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Speech at a State Ceremonial Event in Honour of Patrick Pearse and the Irish Language

Pearse Museum, St. Enda’s Park, Rathfarnham, 7th July, 2016

Ní mór dúinn a aithint sa lá atá inniu ann go raibh Pádraig Mac Piarais ceannródaíoch ó thaobh chosaint na Gaeilge mar mheán cumarsáide, seachas mar dhíol spéise i measc lucht léinn...

A chairde,

Táimid anseo le chéile um thráthnóna chun ceiliúradh a dhéanamh agus chun buíochas a ghabháil, mar náisiún, le glúin na réabhlóide, céad bliain ó shin, glúin a thug teanga álainn na Gaeilge slán le díograis agus le dúthracht. Agus muid anseo i bPáirc Naomh Éanna, cuimhnímid go háirithe ar an ngrá a bhí ag Pádraig Mac Piarais don teanga aoibhinn seo, ar an gcion saoil a rinne sé chun an teanga a athnuachan agus a leathnú, ar an spéis a bhí aige i nósmhaireacht saoil na nGael a bhain leis an teanga, agus ar a lárnacht a bhí an teanga sa togra ceannródaíoch oideachais a chuir sé i gcrích san áit a bhfuilimid anois.

[This afternoon we come together to recall and express our gratitude, as a nation, to the work accomplished by Ireland’s revolutionary generation, a hundred years ago, in keeping alive our beautiful Irish language. Here in St. Enda’s Park, we recall more particularly the love of Patrick Pearse for this precious language, his life-long dedication to the tasks of its re-establishment and extension, his interest in what he saw as the Gaelic way of life which might surround it, and the centrality he accorded to it in the groundbreaking educational venture he brought to fruition in these very grounds.]

Is mór againn glúin na hAthbheochana; de bharr na físe a bhí acu agus de bharr na hoibre a rinne siad chun an fhís sin a bhaint amach tháinig gnéithe sin an chultúir slán agus is mór againne san am i láthair iad mar aitheantas agus mar léiriú ar chultúr na nGael: tuiscint ar mhiotais agus ar stair faoi leith, ar chluichí Gaelacha, ar thraidisiún luachmhar litríochta agus ar ár dteanga ársa.

[We are hugely indebted to the generation of the Revival, whose visionary work ensured the survival of those cultural elements which are available to us today as a source of our distinctive Irish identity: an awareness of our unique history and myths, our Gaelic games, our rich literary tradition, and indeed our ancient language.]

Ní gan dua ná gan díograis a tháinig na gnéithe sin slán chugainn. Ag tús iompú na haoise seo caite, bhí an Ghaeilge ar an dé deiridh agus gan de phobail á labhairt ach roinnt dlúthphobal ar chósta an deiscirt agus an iarthair. Bhí an eisimirce a lean an Gorta Mór ag bánú na tuaithe agus lagú a beochta. Bhí slánú na Gaeilge i mbaol, freisin, toisc nach raibh an Ghaeilge mar chuid de chóras na scoileanna náisiúnta ná de chóras riaracháin na Breataine; toisc gur samhlaíodh an Ghaeilge leis an mbochtanas; agus toisc an fonn a bhí ar go leor tuismitheoirí le Gaeilge an Béarla a mhúineadh dá gcuid leanaí ionas go bhféadfaidís poist a fháil sna bailte móra agus i Meiriceá.

[This was by no means a matter of course. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Irish language was perilously close to extinction in all but a few pockets along the west and southern seaboards. The ongoing devastation of post-famine emigration was sapping the life of the countryside. The exclusion of Irish from the national school system and the British administration, its association with poverty, and the willingness of many Irish-speaking parents to teach English to their children so as to better enable them to find jobs in the towns and in America, were further factors which were threatening the very survival of the language.]

