Friday 24 March 2017

The mysteries of the strange Pearse family

Despite the best efforts of historians, Patrick Pearse remains in many ways an enigma, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Patrick Pearse. Photo: Getty Images
Patrick Pearse. Photo: Getty Images
Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ruth Dudley Edwards

According to Ezra Pound, his friend WB Yeats had been saying for years before 1916 that "Pearse was half-cracked and wanting to be hanged. He has Emmet delusions same as other lunatics think they are Napoleon or God."

Like many others, Yeats was baffled by Pearse. Before 1916, he knew him as an indefatigable activist for the Irish language and Irish culture, occasional playwright and poet, debt-ridden headmaster of an innovative Irish-speaking school, and latterly, an occasional fiery orator who wrote inflammatory and highly emotional prose.

Yet the post-rising Pearse became a Catholic nationalist god, the adulation reaching such crazy levels that in a posh Dublin 1950s convent school a nun insisted that the only two men in history who were exactly six feet tall were him and Jesus Christ. In my Irish-speaking primary school in Dublin, we were told that Pearse was a saint and martyr, the greatest man in Irish history. The profile of him gazing into the distance in a visionary kind of way was ubiquitous. In 1965, Galway Cathedral installed Pearse and the assassinated President John F Kennedy in mosaic in a side-chapel, praying on either side of a resurrected Jesus.

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