PEARSE’S COMPLEX LEGACY

Patrick Henry Pearse(Introduction: Patrick Pearse was the President of the Irish Republic of Easter Week 1916. He joined the Irish Volunteers / glaigh na h ireann, (inspired by the founding, by the Ulster Unionist Council, of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) in 1912), on the movement’s foundation in November 1913. He was a lawyer who did not practice law. He was deeply involved in the Gaelic League, editing its major publication. He was – as indicated below – a progressive educationalist. He founded his own schools. He was executed for his part in the Easter Rising. For nearly forty year’s Pearse’s reputation has been the object of genuine historical revisionism based on new evidence or re-interpretation of old evidence. He has also been the object of what amounts to a hate campaign. This has been based on his alleged (probable) homosexual orientation. On elements of his writing. And on the fact that he had not sought the permission of Dublin Castle to overthrow it). Pearse as educationalist Ireland’s postal authorities have issued stamps celebrating Patrick Pearse as educationalist. This turn of events at any time in the past thirty years would have led to yet another examination of Pearse’s alleged sexuality. The Irish Times article (25.09.08) on the matter was headlined Pearse as educational pioneer, written by Eliane Sisson. She wrote that the opening of Scoil anna (St. Enda’s) realised Pearse’s ” ” long-held dream of providing modern, child-centred, bi-lingual education for Irish boys”. The opening of Scoil te (St Ita’s – for girls) in 1911 is noted but not integrated into the article. Pearse in his writings on education, (the most vigorous of which The Murder Machine, Ms. Sisson notes in passing), refers to ‘children’ rather than ‘boys’.Elaine Sisson notes “[h]is clashes with the clergy ”” which “belie the perception that Pearse was slavishly devoted to the Catholic Church ””. Few who read him, or gave thought to the matter, got the impression that Pearse was even remotely orthodox in his Catholicism. (He was a sincere Catholic, but probably not terribly Roman). It is useful that this sort of information should appear in a contemporary Irish newspaper. Those who have spent any moons carefully fostering the image of Pearse as proto-Nazi p?”dophile will be furious at this act of betrayal by the Irish Times. Ms. Sisson notes the large number of well-known figures who sent their children to Pearse’s schools. She describes them as “eminent nationalist families”, noting that George Moore’s son Ulick was a pupil. Moore (senior) may have broken with nationalism later on, but even in 1908 he was hardly ‘advanced’, as it was called. James Larkin (member of the ECCI, Executive Committee of the Communist International, in the 1920s) and Stephen Gwynn do not fit neatly into the category ‘nationalist’ (certainly not as the term is perceived by most of modern Irish academia). Elaine Sisson lectures in D n Laoghaire’s Institute of Art, Design and Technology.Essentially Pearse annoyed the Castle and the Catholic authorities by running a religiously integrated (even secular) college ‘ Ms. Sisson describes it as “a Catholic lay-school”. The Gwynn family, while Home Rulers, were Ascendancy Anglican in background. She describes as “unlikely” the support he got from “international” figures, including Baden-Powell the founder of the Scout movement. His own sexuality has been ‘called into question’ recently. (Incidentally, the Scouts were founded in opposition to what B-P considered militaristic groups like the Boys Brigade and the Church Lads Brigade. The ‘image’ of B-P as some sort of Colonel Blimp is as distorted as is Pearse’s). Another ‘unlikely’ supporter was the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who emulated Pearse’s experiment, in Bengal.

Ireland and India Quite why such support is ‘unlikely’ it is difficult to understand. The whole of the British Empire had its eyes on Ireland. Alfred Webb* noted that in the 1890s there was a suggestion that Indian National Congress members be elected to Westminster from Irish seats. That’s a close relationship. Michael Davitt was at the centre of it. Apart from those trapped in the British Empire, there were those trapped in other empires. There was also the ‘diaspora’ – in The Empire, the USA, and Argentina. The enemies of The Empire (there were a lot of them), kept a wether-eye on Ireland. There were also people like German founder of Celtic studies, Kuno Meyer, who found the place inherently interesting. “Pearse is not now often remembered aSean innovator in educational methods ””. The last time The Murder Machinewas published – anywhere – was by Mercier (Cork) in 1986. Apparently ” ”those who knew him said he was at his most fluent and enlightened when speaking about education”. We are introduced to some of the education given to Pearse’s charges: “In the first year ” the boys heard lectures ” on French literature, phonetics, philosophy, medieval history, Egyptology, botany and archaeology.” Pearse “took them out of the classroom, using geography to teach history, nature to teach geometry, music to teach maths, art to teach Irish”. Science in Scoil anna According to Dr. Roy Johnston’s A Century of Endeavour, Pearse employed at least one science teacher, David Houston. This is rarely mentioned in dealing with the school. Science teachers were fairly rare in Irish schools until the 1960s. “Five teachers, including Pearse, were executed for their part in the 1916 Rising: William Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas McDonagh, and Con Colbert ””. This is not the “darker note” to which Ms. Sisson refers.That is ” ”Pearse’s promotion of valour and heroism ”” which is “uncomfortable” to modern audiences. The boys’ in pageantSeand plays dressed “aSeancient Irish warriors”, are “inevitably viewed through the lens of Pearse’s later militancy”.‘Pearse’s later militancy’ was in large part (if not entirely) a response to the Great War. That gigantic act of mass murder (on nearly every continent; a major naval battle was fought off the Falkland Islands in 1914, and when the USA entered the fray, every state in Latin America declared war on the USA’s enemies) is, as ever, ignored. Ireland is a little universe of its own. Not even the Other Island intrudes. Until the Irish decide to do something distasteful. Like assert their right to independence.

Wagnerian Pearse In parenthesis Ms. Sisson writes that the boys in these pageants look “like extras from a Wagnerian opera”. It is more than likely that Pearse wanted them to look like extras from Lohengrin or Parsifal. The Belfast Sinn Feiner Herbert Moore Pim produced a libretto (wee book / opera script) on Cuchuillain – nobody took up the notion. Wagner only ‘became viewed through the lens’ of Hitlerism after WWII. He even escaped the hysterical denunciation of all things German in 1914 (mainly due to the musicians, in particular Henry Wood, of the Promenade Concerts, refusing to toe the government line). Presumably ‘Wagnerian opera’ is mentioned because Ireland’s tin-eared intelligentsia takes its line on such matters from BBC Radio 4 UK (not even Radio 3, and certainly not RT Lyric FM). And not from the evidence of its own earSeand eyes, which might necessitate their making an actual individual decision.Elaine Sisson praises parts of Pearse’s “complex” legacy. For instance “the vibrancy, enthusiasm and child-centredness lives on in the Gealscoil movement”. But the “emphasis on heroic self-sacrifice” belongs in the Pearse Museum. Does it? Is the emphasis on heroic self-centredness of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ quite so obviously morally superior to that of Pearse, his brother, Colbert, Plunkett, MacDonagh and the rest of that ‘delirium of the brave’? Se n McGouran * Alfred Webb: The Autobiography of a Quaker NationalistEdited by Marie-Louise LeggeCork University Press,1999

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