Poet and Warrior
The short stories of Padraig Pearse are astonishingly poetic
and gentle, and reading them he seems a most unlikely candidate
for revolution. In the short story Eoghainín
na nEan (Eoineen of the Birds) he writes
beautifully Bhí duan dá canadh ag na
tonntracha ar an trá - The waves were
chanting a poem on the strand. In Iosagán
(Little Jesus) he says Bíonn na daoine
fásta dall: Grown people are blind.
This statement is filled with melancholy and can only be
understood by the creative section of our craniums; our
analytical side collapses and can not grasp it. And when
you use the creative, mystical side of your brain then you
understand and agree: Adults are indeed spiritually blind
- they have inured themselves to a refreshing joy and gentleness,
hardened their hearts and closed down their higher selves.
This leaves us with a bleak landscape, through which those
of us who are different have to travel with stoutheartedness.
In other words, you cant let the b
get you down.
But to be serious again, Pearses characters are not
stage Oirish and mercifully he does not propagandise, he
does not give us brave, upright and pure Irish people suppressed
by the awful sasanach: In Na Bóithre
(The Roads) Nora slaps her baby brother just
because she is irritated, not because he merits a slap.
Her family lives a hard life and there is anger in the home:-
Several times before Nora had thought of what a fine
life she would have as a tramp, independent of everybody!
Her face on the roads of Ireland before her, and her back
on home and the hardship and anger of her family! To walk
from village to village and from glen to glen, the fine
level road before her, with green fields on both sides of
her and small well-sheltered houses on the mountainslopes
So Nora sets off and Pearse describes really well the sense
of superstition and fear in the young girls mind when
walking a dark road at night. On benighted boreens you begin
to see things and imagine things are following you. She
sharpened her pace and began running. She imagined that
she was being followed, that there was a bare-footed woman
treading almost on her heels and that there was a child
with a white shirt on him, walking before her on the road.
In An Bhean chointe (The Keening Woman) Coleen
is glad he doesnt have to go to school on one particular
day: I was more than satisfied, for I always had trouble
with my lessons and the master had promised me a beating
the day before unless Id have them at the tip of my
tongue today. Pearse was against corporal punishment
and preached a more enlightened educational system.
The English have established the simulacrum of an
education system, he wrote, but its object is
the precise contrary of the object of an education system.
Education should foster; this education is meant to tame.
The English are too wise a people to attempt to educate
the Irish, in any worthy sense.
Pearse held that if a child didnt know his lessons
it was the teachers fault for not teaching him properly.
Pearse was born in Dublin on November 10th, 1879 to an English
father (he was a sculptor) and an Irish mother. His parents
named him after an American patriot who once cried, I
know not what course others might take, but as for me, give
me liberty or give me death! Pearse began his life-long
study of the Irish language at the age of eleven and perhaps
his strident nationalism was a by product of the language
which the British had tried so hard to destroy over the
centuries. He joined the Gaelic League in 1895, a group
founded to preserve the Irish language. In order to promote
the Leagues cause, Patrick changed his anglicised
name to the Irish version, Pádraic. He quickly became
known as the leader and spokesman for the League and became
editor of the groups weekly newspaper, An Claidheamh
Soluis (The Sword of Light), which is
a good description of what he did and what he stood for
as the light of culture shone brightly within him but he
turned to the sword to effect his ideals.
One writer commented that the title of the paper seemed
to symbolise Pearse as a man in his early years of battling
the British. He tried numerous ways to defeat the
British intellectually. He used knowledge, not force, in
attempts to liberate Ireland. Some of Pearses tactics
included publishing old tales from ancient manuscripts and
also publishing his own works in Irish rather than English.
Although he started out as a literary warrior, he soon found
that intellect alone would not rid Ireland of the English.
Pearse became involved in militant groups as both a poet
and a warrior and benefited Ireland immensely in both ways.
He added that Pearse wrote his short stories with pure
emotion and passion, which was the stepping
stone for Irish literature and its launch in to the international
In 1908 along with friends Thomas MacDonagh (from Cloughjordan,
North Tipperary), Con Colbert, and his brother William Pearse,
he founded an Irish language school called St Endas
in Rathmines outside Dublin. The school prospered, was taught
under enlightened principals and the pupils adored Pearse.
However, a change in Pearses thinking occurred and
he went from a supporter of home Rule to a republican. In
1913 he was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers,
a native Irish militia that would evolve into the Irish
Republican Army. He was now willing to die for his beloved
Ireland, to die a rebel fighting against tyranny, to perish
for freedom. There are many things more horrible than
bloodshed, he wrote, and slavery is one of them.
The Easter Rising began on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916
and, hugely outnumbered, the rebels surprised many by holding
out for an entire week.
However, under heavy artillery and out of ammunition, the
Irish surrendered to the British on April 30th. 15 of the
insurrections leaders, including Pearse, were executed
by firing squad on May 3, 1916. As an interesting footnote,
Pearse knew that so many Irish risings had been defeated
due to informants and resistance within the Irish themselves.
For this reason, only about 30 people knew about the rising
until a few days before it was to take place. Another interesting
footnote; the man in charge of the leaders trials
was a General Blackadder and he told a friend afterwards:
I have just performed one of the hardest tasks I ever
had to do. Condemned to death one of the finest characters
I ever came across. A man named Pearse. Must be something
very wrong in the state of things, must there not, that
makes a man like that a rebel?
Finally, in his famous and very powerful poem The
Rebel Pearse concluded:
And I say to my peoples masters: Beware,
Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen
people, Who shall take what ye would not give. Did ye think
to conquer the people, Or that Law is stronger than life
and than mens desire to be free?
We will try it out with you, ye that have harried and held,
ye that have bullied and bribed, tyrants, hypocrites, liars!
Courtesy of the Midlands Tribune