This is a copy of a talk given as part of the Lismullin Heritage Series, Co. Meath, Ireland, April 2016. Reference to this document should follow established citation procedure.
Who dares to speak of Pearse? Introspective school boy, serious-minded adolescent with his New Ireland Literary Society? Republican zealot, Gaelic mystic, troubled homosexual, Catholic Ireland saint, determined martyr, hero, victim? To the disappointment of many in the room, perhaps all, I am not going to consider the bewildering array of claims and counter-claims regarding the might’s and maybe’s of Pearse’s political legacy, rather, the work to which he dedicated his adult life – the mundane task of running a school, a task that happens far away from the headlines, and television documentaries but - hopefully - we agree, an important one and one that has won him, I would claim, an enduring, untroubled although not completely unchallenged legacy.
Pearse’s militant separatism has tended to overshadow the educational work to which he dedicated his adult life. He has been described alternately as fascistic and naïve, and charged with endorsing ‘the development of close, intimate or erotic relationships between pupils and their teachers’ (Limond, 2005). His legacy is perennially controversial. In 1966 Eavan Boland noted that his educational achievements had become the casualty of a ‘well-bred distaste’ and Sisson (2004) observed that he remains so contentious that to admit to writing on him ‘presupposes that the idea is either to debunk the myths of martyrdom or to reinforce him as an icon of the past’. Porter (1973) described his educational work as a ‘startling success’ Ruth Dudley Edwards (1977) described him as ‘at his peak as a theoretical educationalist’, and most recently Foster (2014) as a ‘radical educationalist’
There are a number of possible reasons for this silence. The relationship between Pearse’s advocacy of physical force and the development of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland surely coloured discussions concerning his legacy. Again, educationalists have tended to ignore Pearse’s pedagogic writings, possibly assuming they represented little more than musings on Irish language acquisition, were parochial or bore the stigma of republican militancy. Finally, it is possible that Pearse became readily identified with the troubled history of Irish in schools so that today, the Irish public regard Pearse and the language in much the same way; they like the idea, but don’t know very much.
Pearse founded St. Enda’s in 1908 at a time when the education system was wholly examination driven and informed by, what we may call for the sake of convenience, colonial assumptions about the relationship between Ireland and England. School History examinations for 1906 ask, for example: ‘How did the Whigs and Tories of Queen Anne’s reign differ…?’; ‘Give as fully as you can an account of the British surrender at Saratoga or at Yorktown’; ‘Give a brief account of Fairfax’s campaign in Kent and Essex during the Second Civil War’; ‘Distinguish three Dukes of Norfolk during the Tudor period, and write a short account of two of them’ (Intermediate Examinations Board, June 1906). C.S. (Todd) Andrews, a past pupil of St. Enda’s, which he ‘loathed’, recalled that Dublin was ‘totally Anglicised [it was] an English city…our nursery rhymes were English and we knew all about Dick Whittington, Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland, but we never heard of Fionn or Cuchulainn…at school…Irish was never mentioned’ (Andrews, 1979). Roger Casement recalled that at BallymenaAcademy he was taught ‘nothing about Ireland…I don’t think the word was ever mentioned in a single class of the school’ (Parminter, 1936).
Pearse believed that language was a principle characteristic of nationhood, reflecting a sense of “otherness” or separateness and that by having control of the curriculum, texts and mechanisms of evaluation throughout the nineteenth-century, a succession of governments had contributed to the decline of the language through hostility or indifference. Since the Tudor period the language had been understood as a barrier, first to conversion and later to political compliance and while, by the early twentieth-century, this conception had faded, Pearse and the revivalist movement considered it a key token of nationhood. For Pearse, it was appropriate that the classroom, which for so long has been used as a vehicle for eradicating the language, should become the site of its renaissance. He campaigned tirelessly on behalf of Irish in schools. As it was not compulsory and most teachers could not speak it, Pearse and the League’s victory in securing it for matriculation to the new NUI was all the more remarkable while between 1899 and 1904 the number of National Schools offering Irish rose from 104 to 1,983 making it the fastest growing ‘extra’ subject in National Schools.
