beer of the first and fled the bilge of the second.' [Desmond Ryan, 'Still Remembering Sion', University Review, Vol 5 No 2, Summer 1968, lecture delivered autumn 1934 in London] It was rare at the time for an Irish writer to so openly follow the Joycean example, the approach taken today looks similar to that adopted by Sean O'Casey in his autobiographical works begun later in the 1930s.

The Joyce quote used for the title is from Ulysses: 'Of Ireland, the Dalcassions, of hopes, conspiracies, of Arthur Griffith now... In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me... Weak wasting hand on mine. They have forgotten Kevin Egan, not he them. Remembering thee, O Sion.' [James Joyce, Ulysses, Paris,1922] Ryan uses the quote and its reflection on another Fenian veteran on front of Remembering Sion which has as its subtitle 'A Chronicle of Storm and Quiet'. The book begins with his arrival in Dublin as a boy from London in 1906 and ends with his return to Dublin from ten years of exile in 1932/33. At the centre of the book are his recollections of the revolutionary period up to the execution of Erskine Childers in 1922, his account of many of the key figures of the period as they walked the streets of Dublin and met at meetings and demonstrations: Connolly, MacDonagh, Markievicz, Larkin, Griffith, Yeats, de Valera, Collins and then the Pearse family: Padraig, his brother Willie, their sister Margaret Mary and mother Margaret. It contains reflections on the Dublin of Joyce, on St. Enda's and deals in detail with the key political events of the period as witnessed by him. Basing much of it on recollection, using his diaries of the period, he also uses artistic license to combine some characters and recreate some conversations. It is the power of this approach to bring the reader the essence of the time that makes the work an interesting and unique chronicle of the period.

The frontispiece to two works by Desmond Ryan on Pearse. (Image: Desmond Ryan (ed), Collected Works of Pádraic H. Pearse (1916) and Desmond Ryan, The Man Called Pearse (1919). Via the Internet Archive [])

His account of the rising is based around his own diary of the week, later to be recounted as his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History. His account of the summer of 1915 and his trip to Connemara with the brothers Pearse just before Pearse's historic oration at the grave of O'Donovan Rossa gives a remarkable insight to Pearse at that key moment in his life. In this story, bookended by two train journeys, both featuring uncomfortable encounters with critical voices, we get a glimpse of the close relationship between the brothers, Padraig's affinity with Connemara its history and traditions and see him as he prepares first his article and then his oration on O'Donovan Rossa. In it we see a more rounded picture of Pearse than Ryan had given in his first book A Man Called Pearse. As he said 'I sat down to tell the truth about Pearse by as many glimpses of that great man as we could gather from half words in our diary, dim pictures in the memory, and the estimate that the years had left us. And with hesitation we mingled the mildest criticism with the picture because it seemed to us that Pearse's eulogists, or rather those who have tried to steal that national figure for one party alone, are his worst enemies for they smother him with rhetoric and insincerity.' [Ryan, 1934,1968]

What follows is the full account from Remembering Sion of that summer of 1915 in Connemara as Pearse prepared:

'Still Pearse had one haven yet. There is his little cottage down in Connemara, and in the summer of 1915 I went down there with him. In the railway carriage at the Broadstone, Pearse unbent and smiled on his mother, sister and Willie. He acted like a gay and winsome child intent on a days outing, laughing loudly and hurling oranges in the air in an abandoned fashion.

'He told us of a dream he had the night before. Pearse in this dream found himself on railway platform with several carriages full of Irish Volunteers. A certain Father O'H-- arrived and protested that Pearse was a dangerous character, not fit to travel on any respectable train: 'Detain that man! You let him proceed at your peril.' Then Pearse had answered indignantly: 'Nonsense. Preposterous statements! My name is Padraig Henry Pearse. I am Director of Organisation for the Irish Volunteers. My name is well known. I am a most distinguished person.' Pearse collapsed into laughter, saying the dream ended in a game of hide and seek between himself and the good Father in and out of all the carriages.

