Sunday, March 14, 2010

Padraic Pearse (1879-1916): "First among all earthly things, as a boy and as a man, I have worked for Irish freedom."

On St. Patrick's day this year, let us also recall the famous words of an Irish Patriot who gave his life for Irish freedom, Padraic Pearse: "You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom."

Padraic (aka Patrick) Pearse (1879-1916) was an Irish patriot, revolutionary, teacher, barrister, poet, writer (poems, short stories, plays, political pamphlets), and leader of the Easter Uprising in 1916 demanding freedom and independence for Ireland. He and fourteen other leaders of the uprising were executed by the British.

Pearse was born in Dublin to an English father and Irish mother. He was a devout Catholic. Pearse's mother's family spoke native Irish, which influenced Pearse's later studies and writings. Pearse became involved politically with the Irish independence movement at the age of 16, and was soon writing for the cause as well as editing its newspaper, "The Sword of Light."

Pearse graduated from college and became a barrister. But he believed that preservation of the Irish language was imperative to the sense of national identity, and he began a bilingual school system in which the children of Ireland were taught in both Irish and English.

In 1912, England began considering what was called a Home Rule law for Ireland, which was supported by some but not all Irish. It was eventually passed, but then suspended during World War I.

Irish Patriots were divided on the question of whether to support England during World War I. I have a Great Uncle who told me that when he was a young man in Ireland, he and a group of other young men raided the British garrisons and stole the weapons so they could arm themselves to fight against the British. This was at a time that the British were conscripting the Irish to go fight the war for England. The question to many young Irish men was why should they fight for other countries to be free, when England would not allow Ireland to be free.

In 1913, Padraic Pearse joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a group dedicated to complete freedom and independence for the people of Ireland. The Irish Republican Brotherhood planned to have an uprising of the people while England was busy fighting World War I.

In August of 1915, Pearse gave a graveside oration at the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. That speech has since become quite famous. Here is an excerpt:

" 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."

About a week before Easter, 1916, Pearse, on behalf of the Irish Republican Brotherhood gave the order to all members and supporters that there would a general uprising beginning on Easter Sunday. The uprising did not actually begin until what they called Easter Monday -- the Monday after Easter -- April 24, 1916. It began when Pearse stood on the steps of the Dublin General Post Office and issued a proclamation that Ireland was free from English rule.

(The General Post Office in Dublin)

At four minutes past noon on Easter Monday, April 24th, 1916, from the steps of the General Post Office Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of the Republic:


IRISHMAN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Having organized and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organizations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State. And we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irish woman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provision Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government,





There followed six days of fighting with heavy casualties, and the British, with their military and weapons superiority, eventually prevailed. Padraic Pearse, his brother Willie, and fourteen other men who were the leaders of the uprising were executed by the British, murdered by firing squads. More Irish blood shed for independence.

Padraic Pearse was one of the first to be executed by the British, on May 3, 1916, at the age of thirty-six. From the time of the uprising until the time of his murder was only 9 days, only two days after the uprising ended, which was typical of British "justice" in Ireland. He was held in this prison cell until murdered by the British:

Revisionist historians mocked Pearse and the others who supported the uprising, saying that they stood no chance, and their actions were foolish. But almost 100 years later, these men of the 1916 Easter Uprising are honored throughout Ireland and much of the world as being patriots who gave their lives for the cause of liberty.

Much like Fidel Castro's speech at the end of his trial, for the attack on the Moncada, the famous "History Will Absolve Me" speech, Padraic Pearse gave his own speech at the conclusion of this court martial:

"When I was a child of ten I went down on my knees by my bedside one night and promised God that I should devote my life to an effort to free my country. I have kept that promise. First among all earthly things, as a boy and as a man, I have worked for Irish freedom. I have helped to organize, to arm, to train, and to discipline my fellow countrymen to the sole end that, when the time came, they might fight for Irish freedom. The time, as it seemed to me, did come and we went into the fight. I am glad that we did, we seem to have lost, we have not lost. To refuse to fight would have been to lose, to fight is to win, we have kept faith with the past, and handed a tradition to the future.... [The English who claim to be fighting in World War I for the freedom of others] should [b]elieve that we [Irish] too love freedom and desire it. To us it is more desirable than anything else in the world. If you strike us down now we shall rise again and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom; if our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom then our children will win it by a better deed.

Padraic Pearse has been memorialized in Irish history, literature, song and poetry:

W.B. Yeats' "Three songs to the one burden":

Some had no thought of victory
But had gone out to die
That Ireland's mind be greater,
Her heart mount up on high;
And yet who knows what's yet to come?
For Patrick Pearse had said
That in every generation
Must Ireland's blood be shed.

This is probably Padraic Pearse's most famous poem, called "The World Hath Conquered":

The world hath conquered, the wind
hath scattered like dust
Alexander, Caesar, and all that shared

Tara is grass, and behold how Troy
lieth low --
And even the English, perchance their
hour will come!

Here's another poem by Padraic Pearse, from "the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood":


I have not gathered gold;
The fame that I won perished;
In love I found but sorrow,
That withered my life.

Of wealth or of glory
I shall leave nothing behind me
(I think it, O God, enough!)
But my name in the heart of a child.

(Translated from the Irish by Thomas MacDonagh)

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