After the Rising
Mrs Pearse was devastated by the loss of her two sons. On occasion she was found wandering the streets calling out for “Pat and Willie! Pat and Willie!” Her home was frequently raided by British troops and she was not allowed to return to St Enda’s until 1919.
The widows, orphans and mothers of the executed leaders became powerful symbolic figures at the heart of Irish nationalist propaganda during the War of Independence and the Civil War years (1919-23). Mrs Pearse was given particular prominence because of Patrick’s status amongst the leaders. She was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1919. A devoted follower of Eamon de Valera, she argued against acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. As a result, St Enda’s was raided during the ensuing Civil War. Fiercely committed to keeping the memory of her sons alive, she devoted much of her time to fundraising tours for St Enda’s in Ireland and the USA.
“I would have brought you royal gifts, and I have brought you
Sorrow and tears: and yet, it may be
That I have brought you something else besides-
The memory of my deed and of my name.”
– Patrick Pearse, To My Mother, 1916.
The Pearse Sisters
Unlike the rest of her family, Mary Brigid Pearse did not support her brothers’ involvement in the 1916 Rising. She is said to have gone to the GPO on Easter Monday to plead with Patrick to return home. Like her brother, she had ambitions to be a writer, and had taught music for a while at St Enda’s. Following the death of her mother, her relationship with her sister Margaret deteriorated. An argument arose over the publication of Mary Brigid’s second book, The Home Life of Patrick Pearse, which contained large extracts from their brother’s unfinished autobiography. They eventually settled the matter, but were never properly reconciled.
Following the death of her mother, Margaret Pearse assumed the role of guardian of her brothers’ memories. Her unswerving support for De Valera and the Fianna Fáil party was rewarded in 1937 when she was appointed a Senator. She lived out her life in St Enda’s, but was never free from financial worries. Over the years, the property fell into decline. She died in 1968 and, following the wishes of her mother, bequeathed St Enda’s to the people of Ireland.
“My brother’s diary ends abruptly here. I am very sorry that it has ended; for I have a curious, blank feeling, as if some pleasant confidential voice had suddenly grown silent.”
– Mary Brigid Pearse, The Home Life of Patrick Pearse.
Pearse the Icon
Patrick Pearse soon became the central, iconic figure of the 1916 Rising. Although nominally the leader of the Rising, he had limited involvement in the practical military planning and strategy. But, with the exception of James Connolly, Pearse was the only executed leader to leave behind a written political testimony that specifically explained the ideological goals of the Rising. He became, and remained, the definitive voice of the 1916 Rising right up to the 1960s.
As his legend grew, Pearse was spoken of in the language usually reserved for saints or mythical heroes. The complexity of his character, his very human faults and failings were ignored, as were his more radical ideas on social, political and educational matters. The uncritical image of Pearse projected by many of his admirers meant that attacks on his ideas and influence were often equally extreme, particularly from the 1970s on when historians and commentators began to reassess his reputation. What is beyond dispute is that he remains central to understanding the roots of cultural and political nationalism in modern Ireland.
“I care not though I were to live but one day and one night provided my fame and my deeds live after me.”
– Motto written on the Wall of Scoil Éanna in Cullenswood House.