'In due course we reached Galway and stayed the night there. Before nightfall we explored the city, rowed up the Corrib and landed near the stone-built misty village of Menlowe, unmortared walls, Irish speaking old men playing cards seated on stony heaps. Up the Corrib, Pearse rowed stoutly and steadily, pausing every now and then to utter some deliberated thought. He had suddenly become grave and pensive again and this had quieted the company, a result to which he was secretly sensitive. I remember him dropping a phrase to relieve a spasm of silence and restart none too successfully the conversation.

'I always think a boat is a wonderful thing. What a marvellous adaptation of beauty and shape to use.' He often made remarks like that, and as has been often noted his words sounded like sentences from essays. Some misunderstood this mannerism and felt amused or uncomfortable.

'That day Pearse's love for Connemara ousted his pensive mood and he became eager and talkative again. His eyes lighted up as he pointed to Menlowe and its grey circle of houses and walls and the Irish speaking old men: 'Here Connemara begins.' He walked ahead as we explored a demesne and laughed at the warning notices in English. Several gamekeepers appeared and looked at us curiously. Pearse walked past them, blessing, with an air of authority in Irish in God and the Virgin's names. They returned the blessing, curiosity and wonder in the Gaelic words wrung from them by this imperious townsman with the Connaught accent so pat and stern. We passed a castle half burned in some ancient war, and some handsome country houses. Thereafter the poor houses of the Connemara folk. Pearse smiled sadly and said with feeling: 'Here alone perhaps in the world are these sights to be seen since the French Revolution, hovels with poverty, a poor spiritual life with riches living side by side.'

'The next day we proceeded to Rosmuc by train, or rather part of the way, for Rosmuc lies nine miles from a railway station, and we had therefore a long drive by side-car through granite and pear and purple from Maam Station over winding, peak-screened roads. It was a stirring view along those serpentine roads, ever winding and twisting to avoid the bog. The horse trotted bravely while an O'Malley drove, and Pearse explained what famous people the O'Malleys were in Connemara and this particular driver and the local pronunciation of O'Malley here to be O'Milley or OMålley, and all the white bluish granite mountains soared and beckoned and all around spread the peat-bogs starred by the tiny lakes, each with a local name and every name known to Pearse, who declared for the hundredth time he could find his way blindfold on any road in Connacht. The Twelve Pins came in sight and Pearse waved his hand here and there over the land, naming lake, mountain and district away to the Joyce country under its purple mist. He told us many stories he had learned from the people - and who could have guessed that behind his gentle words and look an insurrection simmered, a certainty that his days were irrevocably numbered and this place he would never see in another summer?

'Away there on that gloomy mountain yonder a stranger had lived for years, coming suddenly in the night from nowhere, henceforth a hermit, perhaps doing a penance of solitude and silence for some deed of blood. We passed a peculiar green building of corrugated iron, a Protestant Church and then Pearse remembered that many years before the Bible Societies had carried out a proselytising campaign, and even in 1915 a small remnant of the Irish speaking Protestant colonies still survived. Once on his rambles Pearse had met one of the members, an old man up in a cottage among the hills who opened his Gaelic Bible, read it aloud and argued with Pearse for an hour until the old man's daughter came in and told her father that he had no manners and not to be foolish and that he did not know how to treat a guest and a learned man who knew enough Irish and enough Bible to make up his mind for himself, and the attempted conversion of Pearse went no farther. A lonely letter-box on a post at a cross-roads led Pearse to tell of the extravagant family, long bankrupt and extinct, who had had the box erected as a monument to their exclusiveness, recklessness and pride. A barracks rose beside the rattling wheels and Pearse knew that the sergeant within was a very cranky, crusty and cantankerous fellow companioned by six splendid constables, enthusiastic Irish speakers who spent their time in shooting wild ducks, fishing and studying with zeal the poems of Eoghan Ruadh O'Sulllivan. The car stopped at the schoolmaster's house and Patrick Connolly welcomed Pearse warmly. His wife came out and told Mrs Pearse and Miss Pearse how they would find the cottage.

