Padraic Henry Pearse (1879 – 1916)

Educator, linguist, lawyer, poet, playwright, author, military leader


Padraic Henry Pearse, the second of four children, was born on November 10, 1879 to James Pearse and Margaret Pearse (née Brady).

His father, James, who was born in England, was a mason and monumental sculptor who sculpted the pediment adorning the Bank of Ireland (formerly the Parliament House) in College Green and the 12 statues in the niches of the tower of John's Lane Church located on Thomas Street in Dublin.

His mother, Margaret, who was born in Dublin was elected a Sinn Fein member to the 2nd Dail Eireann that convened in August 1921 and functioned until June 1922. After the Dail accepted the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty by 64 to 57 votes on January 7th 1922, Margaret together with the other opposing Sinn Fein members left the Dail (1).

During his childhood Pearse was greatly influenced by his father’s embrace of libertarian ideals that embodied political and personal freedom, civil liberties and social justice. The embrace of these ideals by Pearse gave substance to his evolving censorious attitude towards cultural imperialism and colonial rule, particularly as applied to Ireland and its people. In addition to his father’s influence, which was significant, he grew up in midst of the Irish Literary Revival, a movement associated with the revival of interest in Ireland's Gaelic heritage and the consequential growth of Irish nationalism. Pearse would go on to become one of the movements foremost contributors through both his literary talents that included the publication of bilingual poems, stories and plays and his devotion to the Irish nation that he and his comrades set forth to liberate on Easter Monday 1916.

Pearse attended a private school before enrolling at the Christian Brothers School in Westland Row. He was an excellent student in all his subjects, particularly, Irish history and the Irish language, subjects that he grew to love. He was an honors Irish language student each year and by the age of seventeen was an accomplished Irish language writer. He was awarded a scholarship to the Royal University  from whence he graduated with a degree in Modern Languages in 1900. He also studied law at Trinity College Dublin and enrolled as a Barrister-at-Law at the King’s Inn. He was called to the Bar in 1901.

His love for the Irish language found expression as a member of the Gaelic League, a nationalistic leaning organization he joined in 1896 at the age of sixteen. The organization was founded in 1893 by Fr. Eugene O'Growney and Douglas Hyde and others Irish language enthusiasts to restore and preserve the Irish language. As one of its most devoted and enthusiastic member Pearse was appointed to its Executive Committee in 1898.

Throughout his life Pearse remained dedicated to the revival and preservation of the Irish language. To that end he utilized his many talents included writing and publishing stories, poems and plays, teaching Irish classes at Newman House the precursor of University College Dublin (UCD), traveling to the west of Ireland and the Aran Islands on behalf of the Gaelic League, lecturing in Irish at UCD and editing the Gaelic Leagues newspaper ’An Claidheamh Soluis’ (Sword of light). Amongst his many publications were Poll an Piobaire (The Piper’s Cave) and Iosagan agus Sgealta Eile (Little Jesus and other Stories).

On a visit to Rosmuc in Connemara in April 1903 as an examiner for the Gaelic League he decided to build a holiday home there. He bought a site overlooking Loch Eiliúrach where he had a two-bedroom thatched cottage built. He loved the area and the people and spent his summer holidays there writing and mastering his command of the Irish language.

In September of 1908 Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh founded St Enda’s (Scoil Éanna) Secondary School for boys in Ranelagh, Dublin. He did so because he believed that the Irish School system did not cater to the cultural and educational needs of Irish children but, rather to the task of turning Irish children into good English subjects. One aim of the school was to teach as many subjects as possible in Irish. His staff included, in addition to himself and MacDonagh, Con Colbert, his brother William and Joseph M. Plunkett. Guest lecturers included amongst others, Ella Young, Douglas Hyde, Eoin MacNeill and W.B. Yeats. To accommodate its rapid expansion the school relocated to The Hermitage in Rathfarnham, the former home of Sarah Curran, Robert Emmet’s beloved.

The Hermitage was selected by Pearse primarily because of its connection to Robert Emmet and Sarah Curran, both of whom he greatly admired for their beliefs, tragic liaison and ultimate fate.

The spacious grounds surrounding The Hermitage were used by Countess Markievicz’s Fianna boys and the Irish Volunteers for training and drilling exercises. In the weeks leading up to the Rising, a group of university students, former students of St. Enda’s referred to as the “The Dogs” used the school basement to make bombs. Fifteen of “The Dogs” took part in the Rising.