Pearse considered the historic antipathy to the language to by symptomatic of a more pervasive official indifference. He argued that, since the sixteenth-century, schooling had been used first as a means of proselytism and later as a means of political assimilation. Emile Durkheim’s observation that schooling was the systematic socialisation of the young had been grasped much earlier by the Tudor and Elizabethan administrations that founded parish and diocesan schools to encourage English speech and habit. From that time, Pearse held, schooling in Ireland had become a political act, aimed at fostering a compliant, converted, English-speaking people. The later omission of Irish language, literature and history from school curricula represented the imposition of what Giroux (1989) called ‘silences’ or systemic absences generated by a dominant elite. The national school system was founded in 1831 but Irish was not permitted until 1879. Irish (and girls) was excluded from Intermediate (secondary) schools under the provisions theIntermediate Education Act (1878). It was only introduced after pressure from antiquarians like Edward Hudson, former owner of the Hermitage, which housed St. Enda’s between 1916 and 1935. But Celtic, as it was then known, did not carry the same marks as other languages. The Preparatory Grade examination was worth 500 marks while the remaining grades were worth 600. French and German were worth 700 while English, Latin and Greek merited 1200 marks. At this time students were permitted to study Irish at National school, but only in the senior classes. This had the effect of preventing English-speakers from acquiring Irish at the earliest possible stage. Ultimately it reinforced the notion that the language was neither practical nor culturally significant. Children opting to study the language selected it from a list of so called ‘extra’ subjects that included French; Latin; German; Greek; Italian and Spanish. The success of the Gaelic League in the late nineteenth-century resulted in a remarkable take-up of Irish in schools. In 1904-5 the number taking Irish at Intermediate level rose from 2,527 to 3,218 meaning that out of seven languages Irish was ranked the third most popular behind French and Latin. Of twenty-seven subjects, in the honours category, Irish was placed sixth on the list in terms of the number of students opting to study it.
However, in the same year, the government announced that it intended to discontinue paying fees for extra subjects in the National Schools, including Irish. The cost had increased from £1000 to £12 000 in four years due wholly to the increased interest in the language. Yet this represented a mere .01% of the educational budget for one year; less than half the salary cost of the Dublin Office of the Commissioners of National Education. Surely Pearse and the League were not wholly misguided in suspecting the government’s commitment to the language in schools. The Commissioners of National Education accepted the Treasury’s decision and reminded the public that they had sanctioned bilingual teaching in Irish-speaking districts but only, it should be noted, so that such ‘instruction (was) utilised in teaching…English’.
Pearse had other misgivings about the system. He resented the emphasis upon terminal examination and the limited curriculum, complaining in 1912 that: ‘the same textbooks are being read tonight in every secondary school…in Ireland. Two of Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales…a few poems in English’ being the entire literary corpus for ‘three-quarters’ of the country’s pupils. He famously condemned the system as a ‘murder machine’; dedicated to cramming - unimaginative, underfunded and unsympathetic to the aspirations of cultural nationalists. Seeing it as an instrumentum regni he recognised, long before the development of theories of education as resistance, that it could be subverted by a system in opposition, a network of Irish-Ireland schools, informed by the tenets of gaelic revivalism. This, it seems to me, was an early conceptualisation of schooling as resistance, an act of defiance - Pearse described his work at St. Enda’s as challenging ‘the whole existing education system of Ireland.’ (An Craobh Rua 1913) and in 1914 told an American audience that ‘the whole experiment of Irishising education in Ireland must stand or fall with St. Enda’s.’(The Gaelic American, 7.3.1914).
While ostensibly a bilingual school, Pearse encouraged the boys to make Irish the first language and responded to questions in English by asking ‘Ceard e seo?’ The experiment was radical in 1908, politically deliberate at a time when post addressed in Irish could be returned-to-sender by the General Post Office. Again, the “boy republic” was radical in its inclusive and democratic operation. The election of leaders from among the boys to act as a student council was intended to democratise the school experience. Pearse even hoped the boys would suggest amendments to the school curriculum. In 1913, a senior pupil named James Rowan, suggested that cricket become the summer sport claiming that the sons of ‘modern patriots’ played the game, although some counted it an ‘English’ pastime (An Scoláire, 20.4.1913, p. 6.). Pearse referred the decision to the council who called for a school vote. In this he risked the possibility of the Irish-Ireland flagship school embracing cricket, the result of which would be certain public embarrassment. It is testament to his democratic instinct that he was prepared to take such a risk.