Breathing new life into famous words: actor Jim Roche reenacts Pearse's speech at O'Donovan Rossa's funeral.

'Inside, like startled birds the four daughters of the schoolmaster retreated from our gaze while their mother laughed and said they would grow out of all that, but when young people lived among lakes and bogs they became curlews and mountain birds, easily startled by wild young men from the cities and poets from Dublin, all this for Willie and me whose ties and locks must have startled her ducklings. Proceeded to the cottage, a white thatched oblong building with green door, porch-way and two windows in front, approached by a peat-sodden path from the main road. Here was the spiritual home of Pearse, which in the last years he visited every summer to pay a last farewell to:

'Some green hill where shadows drifted by,
Some quiet hill where mountainy men had sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass...'

'Below lay a fifty-acre legend tenanted with a Water Horse. Beyond the rare walls of the cottage the Atlantic heaved and moaned with tales of lost ships or murmured a summons to ride on its bosom to the Arran Isles on a fair day. On every side rose the purple hills and peat a-gleam with unnumbered lakelets. Pearse sat at the kitchen table writing the closing tales in his book of short stories, 'The Mother'. He turned aside to discuss the completed stories with Willie and me, and said he thought the best the grimmest one, a tale of a woman under a curse called the 'Black Chafer'.

'Then he sighed that he had never written a story about turf or shown up enough the hard life of the people. He said this sadly with almost the air of a man who comes upon an intolerable personal grievance. Sometimes he went down and bathed in a lake while Willie guarded him from the banks with a long strong rope as Pearse was no swimmer. This tickled the brothers so much that they gave up the attempt with loud merriment and mutual criticisms. Returning, Pearse mused on his cottage and said that one of the builders had been an old man who took his task very slowly and seriously, making progress by inches but consoling Pearse's impatience with the sole remark: 'Won't it be a fine house when it is finished.'

'Pearse was more outspoken than I had ever known him before.Night by night he spoke to Willie and me about everything by turns. Much about the future of the Irish language. Here in this self contained community which he had once as purely Irish speaking, English was creeping in among the younger generation. It amused him when we walked abroad in the day time to speak to the men working the land and smile at the English expressions speckling the Gaelic: 'Becripes, Tá... bedamned but tá' from those who knew no other words of English, but he said that this was the beginning of the end unless some great change came. And what the change would be sometimes broke through his thoughts. News of some kind from Dublin weighed on his mind as July passed. He read the proof of an article he had written on O'Donovan Rossa, whose body was being brought back from America. Pearse disliked what he had written on Rossa and said it seemed nor right praise for an old Fenian. Again he read Connolly's Workers Republic, with its open incitements to revolt and attacks upon the moderate party in the Irish Volunteers and he seemed preoccupied and uneasy.

'Once on a roadside Pearse engaged in a long conversation with a Volunteer sympathiser who sharply condemned Casement's Irish Brigade formed from Irish prisoners of war in Germany. 'How can we defend such men', the question was pressed insistently, 'who take an oath to fight in an army of their own free will and then break it? I wouldn't trust such men. If they were conscripts they would be right to desert and shoot their officers and fight for the devil himself but this oath which was freely taken should bind them.' Pearse looked uneasy and admitted he didn't much like the idea of the Irish Brigade. There was force in these arguments. Long ago in arguments Pearse had been wont to declare that no oath could bind Irishmen to serve England, even the oath of soldiers, strong and all as he had worshipped military discipline. ('It's one exception Pat allows to unquestioning military obedience' Willie had said chuckling) but in this roadside argument Pearse seemed shaken and uneasy. 'I don't like the idea myself', he again admitted as the sturdy Connachtman pressed the point home again and again and then attacked the Germans as a pack of military bullies as bad as the English, as vain as allies of Irish freedom as the French fleets which tarried from victory at the mount of Bantry Bay. Then Pearse's fire and confidence re-woke in his eyes. They seemed to sweep seaward in a promise that on the ocean a hope lingered still. His words to us both were vague 'Soon... you will see, both of you, all of us', he said, his eyes on the Atlantic. What purpose and hope were hidden behind those words? Of what was he thinking, a German landing, an arms' ship, or a body of O'Donovan Rossa already coming across the waves? He changed the conversation abruptly and we never knew.'