Up until the formation of the Ulster Volunteers, (a Unionists militia founded in 1912 to prevent the implementation of the 3rd Home Rule for Ireland) Pearse’s could more accurately be described as a cultural nationalist whose focus was on awakening and nurturing Ireland’s unique cultural identity within the restraints of Home Rule. As a student of Irish history, he realized that the Unionists opposition to the enactment of the Home Rule Bill would doom it to the ashes of history, the same fate that befell the previous two Home Rule Bills, albeit for different reasons.

That realization was a pivotal chapter in his Pearse’s life. From that time on his attitude towards British rule in Ireland became more hostile and militant, having decided that Ireland’s future would best be served by a complete break from England and the establishment of a sovereign all-Ireland Republic. His new resolve brought him closure in his thinking to Republican activists including Thomas J. Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada, Bulmer Hobson and Eamonn Ceannt.

Pearse’s oratorical skills combined with his extensive knowledge of Irish history and contemporary politics made him one of the most sought after speakers at the many cultural and political functions taking place around Ireland at that time. In 1913, Thomas Clarke, who had returned from the United States in December of 1907 to help reorganize the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), heard Pearse speak at one of the aforementioned functions and invited him to deliver the 1913 oration at the graveside of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown in Co. Wicklow. (The Wolfe Tone commemoration was, and continued to be, an annual event sacred to Irish Republicans). It was at that commemoration that Pearse publicly identified himself with the Republican cause when he, knowingly, began his speech with these words;

"We have come to the holiest place in Ireland: holier to us than the place where Patrick sleeps in Down. Patrick brought us life, but this man died for us. And though many before him and some since have died in testimony of the truth of Ireland's claim to nationhood, Wolfe Tone was the greatest of all that have died for Ireland whether in old time or in new. He was the greatest of Irish nationalists. I believe he was the greatest of Irish men. And if I am right in this I am right in saying that we stand in the holiest place in Ireland and that the holiest sod of a Nation's soil is the sod where the greatest of her dead lies buried."

In mid-1913 Pearse began contributing articles to the IRB newspaper ‘Irish Freedom’, a monthly publication founded by IRB members, Sean MacDiarmada, Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullough. He became a member of the Irish Volunteers and was one of the speakers at its inaugural meeting in November of 1913. By the end of 1913 Pearse had also become a member of the IRB. His indomitable spirit and unequivocal commitment to Irish Freedom coupled with his leadership qualities propelled him to prominence within the ranks of both organizations. He was elected principle speaker and Director of Organization of the Irish Volunteers. As Director of Organization he was authorized to issue orders on behalf of the Chief of Staff, Eoin MacNeill.

In February of 1914 he embarked on a lecture and fundraising tour in the United States to raise money to maintain St. Enda’s and to arm the Irish Volunteers. Although his base of operation was in Harlem in New York City, he lectured and gave speeches in various locations up and down the east coast including Wilmington (Delaware), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Springfield (Massachusetts), Providence (Rhode Island), and New Rochelle (New York). As an ardent admirer of the United Irishmen of 1798 and 1803 his lectures included, in addition to the prevailing political situation in Ireland, insights into the lives and travails of Wolfe Tone, James Orr, Michael Dwyer, Robert Emmet, Sarah Curran and other heroes and martyrs of that historic era.

Interspersed with his lecture tour were meetings with Irish-American political activists including Clan na Gael leaders Joseph McGarrity and John Devoy. His meetings with McGarrity and Devoy were focused on the feasibility of launching another Rising in Ireland to oust the British and establish a sovereign all-Ireland Republic. They discussed the implications of such a drastic undertaking including the planning, financing and transatlantic coordination necessary to carry it out. After completing his tour in May of 1914, Pearse left the U.S. assured that the Irish-American leadership was on board when the worsening situation in Ireland left no other choice but, insurrection. Despite the assurances of help from Clan na Gael, Pearse had no illusions as to the probable outcome of such an undertaking. At best, he hoped that if it ended in failure and, if history proved correct, the execution of its leaders, their sacrifices would ignite the proverbial fuse that would culminate in a successful nationwide War of Independence.

On July 14, 1914, the yacht Asgard openly unloaded 1,000 rifles and ammunition at Howth for the Irish Volunteers. The rifles were purchases in Germany by a group of Irish Republican activists and supporters including Erskine and Molly Childers, Roger Casement, Alice Stopford Green and Mary Spring Rice. Molly Childers and Spring Rice raised over £2000 to purchase the guns and ammunition. The Childers provided their yacht, Asgard, to run the guns into Ireland. The guns were dispersed and hidden in various locations throughout Dublin including St. Enda’s.

In September 0f 1914, when John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, split the Volunteers, Pearse assumed command of the remaining Volunteers who ignored Redmond’s call to join the British army and fight for the British Empire in the WWI.