Ba thuiscint ar an riachtanas a bhí ann na nósanna sin a chasadh ar a gceann, mar aon leis an spéis a bhí lucht léinn a chur sa teanga, ba chúis le bunú Chonradh na Gaeilge sa bhliain 1893 – eagraíocht a mbeadh dlúthbhaint aici le gluaiseacht athbheochana na Gaeilge. Tháinig borradh as cuimse ar Chonradh na Gaeilge ag tús an chéid seo caite: chuir gníomhaíochtaí an Chonartha go mór leis an saol sóisialta i mbailte móra agus i sráidbhailte na tíre; baineadh leas as an gceol, as an damhsa agus as an drámaíocht chun tacú le leathnú na Gaeilge; bhí an iris dhátheangach Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge agus an nuachtán Fáinne an Lae lán de scríbhinní óna leithéidí an Dr Ó hIcí, Eoin Mac Néill, Agnes O’Farrelly, Mary Hayden, agus gan amhras Dubhghlas de hÍde, An Craoibhin Aoibhinn, ar scoláire ceannródaíoch Gaeilge agus filíochta é, agus Uachtarán an Chonartha ó 1893 go 1915.

 

[An awareness of the need to reverse this trend, coupled with growing scholarly interest in the language, led to the creation, in 1893, of the Gaelic League, an organisation which was to play such a crucial part in the movement for the revival of the Irish language. The Gaelic League went through a spectacular expansion at the turn of the last century: its activities enhanced the social life of town and villages throughout Ireland; music, dance and drama were used to support the dissemination of the Irish language; the bilingual Gaelic Journal and the newspaper Fáinne an Lae were filled with the writings of such as Dr O’Hickey, Eoin MacNeill, Agnes O’Farrelly, Mary Hayden, and of course Douglas Hyde, An Craoibhin Aoibhinn, who was a pioneering scholar of the Irish language and poetry, and the League’s President from 1893 to 1915.]

 

Chuaigh Pádraig Mac Piarais le Conradh na Gaeilge sa bhliain 1896, gan 17 mbliana a bheith slánaithe aige, agus chuir sé chun oibre go díograiseach agus go dúthrachtach sna deich mbliana ina dhiaidh sin. D’fhreastail sé ar fhormhór gach cruinniú de chuid an Choiste Gnótha, mhúin sé ranganna Gaeilge, thug sé léamha, léachtaí agus cainteanna, bhí sé ar fáil do chraobh ar bith an Chonartha a raibh urlabhraí oifigiúil de dhíth orthu, idir i mBaile Átha Cliath agus lasmuigh de.

[Patrick Pearse joined the Gaelic League in 1896, shortly before his 17th birthday, and over the subsequent decade, he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to its work. He attended virtually every meeting of the Coiste Gnótha, taught Irish classes, and gave readings, lectures and speeches, making himself available to any branch in need of an official speaker in Dublin and outside.]

Ón mbliain 1900, stiúraigh an Piarsach coiste Foilseacháin an Chonartha, agus sa bhliain 1903 ghlac sé chuige eagarthóireacht An Claidheamh Soluis, ról a chomhlíon sé le fonn agus le faghairt go ceann breis is sé bliana. D’fhéach an Piarsach chuige go mbeadh spás nach beag sa leagan nua, méadaithe den Chlaidheamh do litríocht na Gaeilge, agus é meáite ar théacsanna clasaiceacha na Gaeilge a chur ar a súile don phobal mar aon le litríocht nua-aimseartha dhúchasach a spreagadh.

[From 1900, Pearse also ran the League’s Publication committee, before he took on, in 1903, the editorship of An Claidheamh Soluis, a role he fulfilled with characteristic zeal and industry for over six years. Pearse made ample space for Irish literature, in his new, expanded, version of the Claidheamh, determined as he was both to popularise Irish classical texts and to stimulate an indigenous modern literature.]

Cuireann an bhaint a bhí ag an bPiarsach le Conradh na Gaeilge i gcuimhne dúinn gur sách déanach ina shaol a thug an Piarsach faoin náisiúnachas polaitiúil, seachas an náisiúnachas cultúir – eolas a ndéantar dearmad air go minic i saol na linne seo. Ar feadh na mblianta fada, bhí Pádraig Mac Piarais tugtha go hiomlán agus go fonnmhar don Ghaeilge agus d’athbheochan na Gaeilge. Mar a dúirt se féin:

“Níl i nGluaiseacht na Gaeilge, gan amhras, ach cuid den ghluaisteacht náisiúnta, ach is í an chuid is tábhachtaí di í – an chuid a thugann brí agus comhleanúnachas don iomlán.”