Pat Cooke, UCD, explains the relevance of Pearse's graveside oration.

'The holiday neared its end. Once we went on a sixteen mile walk to Cashel and back. We visited a quaint hotel whose landlord proudly displayed a portrait of King Edward smiling at him. This simple snobbery tickled Pearse and he spoke to the landlord affectionately as Johnny, walking round the room to admire the picture of the King smiling down on a bald and bare-headed Johnny. Johnny was a lovable man, said Pearse, whether he basked in the smile of monarchs or whether he didn't. I said I would write a sketch of him when I returned to Dublin, but Pearse shook his head and said Johnny must not be held up to ridicule, as the neighbours laughed enough at him already and that was one thing, but to put him into print would be unkind, for no one would really know what a kind heart Johnny had, whether he doffed his hats to kings or whether he didn't. Outside as we watched a mountain which peeps up from every part of Connemara, another genial old snob looking like a retired Colonel strolled up and waved his hand round the scenery: 'Nothing to compare with it in the world gentlemen,absolutely nothing!' He smiled and produced three copies of the Gospel of St John: 'I bring these down in my trunk for the benefit of the peasantry every year, gentlemen.' He begged us to honour him by each accepting a copy, not that we looked as if we needed them - he would not for a moment suggest that we were peasants, but would we oblige him? We obliged him, Pearse chuckling all the way back over the word 'peasantry', and saying he was sorry he had not had a very seditious leaflet to give the Colonel in exchange. 'Just as well you hadn't Pat' said Willie, 'We should all have ended in jail. He would have sent the police after us.' Then the pair wondered why lovers of tracts and Bibles never recognise true religion under a thatch when it is barefooted and wrestles with sea and rocky soil to keep its body alive. Bibles in English to Irish-speaking Connemara with a faith in its very bones! So back along the roads weary but joyful with the Gospels in our pockets and very little conversational power left within us.

Another day and Pearse and Willie and I went on a cycle-ride through Recess, Glen Inagh, Coill Mor Leenane, Maam, Maam Cross, some fifty six miles in all, Pearse was very confidential as to his early days at school his struggles with his fathers business, Willie's studies in Paris, the debts of honour he had taken over, his editorship of the Gaelic League organ An Claidheamh Soluis, the early feuds in the Gaelic League which had hurt him deeply - on no other subject had I heard him speak with such feeling - Sgoil Éanna and its support and lack of support, the sleepless nights the crisis in the Volunteer organisation had given him, behind it all phrases and words only to be expected from a man who knows his life nears a crisis of its end. All through the thirty six miles to Leenane against a strong head wind he spoke like that while the sun broiled us. Through moody beauty past all manner of Syngesque old men and women. Pearse hailed Kilkeirin Bay flowing in several miles among the hills as a lake where the British Fleet could be hidden and no one the wiser. He talked of the islands to be found along Lough Corrib, and said those who were worrying about the social systems of the world might do worse than stop making speeches and land on one of these islands and start all over again with building a world after their dreams. All this at Leenane where we devoured rashers and eggs before we roused ourselves and had a magnificent run back in the moonlight the many miles to Rosmuck, where bad news awaited us: Miss Pearse had been attacked with appendicitis and had been ordered to Dublin by an early train. Next morning after her departure we spend a melancholy day until Pearse roused us all, saying we looked like a funeral party and we must hope for the best. Stirring news reached Pearse as we prepared for almost immediate departure: he was to deliver the O'Donovan Rossa Oration at the Rossa funeral on August the first.

