Two important people involed in the 1916 Rising were the Irish Commanders Patrick Pearse and James Connolly
Patrick Henry Pearse
10 November 1879(1879-11-10) – 3 May 1916 (aged 36)
Place of birth
Place of death
Kilmainham Jail, Dublin, Ireland
Irish Republican Brotherhood
Years of service
1913 – 1916
Supreme Council IRB
Patrick Henry Pearse was born at
In 1896, at the age of only sixteen, he joined the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), and in 1903 at the age of 23, he became editor of its newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis ("The Sword of Light").
Pearse's earlier heroes were the ancient Gaelic folk heroes such as Cúchulainn, though in his 30s he began to take a strong interest in the leaders of past republican movements, such as the United Irishmen Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet. Both were Protestant, but it was from these men that those such as the fervently Catholic Pearse drew inspiration for the rebellion of 1916.
In 1900 Pearse was awarded a BA in Modern Languages (Irish, English and French) by the Royal University of Ireland, he had studied for two years privately and for one at UCD. In 1900 he was also awarded the degree of Barrister-at-Law from the King's Inns.
As a cultural nationalist educated by the Irish Christian Brothers, like his younger brother Willie, Pearse believed that language was intrinsic to the identity of a nation. The Irish school system, he believed, raised
With the aid of Thomas MacDonagh, Pearse's younger brother Willie Pearse and other (often transient) academics, it soon proved a successful experiment. He did all he planned, and even brought students on fieldtrips to the Gaeltacht in the west of
However, the new home, while splendidly located in an 18th-century house surrounded by a park and woodlands, caused financial difficulties that almost brought him to disaster. He strove continually to keep ahead of his debts while doing his best to maintain the school. In February 1914 he travelled to the USA to raise money for his ailing school where he met John Devoy and Joseph McGarrity both of whom were impressed by his fervour and supported him in raising sufficient money to secure the continued existence of the school.
[The Volunteers and Home Rule
In April 1912 the prospect of self-government for Ireland under a new Home Rule for Ireland Bill became reality, as John Redmond leader of the Irish Party, who held the balance of power in the House of Commons committed the government of the United Kingdom to introduce the Bill. Pearse’s attitude towards the Bill was remarkably ambivalent.
Pearse moved from welcoming the Bill, asking all sides to support
In November 1913 Pearse was invited to the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers, formed to enforce the implementation of the Third Home Rule Act passed by the House of Commons in the face of opposition from the Ulster Volunteers. In an article entitled “The Coming Revolution” (Nov. 1913) Pearse wrote
As to what your work as an Irish Nationalist is to be, I cannot conjecture; I know what mine is to be, and would have you know yours and buckle yourselves to it. And it may be (nay, it is) that your and mine will lead us to a common meeting-place, and that on a certain day we shall stand together, with many more beside us, ready for a greater adventure than any of us has yet had, a trial and a triumph to be endured and achieved in common.[
The bill just failed to pass the House of Lords, but the Lord’s diminished power under the Parliament Act 1911 meant that the bill could only be delayed and was finally placed on the statute books with Royal Assent in September 1914, but suspended for the duration of World War I, whose context set the backdrop for events to follow.
John Redmond, leader of the IPP, feared his “national authority” might be circumvented by the Volunteers and decided to control the new movement. Despite opposition from the I.R.B. members, the Volunteer Executive agreed to share leadership with
The leaders in
The Volunteers split, one of the issues being support for the Allied and British war effort, a majority following
It is patriotism that stirs the people.
It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields.
Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.
The IRB and the
In December 1913, Bulmer Hobson swore Pearse into the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), an organisation dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland and its replacement with an Irish Republic. He was soon co-opted onto the IRB's Supreme Council by Tom Clarke. Pearse was then one of many people who were members of both the IRB and the Volunteers. When he became the Volunteers' Director of Military Organisation in 1914 he was the highest ranking Volunteer in the IRB membership, and instrumental in the latter's commandeering of the remaining minority of the Volunteers for the purpose of rebellion. By 1915 he was on the IRB's Supreme Council, and its secret Military Council, the core group that began planning for a rising while war raged on the European Western Front.
