Ireland’s postal authorities have decided to issue stamps celebrating Patrick Pearse as an educationalist. This turn of events at any time in the past thirty years would have led to yet another examination of Pearse’s sexuality. The Irish Times article on the matter was headlined Pearse As Educational Pioneer (25 / 09 / 08)’
Written by Elaine Sissons, it managed to keep to the point for most of its length. She writes that the opening of Scoil Éanna realised Pearse’s “…long-held dream of providing a modern, child-centred. bi-lingual education for Irish boys”. The opening of the girl’s Scoil Íte in 1911 is noted but is not made part of the article. Pearse, in his writings on education, the most vigorous of which, The Murder Machine, Ms Sissons notes in passing, refers to “children” rather than “boys”.
Elaine Sissons also notes “his clashes with the clergy…” which, apparently “belie the perception that Pearse was slavishly devoted to the Catholic Church…”. Only those who made a point of not actually thinking about the matter thought Pearse was remotely orthodox in his Catholicism. He was probably a sincere Catholic – but not very Roman. It is useful for this sort of information to appear in an Irish mainstream publication.
Those who have spent many years carefully fostering the image of Pearse as a proto-Nazi paedophile will be furious at this act of betrayal by the IT. Ms Sissons notes the large number of well-known figures who sent their children to Pearse’s schools. She describes them as “eminent nationalist families”. She notes that George Moore – the novelist’s – son. Ulick attended. Moore (senior) may have broken with nationalism later, but even in 1908, he was hardly “advanced”, as it was put. Jim Larkin and Stephen Gwynn do not fit neatly into the category ‘nationalist’. Certainly not as the term is understood by modern Irish academia; Elaine Sissons lectures in Dún Laoghaire’s Institute of Art, Design and Technology,
Pearse annoyed the Castle and the Catholic authorities by running a religiously integrated (even secular) college. Ms Sissons calls it “a Catholic lay school”. She describes as “unlikely” the support Pearse got from “international figures”, including Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, whose own sexuality has been ‘called into question’ recently. Another ‘unlikely’ supporter was the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who emulated Pearse’s experiment in Bengal.
Quite why this support is ‘unlikely’ is difficult to understand. The whole British Empire had its eyes on Ireland. There were particularly close relations with the Indian national movement. Alfred Webb* noted that in the 1890s there was a suggestion that Indian National Congress members be elected to Westminster from Irish constituencies. That’s a close relationship. (Congress felt that it should put down stronger roots in India, before going into any Imperial assemblies.
Apart from those trapped in the British Empire, there were people trapped in other empires. And the ‘diaspora’, in the British Empire, the USA. and Argentina (Ché Lynch Guevara. being the most famous of the latter). The enemies of England / the City of London – there were many of them – kept a weather eye on Ireland. There were people like the German scholar Kuno Myer, who found the intrinsically interesting.
“Pearse is not now often remembered as an innovator in educational methods…”. The last time The Murder Machine was published – anywhere – was by Mercier (Cork) in 1986; “…those who knew him said he was at his most fluent and enlightened when speaking about education”.
We are told some of the education imparted to Pearse’s charges: “In the first year… the boys’ heard lectures… on French literature, phonetics, philosophy, medieval history, Egyptology, botany, and archaeology.” Pearse “took them out of the classroom, using geography to teach history, nature to teach geometry, music to teach maths, art to teach Irish.”
According to the Roy Johnson’s A Century of Endeavour (a study of his father’s and his own contributions to Irish life), Pearse employed at least one science teacher, David Houston. Science teachers were rather rare in Irish schools then. “[F]ive teachers, including Pearse, were executed for their part in the 1916 Rising: William Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas Mac Donagh, and Con Colbert…” (something of a forgotten man – his first biography was produced on the centenary of the Rising).
This latter matter is not the “darker note” to which Ms Sissons refers, That is “…Pearse’s promotion of valour and heroism…”, which is “uncomfortable” to modern audiences. The boys in pageants and plays dressed “as ancient Irish warriors”, are “inevitably viewed through the lens of Pearse’s later militancy”. ‘Pearce’s later militancy’ was in large part (if not entirely) a response to the Great War. That gigantic act of mass murder, on nearly every continent; a major naval battle was fought off the Falkland Islands in 1914, and when the USA entered the fray every State in Latin America declared war on Uncle Sam’s enemies, is simply ignored, Ireland is a little universe all of its own. Not even the Other Island obtrudes until the Irish decide to do something distasteful. Like, assert their own right to independence. In parenthesis, Ms Sissons writes that the boys in these pageants look “like extras from a Wagnerian opera”. It is possible that Pearse might have wanted them to look like extras/super [numerie]s from Lohengrin or Parsifal. The Belfast Sinn Féiner Herbert Moore Pim wrote the libretto (wee book/opera script) on the subject of Cuchuillain, nobody took up the idea. Wagner only ‘became viewed through the lens of Hitlerism’ after WW2. Wagner escaped the 1914 hysterical denunciation of everything German mainly due to the musicians – especially Henry Wood, the founder of the Promenade Concerts, refusing to toe the line.
Presumably ‘Wagnerian opera’ is mentioned because Ireland’s largely tin-eared intelligentsia takes its line on such matters from Radio 4 UK. And not from the evidence of its own ears and eyes. which might necessitate their making an individual decision.
Elaine Sisson praises parts of Pearse’s “complex” legacy the “vibrancy. enthusiasm and child-centredness lives on in the Gaelscoil movement”. But adds that the “emphasis on heroic self-sacrifice” belongs in the Pearse Museum.
Is the heroic self-centredness of ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland so obviously morally superior to that of Pearse, his brother, Connolly, Colbert, Plunkett, and the rest of ‘that delirium of the brave?
Written by Sean McGouran