The student council is characteristic of progressive schools. Dartington Hall, England had its Moot at which students voted. The school’s founder, William Curry was much influenced by the Cambridge mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell whose writings on schooling are often significantly similar to those of Pearse.Pease, for example, believed that schooling in Ireland was intended to ‘tame’ the people’, designed ‘by our masters…to make us willing or at least manageable slaves’ (Murder Machine, 1914). He wrote of the education system as ‘shaping and moulding’ (Murder Machine, 1913/14) while Russell described education as ‘mould(ing)’ children to ‘unnatural shapes’ (The Principles of Social Reconstruction, 1916); Pearse, that education in Ireland was a ‘state controlled institution…which produces articles necessary to the progress…of the state’ (Murder Machine, 1914) Russell, that education systems were designed for ‘the maintenance of the existing order’ (The Principles of Social Reconstruction,1916).
Democratic participation was only one characteristic of Pearse’s radical educational paradigm. He was immersed in the quazi-romanticism of the late nineteenth-century child-centred movement, but he emphasised the significance of the relationship between teacher and learner, rather than the experience of the learner alone. Searching for an appropriate metaphor for this relationship he turned to that of the Gaelic notion of fosterage – the inter-changing of children, usually between noble families, so that they might learn the arts of oratory, tribal law, rhetoric and military skills. Usually the exchange served to ensure peace between powerful families or tribes (tuath). Pearse employed the notion as a metaphor for the ideal teacher-pupil relationship, He knew that the term was historically oblique and joked about ‘how blue Dr. Hyde, Mr. Yeats and Mr. MacNeill would look if their friends informed them that they were about to send their children to be fostered’ (An Macaomh, December 1909), but the notion is not very dissimilar from that of the teacher acting in loco parentis; an understanding that remains at the heart of teaching today.
In turning to the gaelic model of fosterage, and the notion of learning as craft rather than process, Pearse identified the significance of learning as a transaction; a deeply human activity in which the learner is encouraged, not simply to become learned, but good (ACS, 12.11.1904) in other words, education was a moral activity. Against the scramble for results-fees, Pearse set the ideal of the learning transaction as free from prescribed texts, set curricula and terminal examinations; a radical vision in 1908.
While Pearse argued for a re-conceptualisation of the teacher-pupil relationship he also urged changes in teaching methodology, all of which became characteristic of radical educators - and in time of mainstream schooling. He was particularly innovative in the area of language acquisition arguing for the use of Irish (or the designated language) in conversation with pupils and in extra-curricular activities. He encouraged the involvement of pupils in correcting their peers’ work in class (ACS 13.1.1906), described the use of corporal punishment for mistakes as ‘the very acme of stupid and purposeless folly’ (ibid) and encouraged pupils to learn by doing, particularly in the sciences. The 1897 Belmore Commission had encouraged a more child-centred and practical approach to science teaching, but the Commissions recommendations remained little more than aspirational for many schools. Pearse strove to provide a properly equipped science laboratory. He was particularly keen to encourage the natural sciences and employed the services of David Houston, Professor of Zoology at Trinity and Biology at The College of Surgeons, Dublin, to teach on a part-time basis at St. Enda’s where his sons Cyril and Walter were enrolled. The pupils of St. Enda’s and St. Ita’s were addressed by a number of the most prominent revivalists of the period including Douglas Hyde, CountessMarkievicz, Roger Casement, Maud Gonne McBride, Eoin MacNeill, Standish O’Grady and Padraig Colum. These lectures reflected a key aspect of Pearse’s philosophy. St. Enda’s would be the new Eamhain Macha and its boys would sit at the feet of the ‘heroes and seers and scholars’ of early twentieth-century Ireland (By Way of Comment’, An Macaomh, Christmas, 1909). He was also profoundly convinced the schools should have an appropriate physical location. Not alone did he consider school as a “space” where children could engage in learning without being troubled by the coercion of state examinations, but he actively sought to locate St. Enda’s in a place apart and he moved to the Hermitage because at Cullenswood House – the school’s first location in Rathmines - the ‘city was too near and the hills too far’ (An Macoamh 1910)
Cognisant of the need to find a ‘worthy’ home for his school, he was always conscious of the influence of place, environment and architecture upon the educative experience and hoped that the environs of the Hermitage would expose the boys to those ‘elemental forces’ of life and nature. The Hermitage had significant historical associations. Edward Hudson, who bought the house in 1786, had been on friendly terms with his neighbour, the lawyer John Curran. Curran was a member of the Irish Parliament between1783 and 1797, had supported Catholic emancipation and defended a number of the United Irishmen after the failed rebellion of 1803. His daughter Sarah had been secretly engaged to Robert Emmet (1778-1803). They had often met in the grounds of The Hermitage and Pearse once mused that it was ‘the sprit of Emmet that led me to these hillsides…I came out to Rathfarnham in the wake of Emmet’ and it’s to Emmet’s ghost we now turn..