Pearse’s increasing involvement with Irish Volunteers and the IRB required more of his time and efforts as the clock wound down to the pending Rising. In March of 1915 he was appointed to the Supreme Council of the IRB by Thomas Clarke. He, together with Joseph Plunkett and Eamonn Ceannt served on a secret committee responsible for drawing up plans for the Rising. The committee later expanded into the Military Council with the inclusion of Sean MacDiarmada, James Connolly, and Thomas MacDonagh.

On August 1, 1915 Pearse gave a graveside oration at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin Cemetery. He ended his oration with the following words:

“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 that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that 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”.  (click here for the entire oration)

In the early months of 1916 Pearse published three pamphlets “The Separatist Idea”, “The Spiritual Nation”, and “The Sovereign People”. The pamphlets elaborated on one of his earlier publications “Ghosts” wherein he contended that the ghosts of dead men bequeathed to us living men a trust to do what they wanted i.e., continue the quest for Irish freedom and sovereignty.

In the waning months of 1915 Pearse penned the following poem titled The Fool addressed to his fellow country men and women who did not share his vision:

"The Lawyers have sat in Council, the men with the keen long faces, and said This man is a fool, and others have said he blasphemeth; and the wise have pitied the fool who strove to give a life to a dream that was dreamed in the heart and that only the heart can hold. O Wise Men, riddle me this: What if the dream come true, What if the dream come true and millions unborn shall dwell in the house that I shaped in my heart?

On April 3, 1916, Pearse, as the Volunteers' Director of Organization, issued orders to the Volunteers to assemble for three days of "parades and maneuvers" beginning on Easter Sunday. IRB members within the ranks of the Volunteers would know these were orders to begin the Rising, while the British authorities would dismiss the maneuvers as commonplace. In the hours leading up to the Rising Pearse was appointed Commandant General and Commanding in Chief of the Army of the Irish Republic, and President of the Provisional Government. When McNeill, who initially supported the Rising heard that the ‘Aud’ was intercepted and that Roger Casement was captured by the British, he countermanded Pearse’s orders, causing general confusion within the ranks of the Volunteers Although the Rising commenced on Easter Monday, April 24, a day later than originally planned, the confusion caused by McNeill’s action limited its scope to Dublin. The other units that mobilized outside of Dublin had little or no impact on the outcome.

At noon on Easter Monday Pearse read the Proclamation from the steps of the General Post Office on Sackville St. (now O’Connell St). Immediately afterwards units of the Volunteers, the Citizen’s Army Cumann na mBan, na Fianna Eireann and the Hibernian Rifles deployed to various garrisons throughout Dublin. Hostilities began shortly afterwards when a contingent of Volunteers and Fianna members attacked the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park. As more British troops arrived from England the fighting incrementally intensified to the point where the volunteers were overpowered with men and armaments. In all, it took 20,000 British troops to overpower 1,500 freedom fighters.

On Friday evening, April 27, Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada and Joseph Plunkett left the GPO for Hanlon’s fish shop on Moore St. where, after considering their options decided to surrender to prevent further loss of life. On Saturday afternoon Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, a member of Cumann na mBan, under a flag of truce met with General Lowe with a message from Pearse stating that he wished to negotiate surrender terms. Eventually. Pearse surrendered unconditionally. The surrender order did not reach some of the outposts until the Sunday April 30.

After a Field General Court Martial on May 2, 1916 Pearse was executed by firing squad at 3.30 the following morning, May 3, 1916. Fifteen other leaders of the Rising were also executed by firing squads. Roger Casement was hanged in England on August 1, 1916. Five of those executed were teachers at St Enda’s including, in addition to Pearse, his brother William, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh and Con Colbert.

The following quote is taken from Pearse’s closing statement at his court martial on May 2:

You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.”


1) After the vote, pro-treaty members led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins left Sinn Fein and formed a new Free State party known as Cumann na nGaedhael. De Valera stayed on as leader of Sinn Fein.

On January 10, 1921 Arthur Griffith was elected President of Dail Eireann. Two days later, as head of the Delegation to London that signed the Treaty, he called into existence the rival Parliament of Southern Ireland, created by the British Government of Ireland Act 1920, to ratify the Treaty and set-up a Provincial Government. In recognizing the Southern Ireland parliament as the legitimate authority to ratify the Treaty, Griffith ignored the fact that the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was rejected by the deputies elected to Dail Eireann in May 1921.

 Contributor:  Tomás Ó Coısdealha

 cemetery AND grave location

NAME:     Arbour Hill Cemetery                                                      PHONE NO.   +353 1 605 7700

ADDRESS:   Arbour Hill, Dublin West, Dublin, Co. Dublin

EXECUTED Leaders of the 1916 rising burial plot




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