“Of all the men I have known on earth
You only have been my familiar friend,
Nor needed I another.”
– P.H. Pearse, To My Brother, 1 May, 1916.
“The debt St. Enda’s owes to William Pearse can scarcely be overestimated.”
– Desmond Ryan, The Man called Pearse, 1919.
William Pearse was born in Great Brunswick St on 11 November, 1881. Like his brother Patrick, he attended the Christian Brothers school on Westland Row. Their father, James, owned a commercial sculpture business called Pearse and Sons. He specialised in making gravestones, church altars and pulpits. William joined the family business and ran it after his father’s death in 1900. He grew up surrounded by his father’s sculptures, pictures and books on art and architecture. His ambition was to become a serious artist.
William attended classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art between 1897 and 1910. He also studied abroad, in Paris and at the Royal College of Art in Kensington. Like many Irish artists at that time, including his teacher and friend Oliver Sheppard, his work was influenced by a desire to create artworks which were distinctly Irish in subject matter and style. He taught an Irish language class at the School of Art and exhibited his work at the Oireachtas, an annual event which celebrated Irish art and culture.
The Pearse family sculpture business was wound up between 1910 and 1911. The money was used to fund Scoil Éanna’s move to The Hermitage. Following the move, William Pearse became a full-time art teacher in the school. His workload in the school meant he had little time to devote to his art. Patrick Pearse’s increased involvement in politics meant a lot of the burden of running the school fell to William. As a result, his surviving body of work is relatively small. In addition to items from the Pearse Museum Collection, the permanent exhibition of his work in the Pearse Museum includes pieces on loan from the National Museum and Kilmainham Gaol Museum.
William was also the main person responsible for the production of the school plays, in which he sometimes acted. He was a keen amateur actor and even ran his own semi-professional theatre company, The Leinster Stage Society, for a time. He also acted in plays produced by the Irish Theatre which was founded in 1914 by Thomas MacDonagh and James Plunkett with financial assistance from Edward Martyn.