If, as the past-pupil Denis Gwynn suggested, Pearse used his school ‘as the instrument to provide himself with the nucleus of a band of young politicians who would follow him to the scaffold.’(Dublin Review, Spring, 1923) he must have been sorely disappointed. Less than twenty past-pupils were involved in the Rising and the number may have been as low as twelve. Four, at least, were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood before Pearse. It was inevitable that some would become involved and Pearse was, perhaps, only one influence amidst the ever developing culture of nationalist separatism in Dublin at the time. Countless insurgents, who had no contact with St. Enda’s, or Pearse, were influenced by the climate of the time (indeed writing in 1979 about subsequent events Todd Andrews noted that ‘The leadership of the IRA came largely from those who got their education from the [Christian] Brothers...’) although the influence of Pearse was keenly felt by some. Joseph Sweeney, for example, recorded that he ‘came very much under the influence of Pearse, as most of the older boys did…we were committed completely to the idea of separation, the old Wolfe Tone definition of freedom...’ (Griffith and O’Gradyp. 57). Another past-pupil, Desmond Ryan, also joined the IRB. On Easter Monday morning the group of past-pupils who were to take part in the Rising, ‘E’ Co. 4th Battalion, or “Pearse’s Own” assembled at the Yellow House, a public house adjacent to Rathfarnham Castle (Sean O’Mahony, Frongoch, University of Revolution, 114). (similarly past-pupils of Irish schools had met a year earlier at Lansdowne Road to form a ‘Pals’ Company’; only 79 of the 300-strong Company survived the Gallipoli campaign. Denis Gwynn, past pupil of St. Enda’s served in France in 1916-17).
The number of past-pupils who took part in the Rising is uncertain. Mrs Margaret Pearse insisted that it was no more than ‘sixteen or seventeen’ (oral recording, Pearse Museum). Frank Fahy, speaking in 1918 thought the number to be seventeen (Memories of the Brothers Pearse p. 17). Eight of those who joined Pearse at the General Post Office were later interned at Frongoch Prison Camp in Wales. In a letter from the GPO to Mrs. Pearse, on Wednesday 26th April, Pearse assured his mother that the ‘St. Enda’s boys’ who were with him were ‘all in excellent spirits’ (O’Buachalla 26.4 1916). On 1st May these were taken to Richmond Barracks, as was William Pearse. Patrick was taken to Arbour Hill and believed that ‘E’ Co. 4th Battalion was there also. In his final letter to his mother on 3rd May he expressed his hope that ‘the St. Enda’s boys (would) be safe’ (O’Buachalla 3.5.1916).
Pearse’s biographer Le Roux insisted that he knew that by teaching the boys the ‘history of the Conquest’ he would make them ‘resolute and devoted men who should rapidly win…rank as patriots.’(Le Roux, p. 120). Clearly Pearse taught his pupils that duty to country, in any form, was a characteristic of good citizenship, although the models he placed before them, such as Tone and Emmet, were exclusively separatist. He had seen his pupils ‘moved inexpressibly’ by the story of Emmet or Anne Devlin and had found it ‘legitimate’ to make use of that reaction for ‘educational purposes’ (The Murder Machine, ‘Back To The Sagas’).