[The history of his involvement with the Gaelic League reminds us that Patrick Pearse was in fact a very late convert to political, rather than cultural, nationalism – a fact that is sometimes obscured in the contemporary collective memory. For many years, Patrick Pearse was passionately and quite exclusively committed to the Irish language and its revival. As he put it:

“The language movement is, of course, only a part of the national movement, but it is its most important part – the part which gives vitality and coherence to the whole.”]

Fearacht go leor daoine eile i ngluaiseacht na Gaeilge ag an am, theastaigh ón bPiarsach cur lena chuid Gaeilge féin ach cuairt a thabhairt ar an nGaeltacht. Ba mhór an spreagadh agus an sásamh a bhain sé as an gcéad samhradh a chaith sé ar Árainn, áit ar thosaigh sé ag foghlaim na Gaeilge beo ó chéadmhúinteoir J.M. Synge. Bhí cion faoi leith aige ar Ghaeltacht an Iarthair ar feadh a shaoil agus ba fhoinse spreagaidh agus suaimhnis dó í agus théadh sé ar cuairt ann trí nó ceithre bhabhta sa bhliain.

[Like many of his contemporaries in the language movement, Pearse sought to improve his proficiency in Irish by visiting the Gaeltacht. The first summer he spent in Aran, where he began to study the living Irish language from J.M. Synge’s first Irish teacher, was, for him, exhilarating. Throughout his life, the Gaelic-speaking West was to remain a special place of retreat and inspiration for Pearse, a place he would visit three or four times a year.]

Ba mhór an dáimh a bhí ag an bPiarsach le Conamara go háirithe, agus ba le canúint Ghaeilge Chonamara a chuaigh sé. Bhí sé faoi gheasa ag tírdhreach agus ag muintir Ros Muc, ceantar atá suite leath slí idir Gaillimh agus an Clochán. Chuaigh sé ann den chéad uair sa bhliain 1903 agus théadh sé ann gach samhradh ina dhiaidh sin. Ba sa teachín ceann tuí a thóg sé dó féin ar bhruach Loch Oiriúlach a scríobh Pádraig Mac Piarais an oráid iomráiteach sin a thug sé ag sochraid Dhiarmuid Uí Dhonobháin Rosa, i mí Lúnasa 1915.

[Pearse was particularly attached to Connemara, whose dialect of Irish he adopted. He fell under the spell of the landscape and people of Rosmuc, a locality halfway between Galway and Clifden, which he first visited in 1903 and subsequently every summer. It was from the thatched cottage he had built for himself on the shore of Loch Oiriulach that Patrick Pearse wrote his masterpiece speech for the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, in August 1915.]

Is furasta do scríbhneoirí comhaimseartha cineál idéalachais a fheiceáil sa tóir a bhí ag an bPiarsach ar áilleacht agus ar íonacht mhuintir an Gaeltachta. Áitíonn scríbhneoirí dá leithéid nár thuig an Piarsach i gceart an deargbhochtanas agus an imní roimh ghorta a thug ar go leor daoine dul ar imirce ó Iarthar na hÉireann. Leoga, ba mhór an díol iontais dó é nár leor do na daoine sin caomhnú a n-oidhreachta uathúla féin.[1] Ba é a theastaigh ón bPiarsach go gcuirfidís an tslí mhaireachtála a bhí acu, in ainneoin an bhochtanais, a bhí gar don nádúr agus lán de thírúlacht, i gcomparáid lena bheith ag maireachtáil ar imeall sochaí uirbeach agus thionsclaíoch.

