Saturday, April 15, 2006


The seven signatories - Padraig Pearse

Padraig Pearse - hero"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."

Padraig Pearse's graveside oration at the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa, Glasnevin cemetery, 1915

Over the last seven days here on United Irelander in preparation for tomorrow's military parade, I have focused on each of the seven rebel leaders who signed the Proclamation of the Republic. I felt it was fitting to leave this man, Padraig Pearse, as the last leader I would focus on seeing as he is by far the most controversial. While I will try and offer up a look at the man's life as I did with the other rebel leaders, I will not go into too much detail, mainly because the man's life is scrutinised so much and I wouldn't be able to do it justice. Since he is so controversial, I will first highlight his life story and then finish up with my own thoughts on the man.

Padraig Pearse was born in Dublin, November 10, 1879, to an English father and an Irish mother.

He was interested in the heritage and history of Ireland from a young age and at 21 he joined the Gaelic League. He became editor of the League's newspaper - An Claidheamh Solais ('The Sword of Light').

Politically, Pearse was initially a moderate, supporting the Home Rule movement, but seeing that the unionists were getting results by taking up arms, he came to be of the view that independence could only be achieved through force.

Pearse joined the IRB and quickly rose through their ranks. The speech he gave at the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa (which can be read here) greatly impressed the veteran Fenian and IRB man Thomas Clarke and Pearse eventually became a member of the IRB's Military Council. He was made President of the Provisional Government (though some, like Thomas Clarke's widow, dispute this).

It was Pearse who read out the Proclamation of the Republic to the bemused citizens of Dublin which,contrary to myth, was not read out "on the steps of the GPO". (The GPO had no steps).

During the rebellion Pearse made a prophetic comment that:

"When we are all wiped out, people will blame us for everything, condemn us…..(but) in a few years they will see the meaning of what we tried to do."

Padraig Pearse gave the order to surrender on Friday, 28th April. Padraig Pearse was court martialled and sentenced to be shot. In a last letter home to his mother he told her, "I will call to you in my heart at the last moment." On May 3rd, on the way to his execution, he heard two volleys of shots - Thomas Clarke and his friend Thomas MacDonagh had preceded him in death. Padraig Pearse was himself then shot and the next day his brother Willie would meet the same fate.

My own thoughts on Pearse:

Padraig Pearse is arguably the most interesting and controversial figure in Irish history. Some people abhor the man, others regard him a a fine patriot. I would be in the latter category. I find his writings to be of a brilliant standard and to be immensely inspirational. While there is no doubt that his moving writings led a minority of men and women to commit horrendous acts, I don't feel Pearse should be blamed for that. After all, Pearse did say at his court martial that:

"If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed."

Some sad individuals meanwhile have tried to demean the man by hurling out some vile allegations about his character with no concrete evidence to back up their views. Even critics of Pearse like Ruth Dudley Edwards do not subscribe to these smear camapigns but I will however address some of the legitimate criticisms of Pearse and give you my honest opinions on them...

"Pearse believed in 'blood sacrifice'"

I don't doubt that. It is clear to me that Pearse felt blood needed to be spilled to free Ireland from British rule. However, I think we need to judge this in the context of its time. Blood sacrifice was a widely held belief in the time of Pearse. Notable figures such as Sigmund Freud espoused it. Let's not forget that some unionists chose to sign the Ulster Covenant in their own blood. There was a romantic image of war in those days as can be seen by the enthusiastic attitude of the British in joining the army to fight in the First World War. I would condemn anyone who subscribes to the blood sacrifice ideology in this day and age but 1916 was a completely different era so I don't hold it against Pearse.

"Pearse didn't care about the civilians"

I don't buy that argument either. There is plenty of evidence showing that Pearse was genuinely appalled at the deaths of civilians during the Rising. Indeed, Pearse surrendered to save the lives of the civilians according to those who were around him at the time and his final statement at his court martial, which you can read below, confirms this. As I've stated before the point of the Rising was not to kill the civilians - which would make it a terrorist act - but rather to have the people rise up with them as Emmet had hoped and Tone before him.

"Pearse wanted a Gaelic Ireland"

I believe that he did but again I say look at it in the context of its time. Irish culture was on its knees, the language was dying fast, and there was a widely held belief that only an independent Ireland could safeguard Irish culture. It is easy with hindsight to say that Pearse and those like him did not concern themselves with the views of those who had no interest in Gaelic culture, but Pearse viewed the English education system as a "murder machine" and history proves that there was an effort on the part of the British (and admittedly Daniel O'Connell as well) to see the language die out. I can understand the view of men and women like Pearse that desperate times called for desperate measures.

"Pearse wanted to become a martyr"

I believe that's true but does that mean he deserves our condemnation? I don't think so. It is my belief judging from the huge body of literature that Pearse left behind, not to mention his fascination with figures like Cuchulainn, Christ, Tone and Emmet, that Pearse indeed wanted to become a martyr. As a child he told his family stories about being stretched out on a rack and dying for Ireland. Admittedly this is not the stuff of a normal child's imagination. There is evidence too that he called on the other leaders to be spared and for him to die alone. I agree with the conclusion that he wanted to become a martyr but should we really castigate him for that? Pearse saw his role in dying for Ireland as similar to Jesus' role dying for our sins. If we condemn Pearse for laying down his life for Ireland don't we have to likewise condemn Jesus for laying down his life for humanity in general? (I should point out here that I'm not at all trying to equate Pearse with Christ but rather I'm trying to explain how going down the path of martyrdom doesn't necessarily have to be regarded as a bad thing)

There you have my thoughts on the arguments against Pearse. As for why I personally admire the man, as I touched on at the start of this post, I find his writings inspirational and I feel he played a big part in awakening Irish people to the harsh realities of British rule. I don't feel he was a perfect individual by any means but I believe he was a good man and in the words of Ruth Dudley Edwards, "a man of the highest ideals". While she may draw different conclusions to myself on the political choices he made, personally I support them and this Sunday I will pay tribute to the man. While there were a ton of inspiring words by Pearse that I could have finished this post with, I will instead leave you with Pearse's final statement at his court martial. It's not as heavy on rhetoric as some of his other writings, nor is it as well known, but I feel it shows the human side of him - determined to see the lives of his men spared and giving an honest and forceful explanation of his view on Britain's role in Ireland:

"My sole object in surrendering unconditionally was to save the slaughter of the civil population and to save the lives of our followers who had been led into this thing by us. It is my hope that the British Government who has shown its strength will also be magnamimous and spare the lives and give an amnesty to my followers, as I am one of the persons chiefly responsible, have acted as C-in-C and President of the Provisional Government. I am prepared to take the consequences of my act, but I should like my followers to receive an amnesty. I went down on my knees as a child and told God that I would work all my life to gain the freedom of Ireland. I have deemed it my duty as an Irishman to fight for the freedom of my country. I admit I have organised men to fight against Britain. I admit having opened negotiations with Germany. We have kept our word with her and as far as I can see she did her best to help us. She sent a ship with men. Germany has not sent us gold."

Tomorrow I will pay tribute to Pearse and the other signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic. I thank them for their heroism and sacrifice.


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