'Back over the serpentine roads to Maam, and through Galway where G-men prowled at Pearse's heels. In the carriage half-way to Dublin a truculent and drunken countryman lurched into the carriage blowing foul smoke-clouds over all the ladies and flourishing a bottle of whiskey with an invitation to us all to take a swig. Pearse came down from Heaven where he weaved the phrases of his Oration with an imperious order to the countryman to behave himself and stop smoking in a non-smoking carriage under pain of instant removal. The countryman issued a general invitation to us all to light up and not mind the Pig. And until he left the carriage many stations onward he kept up a chorus of 'Don't mind the Pig, enjoy yourselves!' Sometimes he turned to Pearse and addressed him by name as, 'You pig, pig, pig!" Pearse sat in fist-clenched silence, his face flushed while Willie laughed quietly, warning his brother with looks to say no more to the infuriated combination of clay pipe, wild hat and whiskey-bottle at his elbow. We reached Dublin on the very eve of the Rossa funeral and found it electrified with the preparations for the lying in state and the march to Glasnevin. All the peace of the hills and lakes fell from us suddenly.

'Pearse stood beside O'Donovan Rossa's grave and in an immortal Oration sketched himself. He romanticisation of O'Donovan Rossa really portrays Patrick Pearse: his closing words are a herald of the coming Revolution:

'And the seeds sown by the young men of '65 and '67 are coming to their miraculous ripening to-day. Rulers and Defenders of Realms had need to be wary if they would guard against such processes. Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think they have pacified Ireland. They think they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think 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.'

'Beside the grave he stood, impressive and austere in green, with slow and intense delivery, and as he cried aloud upon the fools he threw back his head sharply and the expression seemed to vivify the speech which ended calmly and proudly. He walked home alone, and sat in his study: at last he had spoken the just word he sought to immortalise a man less great than himself.'


In Desmond Ryan's papers in the UCD archives there are two further accounts of the day in Glasnevin which add a little more colour to that given in Remembering Sion. In background notebooks for A Man Called Pearse begun in August 1916 and added to later there is this passage:

'Anyone who wants a concise statement of Pearse's political and martial gospel can find it in the O'Donovan Rossa oration. Beside the dead Fenian's grave he was the dominant figure in his commandant's green and that slow, brief and intense delivery. As he cried aloud the well known words 'the fools, the fools, the fools' he threw back his head sharply and the expression seemed to vivify the speech which ended proudly and calmly: 'Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.' A tense silence had fallen over the crowded cemetery lined with armed volunteers. Near the grave-side stood Tom Clarke, the other signatories of the Easter proclamation, and many more who fell or were to be broken in the coming years.'Say it again!' shouted a working man who turned to those near him, murmuring with excited enthusiasm: 'Doesn't he speak like a priest?' [Desmond Ryan Papers UCD Archives LA10/339]

There is also from the typescript of Remembering Sion a different version of the final paragraph above, with one mundane but interesting detail struck out for the published version as not to spoil the more sombre ending:

'He walked home alone, and sat in his study and with a blush borrowed ten shillings from me, for though he spoken for ages to come, on that evening Patrick Pearse was very hard up. That was nothing, at last he had spoken the just word he sought to immortalise a man less great than himself.' [Remembering Sion typescript, Ryan Papers, UCD, LA10/341]

Further Reading:

Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion, Dublin, 1934.
Desmond Ryan, The Rising, the complete story of Easter Week, Dublin, 1949.
Desmond Ryan, The Man Called Pearse, Dublin, Dublin,1919.
Desmond Ryan, 'Still Remembering Sion', Irish University Review, Vol.5, No.2, Summer 1968.
Padraig Pearse, Political Writings and Speeches in Collected Works, edited by Desmond Ryan, Dublin 1922.
Padraig Pearse, O'Donovan Rossa in Souvenir of Public Funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, 1915.
Lawrence William White, 'Desmond Ryan', Dictionary of Irish Biography, RIA
Stephen McKenna (Martin Daly), Memories of the Dead, Dublin,1917
Louis le Roux, Patrick H. Pearse (translated by Desmond Ryan), Dublin,1932.
Louis le Roux, Tom Clarke and the Irish Freedom Movement, Dublin, 1936.
Ruth Dudley Edwards, Patrick Pearse: the Triumph of Failure, London, 1977.


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