On 1 August 1915, Pearse gave a now-famous graveside oration at the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. It closed with the words:
"Our foes are strong and wise and wary; but, strong and wise and wary as they are, they cannot undo the miracles of God Who ripens in the hearts of young men the seeds sown by the young men of a former generation. . Rulers and Defenders of the Realm had need to be wary if they would guard against such processes. Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified
Pearse, given his speaking and writing skills, was chosen by the leading IRB man Thomas Clarke to be the spokesman for the Rising. It was Pearse who, in behalf of the IRB shortly before Easter in 1916, issued the orders to all Volunteer units throughout the country for three days of manoeuvres beginning Easter Sunday, which was the signal for a general uprising. When Eoin MacNeill, the Chief of Staff of the Volunteers, learned what was being planned without the promised arms from
When the Easter Rising eventually erupted on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, there never was any plan for a military victory in the minds of the Leaders. It was Pearse who proclaimed a Republic from the steps of the General Post Office and headquarters of the insurgents. After six days fighting, heavy civilian casualties and great destruction of property, Pearse issued the order to surrender along with the remaining leaders.
Pearse and fourteen other leaders, including his brother Willie, were court-martialled and executed by firing squad. Sir Roger Casement, who had tried unsuccessfully to recruit an insurgent force among Irish-born prisoners of war from the Irish Brigade in Germany, was hanged in London the following August. Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh and Pearse himself were the first of the rebels to be executed, on the morning of 3 May 1916. Pearse was 36 years old at the time of his death.
Sir John Maxwell, the General Officer commanding the British forces in Ireland, sent a telegram to H.H. Asquith, then Prime Minister, advising him not to return the bodies of Pádraig and Willie Pearse to their family, saying: "Irish sentimentality will turn these graves into martyrs’ shrines to which annual processions will be made which would cause constant irritation in this country.
Maxwell also suppressed a letter from Pearse to his mother,[ and two poems dated 1 May 1916. He submitted copies of them also to Prime Minister Asquith, saying that some of the content was "objectionable."
In addition that document used the term "President of the Provisional Government", not "President of the Republic". A "President of a government" is akin to a prime minister, not a president of a statePearse and his colleagues also discussed proclaiming Prince Joachim (the Kaiser's youngest son) as an Irish constitutional monarch, if the Central Powers won the First World War, which suggests that their ideas for the political future of the country had to await the war's outcome.[
[ Others considerations
Writing subsequently, Michael Collins was critical of Pearse. Comparing him to James Connolly, Collins wrote:
Of Pearse and Connolly I admire the latter most. Connolly was a realist, Pearse the direct opposite . . . I would have followed [Connolly] through hell had such action been necessary. But I honestly doubt very much if I would have followed Pearse — not without some thought anyway.
Ruth Dudley Edwards, a noted revisionist historian and Unionist,[ made the following conclusions about Pearse and the Rising: Pearse and his colleagues had no mandate, merely a belief that because their judgement was superior to those of the population at large, they were entitled to use violence. Eoin Neeson has described such opinions as having “no mandate” as inapt, pointing to the fact that the leaders repeatedly stated aim was to revive a sense of separate national identity in the people as a whole. [
Pearse in his address to his court martial and his prediction of future events in history would no doubt contrast Edwards assertion:
When I was a child of ten I went down on my knees by my bedside one night and promised God that I should devote my life to an effort to free my country. I have kept that promise. First among all earthly things, as a boy and as a man, I have worked for Irish freedom. I have helped to organize, to arm, to train, and to discipline my fellow countrymen to the sole end that, when the time came, they might fight for Irish freedom. The time, as it seemed to me, did come and we went into the fight. I am glad that we did, we seem to have lost, we have not lost. To refuse to fight would have been to lose, to fight is to win, we have kept faith with the past, and handed a tradition to the future… I assume I am speaking to Englishmen who value their own freedom, and who profess to be fighting for the freedom of
Their dream had left me numb and cold.
But yet my spirit rose in pride.
Refashioning in burnished gold
The images of those who died
Or were shut in the penal cell.
Here’s to you. Pearse, your dream not mine,
But yet the thought for this you fell
Has turned life’s waters into wine.
In addition, Edwards in her introduction to her biography of Pearse, and as to how his actions would be viewed by later generations quoted a verse from W. B. Yeats' Three songs to the one burden,:
Some had no thought of victory
But had gone out to die
That Ireland s mind be greater,
Her heart mount up on high;
And yet who knows what’s yet to come?
For Patrick Pearse had said
That in every generation
Must Ireland’s blood be shed.
