Surrounded by fifty acres of landscaped parkland, the museum is located in the former home and school of Patrick Pearse, the leader of the 1916 Rising. He founded his school, Scoil Éanna, in 1908 in Cullenswood House, Ranelagh. His initial interest in education stemmed from his involvement in the Gaelic League and the Irish language movement. However he very quickly became passionate about education and its possibilities. His ideas were progressive and radical and he had little time for the exam-focused education system of the time. He felt that schools should nurture the talents of all their pupils, even if those talents lay outside the traditional school subjects.
For Pearse the key to real learning was inspiration, and he felt that to be a success his school needed a suitably inspiring setting. He was anxious to find a home for his school which would allow his pupils direct access to the natural world. He discovered The Hermitage in Rathfarnham in 1910 while on a historical pilgrimage of sites associated with the revolutionary Robert Emmet. Nestled in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains, it was the ideal location for his school.
The house was also Patrick Pearse’s family home. His mother, brother and sisters all assisted in the running of the school. In 1916 he and his brother William left to fight in the 1916 Rising, never to return. Pearse was the leader of the uprising and the author of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. He also oversaw the surrender once all hope of victory was lost. While revolution was raging in Dublin, his mother and sisters waited for news in Rathfarnham. It was there that they heard that both brothers were to be executed. His mother and eldest sister lived on in the house and ran the school there until 1935. Following the death of Pearse’s last surviving sister in 1968, the house and grounds were handed over to the state with the provision that they be used as a memorial to the lives of Patrick and William Pearse. The Pearse Museum was then opened to the public in 1979.
The current museum exhibition seeks to recapture a sense of the spirit of the house during Pearse’s time. His study and the family sitting room allow very personal glimpses of the lives of the former occupants. Side by side with these rooms are the more public spaces in which Pearse’s pupils lived and worked. Visitors can now see the school dormitory, study hall and chapel. The aesthetic surroundings of the school were important for Pearse. The school art gallery has been recreated in its original location and features pieces by Beatrice Elvery, Patrick Tuohy, W.B. Yeats and Count Casimir Markievicz.
There is also a “museum-within-a-museum” as the original school museum has also been reconstructed. The pupils themselves ran the museum and elected a curator every year from among the student body. One of the original museum cases has survived and it now contains many of the original displays. In addition, using contemporary accounts of what the museum once held it was possible to commission reproductions of objects which would have been there in Pearse’s time.
“…beautiful pictures, statuary, and plants replace the charts and other paraphernalia of the ordinary schoolroom.”
– A description of the classrooms of Scoil Éanna in the school prospectus.
The Pearse Museum is in fact dedicated to both Pearse Brothers; in Irish it is known as Músaem na bPiarsach. Pearse’s brother William is often a neglected figure, and his output as a sculptor is largely forgotten. For the first time a gallery in the museum has been exclusively devoted to his work. It includes works by William Pearse from the Pearse Museum collection, as well as from the collections of Kilmainham Gaol Museum, the National Museum and private individuals.