Denis Gwynn’s condemnation may be partly justified, but it is equally reasonable to suggest that the small number of past-pupils that took part in the Rising suggests that Pearse influence may have been less than previously imagined. The St. Enda’s boys who joined him at the GPO were, by then, past-pupils and made choices not as schoolboys, but as adults and Pearse cannot justifiably be held wholly accountable for those choices. The issue of teachers’ influence is not uncomplicated. The profession had a history of sedition dating back to the Wexford Rebellion and before that through the long penal period. The Minutes of the Commissioners of National Education of July 1916, recorded that allegations had been made that the Rising was fermented ‘by the careful instilling of revolutionary principles in the teaching of many of our primary schools’ (Minutes p. 20) This was not an uncommon view, although the report of the following year, attested that: ‘no evidence has been adduced which would warrant the conclusion that seditious teaching…exists to any appreciable extent’ (Report of the Commissioners, 1917). Indeed, Denis Gwynn’s decision to join the British armed forces at the outbreak of the First World War was, perhaps, eloquent testimony to the schooling in patriotism he received at St. Enda’s. It is worth remembering also the long history of service in the British Armed Forces of past pupils from Castleknock, St. Andrew’s, Clongowes Wood, St. Columba’s and Belvedere colleges (including on the streets of Dublin in 1916 – where, for example and tragically, members of the Landsdown Corps stumbled across the Rising on 24th April while returning from a drill and four, unarmed, were killed). Blackrock College, alma mater of a number of republicans lost in the region of 130 pastmen fighting for the BAF in WWI and Clongowes claims a greater number of fallen (in relation to the size of the school cohort) than Eton.
A tangible Persian legacy is represented by the existence of a small number of schools that trace their origin to Pearse’s work. James O’Byrne, a former member of staff at St. Enda’s founded Ard Scoil Éanna in Crumlin in the late 1930s where it continues to operate today. Louise Gavan Duffy, who had offered to lease St. Ita’s in 1912, founded Scoil Bhríde in 1917 and Ms. Margaret Pearse provided a permanent location for the school near Cullenswood House in the mid 1960s. In 2004 its principal noted that the school holds the legacy of Pearse as ‘part of (its) identity’. Parents, who could not enrol children in the school due to over demand, opened a gaelscoil in Cullenswood House in 1997. Lios nanÓg practises full immersion in the Irish language and the school staff and parents are, according to the Principal, ‘conscious’ of and ‘respect’, the legacy of Pearse (author interview with Principal, 2004) and has an enrolment of 232 children.
More importantly, perhaps, Pearse recognised that schooling could operate as an agent of change, that it could become a vehicle for dissent. The realisation that curricular colonialism could be confronted and inverted within the school - the structure that historically had acted as its vehicle - represents a significant contribution to the field of educational thought. His argument that the curriculum represented an act of political absorption was among the earliest contributions to the discourse concerning the relationship between curriculum and power. By insisting that what Giroux called the ‘cultural script’ (Giroux 1992) of curriculum could be challenged and rewritten he identified schooling as a means of cultural emancipation. This identification of schooling as contested terrain and the founding of a school as a model of defiance suggest that Pearse was an important and original thinker and locates him firmly, I suggest, within the radical education tradition.
But more practically, Pearse offered a vision of schooling that is strikingly modern. If, in 1922, the state had embraced bilingualism rather than full immersion in Irish in National Schools far greater progress may have been made in reversing the decline of the language. He derided corporal punishment, believed that pupils should contribute actively to how a school was operated, encouraged active learning and used nature and the environment around St. Enda’s as an outdoor classroom, he believed in the importance of the sciences and of a well-stocked library (2000 volumes in 1910). The school Debating Society was the first the Intermediate inspectors had encountered when they visited the school in 1910. Unusually for the time (and for decades afterwards), he allowed pupils to chat freely at meal times. And – lost amidst the myths about Pearse’s fierce religiosity or sexual unease – he instigated school dances at the Hermitage for the boys of St. Enda’s and the St. Ita’s girls. He encouraged the pupils’ sometimes satirical school magazine – the boys, in 1913 for example, making reference to ‘the iceberg Dame, one Bloomer’ (Headmistress of St. Ita’s) and guardian of her girls! – or, for example, teased their fellow pupil Patrick Delaney for his desire to spend so much time in conversation with unidentified St. Ita’s girls. Teachers, although not Pearse, were not spared parody either and William Pearse, though loved by the boys, was not infrequently the butt of parody.