[It is somewhat easy for some contemporary writers to see in Pearse’s fascination with the beauty and purity of the Gaeltacht people a form of idealisation. Such writers have argued that Patrick Pearse failed to fully grasp the extent of the grinding poverty and the fear of famine that led so many from the West of Ireland to emigrate. Indeed it quite bewildered him that these true Gaels did not find satisfaction in the preservation of their unique heritage.[2] What Pearse sought of course was for them to contrast the way of life they had, yes in poverty, but close to nature, rich in sociability, with an existence at the edge of urban and industrial society.]

Ní mór dúinn a aithint sa lá atá inniu ann go raibh Pádraig Mac Piarais ceannródaíoch ó thaobh chosaint na Gaeilge mar mheán cumarsáide, seachas mar dhíol spéise i measc lucht léinn, ó thaobh ról phobal na Gaeltachta i slánú na Gaeilge beo, agus ó thaobh na spéise a bhí aige sa dátheangachas. Chuige sin, ní mór cuimhneamh nár áitigh an Piarsach riamh go mbeadh Éire ina tír aon-teanga Ghaeilge ach go raibh súil aige go mbainfí Éire dhátheangach amach.

[Today we must recognise that Patrick Pearse was visionary in his defence of the language as a spoken living medium, rather than a mere object of scholarly interest, in his insistence on the role of the Gaeltacht people in ensuring the survival of this living language, as well as in his interest in bilingualism. In that regard, it is important to remember that Pearse never advocated for an all Irish-speaking Ireland, but hoped, rather, for a bilingual Ireland.]

Pearse’s interest in bilingual education was first stirred during a trip he made to Wales in 1899, to attend a pan-Celtic gathering, and then deepened over the month he spent in Belgium in July 1905 to study the French and Flemish bilingual system of education. He was particularly taken by the so-called Direct Method, a technique of language teaching through conversation widely used in continental schools.

In the columns of An Claidheamh Soluis, Pearse tirelessly advocated for bilingualism to be operated throughout the country, and not just in Gaeltacht areas. In the proposals he set out in 1906, he not only stated that

“Every child has a right to be taught his mother tongue”

but also that:

“Every child ought to be taught at least one other language, as soon as he is capable of learning it.”

The modernity of Pearse’s defence of bilingualism, his grasp of language acquisition and classroom practice, are elements that point to the deep relevance of his legacy as an educator. And while his educational thought and work has not always garnered all the attention it deserves, it is appropriate that we, today, in these premises, recall the achievements of Patrick Pearse as an educational theorist, a teacher, and the founder of what was one of Ireland’s most innovative schools in the early 20th century.

Fiú sa chás nár tharla an tÉirí Amach ar chor ar bith, bheadh a cháil ar an bPiarsach ó thaobh na smaointeoireachta réabhlóidí toisc a theoiric oideachais agus a oideolaíocht.

[Even if the Rising had not taken place, Patrick Pearse would have carved out a place in revolutionary consciousness for his educational theory and pedagogy.]

Frustrated by the failure of his ideas for educational reform to gain wide traction amongst his contemporaries, Pearse characteristically resolved to take the matter into his own hands. He was determined to demonstrate the possibility of an alternative model of schooling by opening his own school, one where a bilingual environment would be created, where pupils would be made aware of Irish history, and where each child’s individuality would be cherished.

Convinced that schooling in Ireland amounted to an act of cultural assimilation – and indeed the provision of education under British rule betrayed an agenda of cultural, religious and linguistic assimilation – Pearse wanted his school to have an “Irish standpoint and ‘atmosphere’” and be based on what he saw as two characteristics of the old Irish system of education: freedom for the individual student and inspirational teaching.[3]

Pearse was also anxious to restore an awareness of the value of the Irish past. This concern of his must be placed in the context of imperial assumptions as to the inherent inferiority of the Irish as a people. It is hard to believe that at the dawn of the Enlightenment, it was argued that the Irish were too backward to have been the location for any myth’s origin.[4] An extreme example of such views was provided by David Hume in his History of England (1754-62):

“The Irish, from the beginning of time, had been buried in the most profound barbarism and ignorance; and as they were never conquered or even invaded by the Romans, from whom all the western world derived its civility, they continued still in the most rude state of society, and were distinguished by those vices alone, to which human nature, not tamed by education or restrained by laws, is for ever subject.”