Seán MacBride, in his Foreword to Quotations from P. H. Pearse said:
As Pearse had foreseen, some who considered themselves ‘wise’ have proclaimed that Pearse’s cause was a failure. Others, whose own standards of nationality and freedom do not measure up to those of Pearse, have sought to denigrate him. Still others have tried to depict him as a narrow-minded insular nationalist. Others again have portrayed him as an impractical idealist. Pearse’s writings, poems, short stories, plays and political essays provide the answer to all those who speak in ‘dispraise’ of him.
Bust of Pádraig Pearse in Tralee, County Kerry.
Pearse wrote stories and poems in both Irish and English, his best-known English poem being "The Wayfarer". He also penned several allegorical plays in the Irish language, including The King, The Master, and The Singer. His short stories in Irish include Eoghainín na nÉan ("Eoineen of the Birds"), Íosagán, Na Bóithre ("The Roads"), and An Bhean Chaointe ("The Keening Woman"). These are translated into English by Joseph Campbell (in the Collected Works of 1917). Most of his ideas on education are contained in his famous essay "The Murder Machine". He also authored many essays on politics and language, notably "The Coming Revolution" and "Ghosts".
Pearse is closely associated with the song, "Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile", for which he composed additional lyrics.
Pearse remained a bachelor all his life. This, in conjunction with elements of his writings, led biographer Ruth Dudley Edwards to speculate that Pearse was an “unconscious homosexual". . A poem Pearse published in 1909 entitled "A Mhic Bhig na gCleas" (Little Lad of the Tricks), in which he describes the kisses of a little boy being sweeter than the kisses of women, fueled this speculation. Contrarily, it has been suggested that Pearse was romantically involved with a young lady by the name of Eveleen Nicholls (Eibhlin Nic Niocaill), though Edwards dismisses it as purely platonic. Nicholls died in tragic circumstances, while swimming in the seas off the Blasket Islands. Edwards, in her biography of Pearse, says that Pearse “was marred by a personal blow,” referring to the death of Nicholls, whom she described as his "admired friend," and that “the only basis for marriage with Eveleen would have been mutual respect, not sexual attraction.”  Edwards dismisses Nicholls' brother's assertion that P.H. Pearse in fact proposed to her , but that she turned him down because “she did not want to abandon her mother to the problems…in her home.”
Pearse in an editorial, “…showed his distress,” on her death :
There are times when journalists and public men experience a trial more cruel than others can easily imagine. It is when they are called upon in the course of their duty to write or to speak in public of things that touch the inmost fibres of their hearts, things that to them are intimate and sacred, entwined, it may be, with their dearest friendships and affections, awakening to vibration old chords of joy or of sorrow. The present is such an occasion for the writer of these paragraphs... It is not in human nature to write a glib newspaper article on a dead friend. One dare not utter all that is in one’s heart, and in the effort at self- restraint one is apt to pen only cold and formal things.”
Pearse was later to write a lament, entitled "A Chinn Aluinn," (O Lovely Head):
O lovely head of the woman that I loved, In the middle of the night I remember thee: But reality returns with the sun’s whitening, Alas, that the slender worm gnaws thee to-night. Beloved voice, that wast low and beautiful, Is it true that I heard thee in my slumbers? Or is the knowledge true that tortures me? My grief, the tomb hath no sound or voice!
Pearse's mother Margaret Pearse served as a TD in Dáil Éireann in the 1920s. His sister Margaret Mary Pearse also served as a TD and Senator.
Largely because of a series of political pamphlets Pearse wrote in the months leading up to the 1916 Rising, he soon became recognised as the voice of the 1916 Rising. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, Pearse was idolised by Irish nationalists as the supreme idealist of their cause.
However, with the outbreak of conflict in Northern Ireland in 1969, Pearse's legacy was used by the Provisional IRA. Pearse's reputation and writings were subject to criticism by some historians who saw him as a dangerous, fanatical, psychologically unsound individual under ultra-religious influences. As Conor Cruise O'Brien, onetime Labour TD and former unionist politician, put it in writing: "Pearse saw the Rising as a Passion Play with real blood."
Others defended Pearse, suggesting that to blame him for what was happening in
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern described Pearse as one of his heroes and displayed a picture of Pearse over his desk in the Department of the Taoiseach
His former school, St. Enda's, Rathfarnham, on the south side of
James Connolly was born on 5 June 1868, at 107 Cowgate,
Anti-Irish feeling at the time was so bad that Irish people were forced to live in the slums of the Cowgate and the Grassmarket which became known as 'Little Ireland'. Overcrowding, poverty, disease, drunkenness and unemployment were rife—the only jobs available were selling second-hand clothes and working as a porter or a carter. Later in life he listed his place of birth as "
James Connolly went to St Patrick's School in the Cowgate, as did his two older brothers, Thomas and John. At ten years of age, James left school and got a job with
While serving in
In 1889 while living in Dundee James first got involved in socialist politics joining the Socialist League while his older brother John was involved in a free speech campaign alongside the Social Democratic Federation and the local Trades Council.
