Reading Geraldine Plunkett’s description of a holiday she and her sister Fiona, and their brother Jack, enjoyed at Padraig Pearse’s cottage at Ros Muc in the summer of 1915, I get a glimpse of the relaxing life-style that welcomed Pearse there since he first came in 1903. In fact after Pearse wrote his famous oration, which he delivered with power and menace at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral on June 29 1915, events swept him along to such an extent that he was never again able to visit the cottage.
But he did not want its beauty to be wasted. He offered the cottage to the Plunketts for a holiday. It was a family he knew well. Geraldine’s father, Count George Plunkett, admired Pearse and contributed financially to his progressive school, Scoil Éanna. When Geraldine’s brother Joseph looked for a tutor of Irish, Pearse’s assistant head-teacher, the charming and patriotic Thomas MacDonagh, was happy to oblige. He became a warm friend of Joseph; they were both poets, and both joined the Irish Volunteers together; and both were executed after the Rising.
The Plunketts had difficulties getting the train from Broadstone (Heuston ) Station, to Galway, and changing there to the Clifden line. So when they arrived at Maam Cross station they were tired and hungry. Mrs Connolly had sent a side car to meet them, and when they arrived at the cottage a large fire was burning. The sandwiches they had brought from Dublin were long gone, and worse still, the fire went out overnight. As city people they had no idea how to keep it going.
But quickly they settled into the ways of the country. ‘Jack soon got very good with the fire, and I got into a routine of making two cakes of bread, brown and white, every second day which were better than any I have made since. Local girls brought us milk and chickens, and we got eggs and cocoa from O’Malley’s shop and they gave us baskets of rock bream. I made stews of chicken and rice, and once a week a man brought us meat. We had plenty. There is a little lake in front of the house and Jack brought water up in buckets.
‘Willie Pearse tried to teach Pearse to swim in this lake by tying a rope around and keeping him afloat while he gave him advice from the shore but they laughed so much they didn’t make much progress.’
Soon the Plunketts were confident enough to invite some of their friends from Dublin to join them. They caught trout, bought wool and made báinín jackets, and went on a memorable boat trip to Aran when the main sheet broke, and before it could be fixed, the boat drifted towards the cliffs, into shallow water. Porpoises followed them back to harbour.
‘The weather was fine until the last week and then the rain came in on Jack who was sleeping in the loft. He found a weatherproof coat and spread it over the bed. We had been told that Pearse had been cheated by the thatcher, who had not put proper straw under the thatch, but Pearse did not care because the thatcher had such beautiful Irish and talked all the time to cover the bad work.
‘We got a post card from Pearse saying not to mind the demand for rates as he did not intend to pay it. He knew that the card would be read, and indeed the O’Malley’s in the shop told us all about it!’
NOTES: Poor Pearse had his demons, and one of them was money. Scoil Éanna was in constant need of funds, and his cottage was probably built on a shoestring. Tim Robinson, in his excellent books on Connemara, its landscape and people, tells us that the names of those who built Pearse’s cottage are still remembered locally. They understood that he was not a rich man, and that he was working for the sake of the nation, and they charged little.
Proinsias Mac Aonghusa told Robinson that Pearse was probably not able to meet his bills. He was a man who always had little money, and faced expenses in many places. He was summonsed for this in Oughterard court. ‘I believe the bill for timber and materials had not been cleared when the British government put him to death.
‘But it is the man himself and his ideas and way of life that impressed Ros Muc, not the thiness of his purse.’