Scoil Éanna, St. Enda’s, the school which opened its doors in Cullenswood House, Rathmines, in 1908, took its name from the patron saint of Pearse’s beloved Aran. It attracted many pupils from prominent nationalist families[5], to whom Pearse endeavoured to teach a love of Irish history, language, literature and poetry. He also sought to cultivate in those boys a mixture of virtue and valour by telling them of the life of the early Irish saints such as Enda and Columcille, and of the great deeds of the heroes of Ireland’s mythical cycles, such as Cúchulainn and Fionn.

According to Desmond Ryan, a former pupil of St. Enda’s who later became Pearse’s secretary (as well as one of his biographers), the boys were so taken by the Cúchulainn saga, which Pearse distilled to them day after day, that

“the dark, sad boy [became] an important member of staff.”

St. Enda’s pupils did not just triumph on the hurling and football fields of Dublin and Leinster, they also starred on the stage of the Abbey Theatre, attracting glowing reports in the nationalist press. St. Enda’s finest dramatic production, for which the boys joined forces with the girls of their sister school, St. Ita’s, was a passion play that was shown in the Abbey in Holy Week 1911 (and in which some have read signs of the events to come five years later).[6]

Pearse’s theatrical sense and romantic imagination, both of which had been extremely vivid from childhood, found vast room for expression in St. Enda’s plays. Through them he breathed new life in the mythical figures of his youth, many of whom had been fed to him by his octogenarian grand-aunt, Margaret, who was his link to his mother’s County Meath culture, and who had fascinated him with her stories, tales and songs about Fionn, Tone and Emmet, but also Napoleon.[7]

The photographs of St. Enda’s youths dressed up as early Irish saints and heroes enjoyed widespread dissemination amongst cultural revivalist circles. Those images emblematised the contemporary hopes for a national future that would draw its strength and inspiration from Ireland’s great past.

Yet, Patrick Pearse’s educational project was broader than a mere nationalist agenda. His description of schooling in Ireland as a “Murder Machine” – the title of his famous 1916 essay – does not only refer to the use of education as an agent of colonialism that instilled an ignorance of their own past and self-hatred in Irish pupils; it also refers to the pedagogical poverty prevalent at the time.

The scholars who have studied Pearse’s educational work, such as Séamas O’Buachalla, or, more recently, Brendan Walsh and Elaine Sisson, have all highlighted Pearse’s commitment to a child-centred education, whereby each pupil is encouraged to develop the best of his or her unique potential. Pearse was virulent in his denunciation of the repressive spirit of Ireland’s Intermediate system, which, in his view, crushed the individuality of pupils by imposing on them a brutal discipline, a narrow curriculum and a rigid, results-oriented, system of examination[8]. To him, this system was but “instruction without education”, which he described in these terms – I quote:

“It grinds day and night; it obeys immutable and predetermined laws; it is as devoid of understanding, of sympathy, of imagination as is any other piece of machinery that performs an appointed task. Into it is fed all the raw material in Ireland: it seizes upon it inexorably and rends and compresses and remoulds; and what it cannot refashion after the regulation pattern it ejects with all the likeness of its former self crushed from it, a bruised and shapeless thing, thereinafter accounted waste.”

Pearse recognised the existence of different kinds of intelligence, as is revealed in this small episode he related in one of his speeches (“Of Freedom in Education”, 1912):

“I knew another boy of whom his father said to me: “He is no good with books, he is no good at work; he is good at nothing but playing a tin whistle. What am I to do with him?” I shocked the worthy man by replying (though really it was the obvious thing to reply): “Buy a tin whistle for him.”

Thus in St. Enda’s, alongside the classical subjects, great attention was granted to the “modern” subjects and science, as well as to the development of artistic and sportive skills, to the study of nature and the love of animals,[9] to the nurturing of observation and reasoning, and to the formation of moral character. According to Brendan Walsh, Pearse also prepared his boys to be future citizens of an independent Ireland by the cultivation of democratic participation in the life of the school.