In 1890, James Connolly and Lillie Reynolds were wed in
He became active in socialist and trade union circles and became secretary of the Scottish Socialist Federation, almost by mistake. At the time his brother John was secretary; however, after John spoke at a rally in favour of the eight-hour day he was fired from his job with the corporation, so while he looked for work, James took over as secretary. During this time, Connolly became involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardie formed in 1893.
Sometime during this period, he took up the study of, and advocated the use of, the neutral international language, Esperanto.
By 1892 he was involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895, but by 1896 he had gone to
Connolly stood aloof from the leadership of the Irish Volunteers. He considered them too bourgeois and unconcerned with
When the Easter Rising occurred on 24 April 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, and as the Dublin Brigade had the most substantial role in the rising, he was de facto Commander in Chief. Following the surrender, he said to other prisoners: 'Don't worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free.' Connolly was not actually held in jail, but in a room (now called the "Connolly Room") at the State Apartments in
He was so badly injured from the fighting (a doctor had already said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given) that he was unable to stand before the firing squad. His absolution and last rites were administered by a Capuchin, Father Aloysius. Asked to pray for the soldiers about to shoot him, he said: 'I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights'.
Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he was tied to a chair and then shot. The executions were not well received, even throughout
James Connolly was survived by his wife Lillie and several children, of whom Nora became an influential writer and campaigner within the Republican movement as an adult, and Roddy continued his father's politics. In later years both became members of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament).
Connolly was sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On 12 May 1916 he was transported by military ambulance to Kilmainham Jail, carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher, tied to a chair and shot. His body (along with those of the other rebels) was put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebels deeply angered the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It was Connolly's execution, however, that caused the most controversy. Historians have pointed to the actions of Connolly and similar rebels, as well as the manner of their execution as being factors that caused public awareness of their desires and goals, as well as gathering support for the movements that they had died fighting for.
Statue of James Connolly in
His legacy in Ireland is mainly due to his contribution to the republican cause and his Marxism has been largely overlooked by mainstream histories (although his legacy as a socialist has been claimed by the Communist Party of Ireland, Connolly Youth Movement, éirígí, the IRSP, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers' Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and a variety of other left-wing and left-republican groups). However, despite claims to the contrary, Connolly's writings show him to be first and foremost a Marxist thinker] In several of his works he rails against the bourgeois nationalism of those who claimed to be Irish patriots. Connolly was among the few European members of the Second International who opposed, outright, World War I. This put him at odds with most of the Socialist leaders of
Apparently, Lenin was a great admirer of Connolly,[ although the two never met. Lenin berated other communists, who had criticised the rebellion in
There is a statue of James Connolly in
Dublin Connolly railway station, one of the two main railway stations in
In a 2002 poll conducted by the BBC of the 100 Greatest Britons, Connolly was voted the 64th greatest Briton of all time, ahead of other notable Britons such as David Lloyd George and Sir Walter Raleigh.
though I have usually posed as a Catholic, I have not done my duty for 15 years, and have not the slightest tincture of faith left…
– (Letter from James Connolly to John Carstairs Matheson, 30 January 1908)
Labour, Nationality and Religion:
The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go. And in the work of abolishing it the Catholic and the Protestant, the Catholic and the Jew, the Catholic and the Freethinker, the Catholic and the Buddhist, the Catholic and the Mahometan will co-operate together, knowing no rivalry but the rivalry of endeavour toward an end beneficial to all. For, as we have said elsewhere, socialism is neither Protestant nor Catholic, Christian nor Freethinker, Buddhist, Mahometan, nor Jew; it is only Human. We of the socialist working class realise that as we suffer together we must work together that we may enjoy together. We reject the firebrand of capitalist warfare and offer you the olive leaf of brotherhood and justice to and for all.
