Patrick Henry Pearse

The Irish poet, educator, and revolutionary nationalist Patrick Henry Pearse (1879-1916) was a leader of the Easter Rising of 1916 against the British.

Patrick H. Pearse was born in Dublin on Nov. 10, 1879, the son of an English father and an Irish mother. In his youth he was a fervent supporter of the Irish language revival movement, and he developed a mystical devotion to the ideals of Ireland's ancient Gaelic civilization. After graduating from the Royal University in 1901, he practiced law briefly but soon turned his talents to education. In 1908 he founded St. Enda's College, an experimental secondary school for boys.

Pearse became increasingly active in politics during the home rule controversy of 1912-1914. He gained a reputation as an orator and moved steadily toward an extreme nationalist position. In November 1913 he helped to form the Irish Volunteers, a nationalist militia, and he probably joined the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) soon afterward.

When the Volunteer movement split in September 1914 over the question of its policy on World War I, Pearse became director of organization for the militant minority that opposed support of Britain against Germany. Thereafter, he rose rapidly in the councils of the IRB, playing an important part in its plans for an insurrection against British rule. His forceful speeches and writings helped to build support for the separatist cause, while his key position in the Volunteer militia enabled him to coordinate its activities with those of the IRB.

When plans for a countrywide insurrection were frustrated by last-minute errors, Pearse and his fellow conspirators resolved to proceed with an armed rising in Dublin. They knew they had no chance of military success, but they believed their example would rouse the Irish people from political apathy and inspire them to fight for national freedom. On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, the rebels occupied buildings in the center of Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic. Pearse served as supreme commander of the 1,600 insurgents and signed the surrender order on April 29, when further resistance to British attacks appeared futile. The rebel leaders were quickly tried and condemned to death by military courtsmartial. Pearse was executed on May 3, 1916.

Pearse was an impassioned idealist who dedicated himself completely to the cause of Irish nationalism. The executed leaders of 1916 became popular martyrs for the cause of Irish liberty, and the Easter Rising opened a struggle with Britain that won independence for most of Ireland in 1921. Although Pearse did not realize his dream of a united and Gaelic Ireland, he remains for many of his countrymen the heroic incarnation of the Irish revolutionary ideal; it seems that this was the role in which Pearse desired to be cast.


Further Reading on Patrick Henry Pearse

Pearse's works are gathered in Collected Works of Patrick H. Pearse: Plays, Stories, Poems (1917) and Collected Works of Patrick H. Pearse: Political Writings and Speeches (1922). The only full-length biography of Pearse is Louis N. Le Roux, Patrick H. Pearse, translated by Desmond Ryan (1932), which should be supplemented by Ryan's own vivid recollections of Pearse in Remembering Sion: A Chronicle of Storm and Quiet (1934).

Additional Biography Sources

Carty, Xavier, In bloody protest: the tragedy of Patrick Pearse, Dublin: Able Press, 1978.

Edwards, Ruth Dudley, Patrick Pearse: the triumph of failure, New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1978, 1977.

Moran, Sean Farrell, Patrick Pearse and the politics of redemption: the mind of the Easter Rising, 1916, Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994.

Murphy, Brian P., Patrick Pearse and the lost republican ideal, Dublin: James Duffy, 1991.