The 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 can’t let the b••••••• get you down.

But to be serious again, Pearse’s 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 around her!’

So Nora sets off and Pearse describes really well the sense of superstition and fear in the young girl’s 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 doesn’t 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 I’d 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 didn’t know his lessons it was the teacher’s 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 League’s 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 group’s 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 Pearse’s 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 realm.’
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 Enda’s in Rathmines outside Dublin. The school prospered, was taught under enlightened principals and the pupils adored Pearse.

However, a change in Pearse’s 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 insurrection’s 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 leader’s 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 people’s 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 men’s 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
November 2004