Pearse, no more than other founders or Headmasters, was not perfect. The move to St. Enda’s was a mistake and almost bankrupt him. His conceptualisation of the teacher is incomplete and problematic belonging within paradigms that conceptualise the teacher as a ‘charismatic’ figure. I have yet to locate a lesson plan or notes in Pearse’s own hand (although some of William’s survive). He was unwilling to advocate methodology beyond the Direct Method and was prepared to advocate a ‘heroic tale’ as ‘more essentially a factor in education than a proposition in Euclid.’ Pearse emphasised the charisma of the teacher rather than the mundane necessities of preparation, assessment and so forth. The ‘charismatic teacher’ as Alex More notes is typically ‘over-reliant upon “personality”’ and tends to eschew established methodologies. This emphasis upon personality tends to ‘mystify’ teaching, presenting it as an art, unattainable by those not pre-possessed of the suitable personality. (In short, we cannot all star in our own version of Dead Poets’ Society, but we can be excellent teachers.) . In Pearse’s scheme there is no place for the personal growth of the teacher. The classroom is not presented as an arena where the teacher can find intellectual fulfilment. S/he is defined in terms of what gratification can be offered to the pupils and he is mute on any scenario that might allow for a silent, subject-centred engagement. The teacher is an autonomous individual whose strength of personality, rather than depth of knowledge or aptitude for teaching, will ensure his/her success. Pearse’s writings imply a belief that ‘teaching’ simply happened, the requirements being only inspirational personality and an appropriate environment. He does not appear to have contemplated any alternative scenario. Perhaps he would have benefited from completing a B.Ed. or H.Dip! Like so many founders he was not a trained teacher but this should not occlude the visionary practices he encouraged and reminds us that, those ‘outside the box’ may have much to teach us about just how radical education can be. Or, perhaps the lesson that schools can be sites of resistance, places where dominant ideologies can be interrogated and undermined, is, in fact, a lesson now being learned in the schools of Afghanistan, Syria and parts of India and Africa. Perhaps, whilst the historical contexts are utterly dissimilar, the notion of education as emancipatory and defiant is now rearticulated by those such as Malala Yousafzai rather than Pearse and his small staff of rebels at St. Enda’s. Perhaps this is Pearse’s legacy, that whether we embrace his politics or not, education can act as a means of defiance, a type of resistance in the face of a resisted cultural or political elite and even if this is an accidental legacy it is a worthwhile one in a world where children and their teachers can be killed for simply being in school. In this sense Pearse was visionary because, whether he intended it or not, his educational thought can certainly be understood as emancipatory by those who remain the victims of dominant elites of whatever kind. It seems to me a remarkable myopia of Irish historical studies that we have failed to recognise such a modern conceptualisation resting quietly in the work of the Edwardian Mr. Pearse.
Works referred to in Keynote.
 Spanish, which only had ten candidates, three of whom failed, is excluded.
 The Murder Machine, ‘The Murder Machine. (originally published February 1913, in Irish Review).
 Standish James O’Grady (1846-1928) historian and antiquarian, author of History of Ireland: The Heroic Period (1878). Founding figure of the Gaelic literary revival movement.
 Collectively known as ‘The Dogs’, they were; Desmond Ryan, Frank Burke, Eamon Bulfin, John Sweeney and Billy Moore
 Alex More, The Good Teacher: Dominant discourses in teaching and teacher education, p. 53 (Routledge, Falmer, London, 2004).
 The Murder Machine, ‘Back to the Sagas.’
 Alex More, The Good Teacher: Dominant discourse in teaching and teacher education,