Importantly to Pearse, the school was embellished by the work of such well-known artists as Beatrice Elvery and Sarah Purser, as well as by original pictures by Jack B. Yeats and George Russell, friezes by Edwin and Jack Morrow, and sculptures by Willie Pearse and others.

True to his conviction that, as he put it:

“It is only by making his own life a thing of grace and beauty that the teacher will gain the happiness of seeing successive generations of good men and women grow up around him.”

Patrick Pearse endeavoured to recruit the best of teachers for his pupils. His right-hand man during the first years of St. Enda’s was Thomas MacDonagh, a poet and playwright whose infectious cheerfulness infused the school with a gaiety and laughter that were in stark contrast with the gloomy silence imposed in most Irish schools of the time.[10] Another central figure in the life of the St. Enda’s boys was the gardener, Micheál Mac Ruaidhrí, a native speaker of Irish who was also a folklorist and the winner of several Oireachtas medals.

For us today, it is impressive to recall how eminent intellectual figures of the era came and went to dispense what Pearse had called “half-holiday lectures,” on a variety of unconventional subjects. Those occasional lecturers included W.B. Yeats, Douglas Hyde, Padraic Colum, Standish O’Grady, Edward Martyn, Agnes O’Farrelly, Eoin MacNeill, Alice Stopford Green, and even Roger Casement[11].

St. Enda’s was also, we should never forget, the family home of the Pearses, all of whom took an active part in the life of the school. This was in conformity with Pearse’s interest in the old Gaelic institution of fosterage and his belief that the school environment should be a nurturing one. Willie, who had studied at the Metropolitan School of Art, taught art in the school; Mrs Pearse acted as matron and housekeeper; Mary Brigid taught music; and Margaret taught junior French as well as keeping a correspondence with the pupils when they went on holidays.

St. Enda’s move from Cullenswood House to this beautiful 18th century house known as the Hermitage, in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains, was financially disastrous for the Pearses, as well as marking a sharp decline in the number of enrolled pupils. This move also marked the beginning of Patrick Pearse’s contemplation of physical force as the best path to Ireland’s freedom. Here at the Hermitage, Pearse became haunted by the figure of Robert Emmet, who had reportedly walked these grounds with his sweetheart Sarah Curran. He also immersed himself in the writings of other revolutionaries, particularly Wolfe Tone’s Autobiography and John Mitchell’s Jail Journal, as well as the work of the Young Irelanders Thomas Davis and James Fintan Lalor.

But Patrick Pearse did not just spend his time reading, teaching and daydreaming during his walks around this park. Over the very short period from June 1913 to February 1914, he act as co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and, developing a new social awareness in the face of the brutality of the Great Lockout, he also came closer to the two giants of the Irish labour movement – Jim Larkin, whose sons attended St. Enda’s, and James Connolly, whose intellectual stature greatly impressed him. The American tour Pearse undertook in early 1914, bringing him in contact with such radical Irish-American Fenians as John Devoy and Joseph McGarrity, only strengthened his conviction of the necessity of military action.

We have had ample opportunity, during this centenary year, to recall the unfolding of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the prominent part that Pearse played in it. For all of us Irish people, the name of Patrick Pearse remains associated with the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, of which he was the main drafter as well as a signatory, and which he read out from under the porch of the GPO shortly after noon on Easter Monday 1916.

Pearse was very aware of being part of a wider tradition of Irish armed rebellion. And while his exaltation of bloodshed and sacrifice as a means to regenerate the nation is sometimes misconstrued nowadays, recent scholarship has shown that such rhetoric was in keeping with the language of European nationalist discourse a century ago, as well as with the aggressive tone of army recruitment propaganda in those first years of WWI, which invoked the patriotism of shedding blood for Empire. WWI was after all, we must never forget, a contest between six imperial powers.