An earlier work also published by the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP), called Socialism and Religion, where Connolly says of socialism:
We do not mean that its supporters are necessarily materialists in the vulgar, and merely anti-theological, sense of the term, but that they do not base their socialism upon any interpretation of the language or meaning of scripture, nor upon the real or supposed intentions of a beneficent Deity. They as a party neither affirm or deny those things, but leave it to the individual conscience of each member to determine what beliefs on such questions they shall hold. As a political party they wisely prefer to take their stand upon the actual phenomena of social life as they can be observed in operation amongst us to-day, or as they can be traced in the recorded facts of history
Scott Herbert, however, called him a "devout Catholic". Father Aloysius in conversation to his daughter Nora:
It was a terrible shock to me, I'd been with him that evening and I promised to come to him this afternoon. I felt sure there would be no more executions. Your father was much easier than he had been. I was sure that he would get his first real night's rest. The ambulance that brought you home came for me. I was astonished. I had felt so sure that I would not be needed. For the first time since the Rising, I had locked the doors. And some time after two I was knocked up. The ambulance brought me to your father. Such a wonderful man - such a concentration of mind. They carried him from his bed in an ambulance stretcher down to a waiting ambulance and drove him to Kilmainham Jail. They carried him from the ambulance to the jail yard and put him in a chair. He was very brave and cool. I said to him, "Will you pray for the men who are about to shoot you" and he said: "I will say a prayer for all brave men who do their duty." His prayer was "Forgive them for they know not what they do" and then they shot him.
Selected extracts from the personal recollections of Father Aloysius OFM Cap.
Monday 1 May
Early in the morning the son of Superintendent Dunne (DMP) a subdeacon, called to me and said that Father Murphy, the military chaplain, had sent him to ask if I could call to the Castle during the afternoon. James Connolly, who was a prisoner and a patient there, had expressed a wish to see me. I called, and saw Father Murphy. He told me that he had arranged for the necessary permissions. With Captain Stanley, RAMC, I went to the ward. At the door the sentry challenged Captain Stanley and informed him he had orders to allow no one to see the prisoner without special instructions. Captain Stanley was obliged to return for his permit. The sentry asked me if I were Father Aloysius and, on my replying in the affirmative said: 'You can go in.' However, as the nurses were engaged with Connolly, I delayed outside until they had finished and Captain Stanley had returned.
I entered with Captain Stanley, but I remarked that two soldiers with rifles and bayonets were on guard and showed no intention of leaving. I point out this to Captain Stanley, but he said it was necessary that they should remain; that he had no power to remove them. Then I said: 'If that is so I cannot do my work as a priest. I have never before, to my knowledge spoken to James Connolly. I cannot say if he may not be hard of hearing. Confession is an important and sacred duty that demands privacy and I cannot go on with it in the presence of these men.' I had given my word that I would not utilise the opportunity for carrying political information or as a cover for political designs, and if my word was not sufficient or reliable they had better get some other priest. But I felt quite confident I would have my way.
In the morning I gave Holy Communion to James Connolly. Later in the day I went with Father Augustine to Headquarters,
When I reached Kilmainham Gaol I was informed that Thomas MacDonagh also wished for my ministrations. I was taken to the prisoners' cells and spent some hours between the two. "You will be glad to know that I gave Holy Communion to James Connolly this morning," I said to Pearse when I met him. "Thank God," he replied, "it is the one thing I was anxious about."
Called to the Castle to see Connolly. Connolly had not slept and seemed feverish. I said that I would let him rest and would called in morning to give him Holy Communion. Uneasy about him I tried to get contact with Captain Stanley, but he could not be found. Reached Castle gates, and, still uneasy, decided to return and make another attempt to see
Friday Morning, 12th
About 1 am car called and Father Sebastian accompanied me to Castle. Heard Connolly's confession and gave him Holy Communion. Waited in Castle Yard while he was being given a meal. He was brought down and laid on stretcher in ambulance. Father Sebastian and myself drove with him to Kilmainham. Stood behind firing party during the execution. Father Eugene McCarthy, who had attended Sean MacDermott before we arrived, remained and anointed Connolly immediately after the shooting.
Three months after James Connolly's execution his wife Lillie (née Lillie Reynolds, a domestic servant from Co Wicklow) was received into the Catholic Church, at Church St. on 15 August..
Whilst in the
A film about the life of James Connolly was announced for 2007 (later 2008), with Peter Mullan in the lead role and Adrian Dunbar as director; as of 6 July 2007 the IMDb listing had not been updated since 22 May 2007.
Connolly (the author of many rebel songs and editor of a small collection of them) himself became the subject of many songs after his death, including the song "James Connolly".