The Irish Volunteers and Pearse’s American Tour
In 1912 Pearse set up his own newspaper An Barr Buadh (‘The Trumpet of Victory’). Although still concerned with cultural and educational issues, much of his writing for the paper showed his growing interest in Irish politics. In November 1913 he was among the founders of the Irish Volunteers, set up to “secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland”. Although Pearse had been a politically moderate Home Rule supporter for most of his life, he came increasingly under the influence of members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a secret organisation devoted to achieving an independent Irish Republic by military means.
To ease his financial difficulties and raise funds for St Enda’s, Pearse embarked on a fundraising lecture tour of the United States in 1914. Before his departure he was sworn into the IRB. While in America, he mixed with Irish American republicans. The experience had a profound effect on him and radicalised his political views. By the time he returned to Ireland he was firmly committed to revolutionary politics.
“There has been nothing like this movement in Ireland in our time. The whole country is organising and drilling and clamouring for arms… The spirit of the country is splendid and if God only inspires us with the right thing to say and do so as to keep the movement straight, … we shall have made history.”
– Letter from Patrick Pearse to James Reidy, New York, June 14, 1914.
“Beside the grave he stood, impressive and austere in green, with slow and intense delivery, and as he cried aloud upon the fools he threw back his head sharply and the expression seemed to vivify the speech which ended calmly and proudly. He walked home alone, and sat in his study: at last he had spoken the just word he sought to immortalise a man less great than himself.”
– Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion.
O’Donovan Rossa Funeral Oration
The funeral of the old Fenian, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, provided the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) with a great propaganda opportunity. Long an exile in the United States because of his extremist political beliefs, O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral took place in Glasnevin Cemetery on August 1, 1915 and was one of the biggest ever seen in Dublin.
Pearse was given the task of delivering the graveside oration by Thomas Clarke, one of the leaders of the IRB. Clarke advised him to “go as far as you can. Make it hot as hell, throw all discretion to the winds”. Pearse’s ability as a writer, his oratorical skills and emotionally stirring delivery of the Oration assured his position as one of the key figures in any forthcoming insurrection.
“And I say to my people’s masters: Beware,
Beware of the thing that is coming, beware
of the risen people,
Who shall take what you would not give.”
– Patrick Pearse “The Rebel”, 1916.
As Head of Military Organization for the Irish Volunteers and a member of both the Supreme and Military Council of the IRB, Pearse was now firmly part of the radical faction in both organisations and was involved in secret plans for open rebellion in Dublin. St Enda’s was frequently used for clandestine meetings.
Despite a remarkable range of duties and responsibilities, he still managed a substantial literary output. Much of his fictional work from this time foreshadowed coming events, with an emphasis on self-sacrifice and death. He produced no less than five political pamphlets in the first three months of 1916. Expecting that he would be unlikely to survive the coming insurrection, he envisaged these pamphlets as his political testament to future generations.
The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon will reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Or some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns of Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way
The 1916 Rising
“The men have fought with wonderful courage and gaiety, and whatever happens to us, the name of Dublin will be splendid in history for ever. Willie and I hope you are not fretting, and send you all our love.”
– Patrick Pearse to his mother, 26 April 1916
Patrick Pearse assumed the role of Commander-in-Chief and President of the Irish Republic on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916 when an open rebellion was launched against British rule in Ireland. Following the seizure of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin, Pearse read aloud the Proclamation which established an Irish Republic. Pearse was one of the principal authors of this document and it reflected many of his ideals for an independent Ireland.
Pearse was based in the GPO for much of Easter Week, assisted by his brother William. He spent much of the week writing propaganda and raising morale. The superior force of the British Army eventually overwhelmed the rebels and by Friday evening the GPO had to be abandoned. The Pearse brothers were among the last to leave before it became engulfed in flames.