As Elaine Sisson has recently argued[12], Patrick Pearse’s appeals to the manhood of the Irish nation was largely a translation into the Irish context of imperial values of masculinity and warfare that had wide currency at the time. It seems to me, too, that Patrick Pearse was very likely attracted to the aesthetic of battle between friends, present, not just in the Fiannaíocht saga but also in the European classics with which he was familiar, such as the contest between Nisus and Euryalus in Virgil’s Aeneid. It would take four years of very real and massive bloodshed in the trenches of France and Belgium to teach Pearse’s generation that total war is a horrendous thing.

Patrick Pearse, of course, did not live to reflect back on those devastating years in the history of Europe. Court-martialled for his leadership in the Rising, he was shot at 3:30 am on 3rd May 1916 at Kilmainham Gaol. His friend and fellow schoolmaster at St Enda’s, Thomas MacDonagh, was executed the same day. Willie Pearse died the following day, and Con Colbert, who had been employed at St. Enda’s as a drilling instructor, was executed on 8th May.

As hinted by the last section of this Museum’s new permanent exhibition, so diligently curated by Brian Crowley, Patrick Pearse’s postmortem life also proved to be an eventful one. While Pearse was an uncontested figure in Ireland up to the 1966 anniversary – indeed in 1970 Éamon De Valera accepted the keys of St. Enda’s on behalf of the Irish State – his legacy became the focus of some tendentious writings in the subsequent decades. In the context of what has been called “the Troubles”, loose revisionism sought to make the suggestion that Pearse had provided the ideological template for the Republican violence of 1969 and later. This was of course a somewhat simplistic and ideological assumption, and contemporary historians are more interested in the human rights breaches and the political and social basis of conflict and exclusion as a source of violence in the Northern Ireland of the 1970s.

Today we are able, I believe – I hope – to avoid any schematic alternative between the idealisation of Patrick Pearse on the one hand, and the debunking of his myth on the other. A hundred years on, we can better see the man behind the icon. We are better able, for example, to be moved by the exceptional quality of the affection which united Patrick Pearse with the other members of his family, in particular his mother, Margaret, and his brother, Willie, of whom Patrick said:

“As a boy he was my only playmate; as a man he has been my only intimate friend.”

I know that this is a dimension of Pearse’s life that is especially meaningful to the members of the Pearse family who are with us today, and whom I salute. A century later, we are, too, more open to acknowledging the deep sensitivity which underpinned Pearse’s sense of his own identity. For example we know now that Pearse’s habit of offering his profile to photographers – a tendency ironically conducive to future iconisation – stemmed, in fact, from his self-consciousness about the squint he had had in his eye from early childhood.

Pearse’s autobiography, of which the original is on display in the new permanent exhibition we are opening today, also demonstrates Pearse’s remarkable awareness of his own complexity, as a man who was passionate about Ireland’s old myths but also had a deep interest in modernity, as a defender of the Irish language who greatly admired English literature, Milton, and above all Shakespeare,[13] and as the son of a mixed marriage between an Irishwoman and an Englishman. He wrote:

“These two traditions worked in me, and, fused together by a certain fire proper to myself, made me… [at this point we can see clearly that Pearse crossed out the words “an Irish Rebel”, with a capital I and a capital R, he had initially pencilled on the page, and wrote instead] ... the strange thing that I am.”[14]

Is mór an sásamh a thugann sé domsa inniu, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, an buíochas atá dlite ag Pádraig Mac Piarais agus ag na fir agus na mná ar oibrigh sé go díograiseach leo, uainn mar náisiún a chur in iúl as an gcion a rinneadh ionas go mbainfeadh stair na nGael, litríocht na nGael agus an Ghaeilge an áit a bhí dlite dóibh amach i scoileanna na tíre. Mar a deir duine de bheathainéisithe an Phiarsaigh: gur thug an ghlúin sin de ghníomhaithe cultúir “eochair an fhéinmheasa” don Ghaeilge, agus is mór againn é sin.

[Today, it is my great pleasure, as President of Ireland, to express the debt of gratitude that we as a nation owe to Patrick Pearse and the men and women alongside whom he worked tirelessly so that Irish history, literature, and our Irish language would gain the place they deserve in our schools. As one of Pearse’s biographers put it,[15] that generation of cultural activists gave the Irish “the key to self-respect”, and we are immensely grateful for that.]

