The gentle warrior within the man

Week III

Between 1903 and 1915 Padraig Pearse spent as much time time as he could salvage from the press of affairs in Dublin at Ros Muc. In 1907 he built a cottage overlooking lake Eileabhrach. He became a familiar figure and popular in the neighbourhood. He was known affectionately as ‘An Piarsach.’ As well as his political speeches and editorials for An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light ), he absorbed the culture and language of the people, and wrote short stories and poems.

His stories, however, written in both English and Irish, read a bit mawkish today. I remember Mr Power reading Íosagán long ago in the Jes, and thinking that the story about a mysterious little boy who appears now and again at play with school children when adults are not watching them, was stupid. The little boy befriends a recalcitrant but good hearted old Fenian, called Sean-Mhaitias, who lives alone. He promises Sean-Mhaitias that he will visit him that night. But the old man takes ill, and, as if by chance, the priest calls and gives him the last sacraments. The priest was summoned by the same mysterious boy.

There is not much to the story. But in view of what was to come in the years ahead, I see now that the power of the story lies in the fact that by some mythological force the desire for freedom was being passed to a new generation.

A better poet

Pearse’s poetry is better. He had a love for boys, at least for one particular boy which he confesses in Little Lad of the Tricks. The historian Ruth Dudley Edwards (no fond observer ) comments, however, that his love for young boys remained ‘wholly innocent of lasciviousness’.

‘He never had an inkling that there was anything sexual behind it, and indeed no man of his reticence and obsessional purity of thought and deed could have written as he did otherwise.’

In a moving poem Why Do Ye torture Me? Pearse describes being haunted by his desires: ‘As a poor deer would be hunted on a hill/A poor long wearied deer with a hound pack after him...’

However his poems The Fool, The Mother, and The Wayfarer still read well today, revealing the gentle warrior within the man.

Thomas MacDonagh

Pearse’s great passion, of course, was education. ‘If only’ he felt ‘the education system could be inspired with a true love of learning , if only the child could be made the centre of education, a soul might come into Ireland.’

In 1908, at only 29 years of age, he opened St Enda’s (Scoil éanna ), in Cullenswood House, on Oakley Road, Dublin, with his friend, the playwright and poet Thomas McDonagh.

Writing to a parent who had inquired about its curriculum, Pearse replied the school would provide a secondary education ‘distinctly Irish in complexion, bilingual in method, and of a high modern type generally for Catholic boys. A school which will take Ireland for granted. You need not praise the Irish language, simply speak it. You need not denounce English games - play Irish ones; you need not ignore foreign history, foreign literature - but deal with them from an Irish point of view..’.

There were field trips from Dublin to Ros Muc, where pupils camped around the cottage. City children experienced the landscape and culture in rural Ireland, probably for the first time. They were the first summer Gaelteachs of their day.

A leading authority on the history of education and on Pearse comments that ‘His educational theories on freedom and inspiration in education, on individual differences, on nature study and school environment, and of the role and status of the teacher, place him securely within the New Education movement.

The principles on which he conducted St Enda’s, the wide curriculum on offer, his concern for the individual student needs, the environment of self-motivitation and freedom which he created for his pupils, placed him in the front rank of innovative European thinkers on education of his time (Ó Buachalla, Educationalist xxiv ).

Two years later with the same zeal and enthusiasm, Pearse opened St Ita’s school for girls. But however idealistic his educational ambitions were, it was a desperate struggle to keep ahead of his debts. The family helped out as best they could to keep the project going, but it was a losing battle.

His brother Willie, who would do anything for Pearse, and who trained as an artist in London and Paris, willingly came on board. He taught art at both schools.

In February 1914 Pearse went on a fund-raising trip to America. He was successful in raising some money, but the political climate was changing rapidly. The Old Fenians he met there were impressed by Pearse’s fervour, but they were more concerned by the establishment of the Ulster Volunteer Force the previous year. What were the patriots in Dublin going to do about it?

Ireland was now moving inexorably towards some kind of confrontation that would propel two unworldly poets, and one young artist, into military uniform.

Next Week: Ros Muc: Inspiration for revolution

NOTES: *The Seven, by Ruth Dudley Edwards, published by One World, now on sale €18.99. I am also taking quotes from Connemara - A Little Gaelic Kingdom, By Tim Robinson, published by Penguin Ireland 2011, and an essay on Pearse by JJ Lee , Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Apart from Pearse’s literary writings (translated into English by Joseph Campbell in the Collected Works 1917 ), most of his ideas on education are contained in a famous essay ‘The Murder Machine’. He also wrote many essays on politics and language, notably ‘The Coming Revolution’, and ‘Ghosts’


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