In aois ina gcuirtear go leor gnéithe d’éachtaíocht an duine, an t-oideachas agus cumas teanga ina measc, i gcomhréir le sprioc uileghabhálach an tís gheilleagraigh, is mór againn freisin coincheap idéalach, neamh-uirliseach na teanga agus an oideachais a bhronn an ghlúin cheannródaíoch orainn. Go dtuga na hócáidí comórtha seo deis dúinn cuid dá n-idéalachas dearfach a thabhairt slán mar threoir don ghlúin reatha agus do na glúinte atá fós le teacht.

[In an age when so many spheres of human achievement, including education and language proficiency, are too often placed in a utilitarian relationship to the overarching goal of economic efficiency, we are grateful too, for the idealistic, non-instrumental, conception of language and education which that revolutionary generation bequeathed to us. May these commemorations be an opportunity to salvage something of their positive idealism to guide our present and future.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

[1] Léirítear a leithéid seo i ráitis ón bPiarsach, cuir i gcás: “Let us plainly tell the emigrant that he is a traitor to the Irish State, and, if he but knew all, a fool into the bargain.”

[2] This is manifested in such statements by Pearse as the following: “Let us plainly tell the emigrant that he is a traitor to the Irish State, and, if he but knew all, a fool into the bargain.”

[3] In The Pedagogy of Protest. The Educational Thought and Work of Patrick H. Pearse. (Peter Lang, 2007), Brendan Walsh argues that Pearse’s attempts at challenging the educational system of the early 20th century had historic antecedents that reached back at least to the hedge-schools of the 18th century.

[4] James Macpherson had argued for the Scottish origins in a similar fashion.

[5] Including three sons and a nephew of Eoin MacNeill, a son of William Bulfin (whose daughter, Mary Bulfin, also attended St. Ita’s), two sons of Peter McGinley, a son of W.P. Ryan, various young relatives of Agnes O’Farrelly, Mary Hayden, Stephen Barrett, Sean T. O’Kelly, Padraic Colum and many others.

[6] According to Ruth Dudley Edwards’ biography of Patrick Pearse, St. Enda’s first production, in March 1909, was a great attraction to a Dublin obsessed with theatre-going. It featured two plays, Hyde’s An Naomh ar Iarraidh (The Lost Saint) and Standish O’Grady’s The Coming of Fionn. The same year’s June pageant Mac-Ghníomharta Chuchulain (the Boy-Deeds of Cúchulainn), was also a grand affair.

[7] As an adult, Pearse retained his love for Napoleon. He had what was thought to be a lock of Napoleon’s hair in his St Enda’s museum, which was full of relics of his heroes, such as letters by Daniel O’Connell, Emmet’s death mask, etc.

[8] The grip of this system was all the more effective as the pupils’ results in examinations affected the payment of teachers.

[9] The only child ever expelled was sent home because of cruelty to a cat.

[10] The third resident master, in charge of dancing, music and athletics, was Tomas Mac Domhnaill, a well-known musician. In the first year, distinguished scholars such as Michael Smithwick, a Leaguer and mathematician of note, the popular Irish harpist Owen Lloyd, and Dr Patrick Doody, classics master, also taught at St. Enda’s.

[11] Casement spoke to the boys about the Irish revival and he left an impressive penknife as a prize for the author of the best essay in Irish.

[12] In her book Pearse’s Patriots: St Enda’s and the Cult of Boyhood (Cork University Press, 2004).

[13] The temporary exhibition currently on show at the Pearse Museum is on Pearse and Shakespeare.

[14] The full quote is: “When my father and my mother married there came together two very widely remote traditions – English and Puritan and mechanic on the one hand, Gaelic and Catholic and peasant on the other; freedom loving both, and neither without its strain of poetry and its experience of spiritual and other adventure. And these two traditions worked in me, and, fused together by a certain fire proper to myself, made me …the strange thing that I am.”

[15] Ruth Dudley Edwards. 1977. Patrick Pearse. The Triumph of Failure. Victor Gollancz, London.