Books have been written about him and countless articles but he remains as much an enigma as ever. Why did Patrick Pearse, the ardent Home Ruler, suddenly become a violent revolutionary? Some philosophers will tell you that the Japanese High Command knew that they had no hope of winning the war against the Allies but they meant to strike a blow against Western values. It was a costly piece of symbolism.
Some of those involved in the 1916 Rising may have felt the same way: they wished to strike one blow against Britain, no matter how much it cost. This was hardly what Pearse had in mind. His proclamation is looked upon by some people as Sacred Writ. His reasons may have been personal. His school was not going as well as he had hoped. Perhaps it was more important that he had grave doubts about his sexuality.
Of one thing we can be sure: Pearse in the spring of 1916 was a deeply troubled man. His Proclamation is a load of nonsense. He was either a poor historian or else he played games with the truth. He spoke about the number of times that the Irish people had revolted for freedom. That was absurd. There had been only one revolution and that was in 1798. It was inspired by the French Revolution and by the hope of military aid from France. It ended in bloody disaster. So much so that the Irish people had no wish for further violent revolution.
Robert Emmet's uprising had ended in a street riot. The Young Irelanders' Rising was a comical fiasco. The Fenian Rising hardly took place at all except in South East Cork and in South County Dublin. When Pearse included all those as uprisings he must have known that he was playing with the truth: he was indulging in propaganda. Nevertheless, his influence has been huge.
Eamon de Valera was the most powerful politician in the second half of the 20th century. Pearse was the most influential and that influence has lasted down to the present day. Many young men and some young girls have taken him as their role model and gone forth to die if necessary. We had an example in Kerry not too long ago. Maurice O'Neill, a young man from Caherciveen, based his life on Pearse's example. He was a daily communicant and a member of the IRA. It cost him his life. He was only one of many.
What did Pearse achieve? He turned back the progress of peaceful agitation. Henry Grattan had established an all-Ireland parliament. Daniel O'Connell had shown the effectiveness of mass agitation, and he had won Catholic Emancipation in 1829. It was mainly symbolic because the Penal Laws had fallen into abeyance. Nevertheless, it was a step forward and he might have repealed the Act of Union if he hadn't died prematurely.
Charles Stewart Parnell had achieved a victory that seemed impossible a generation before: he had given the farmers the right to own their land. If Pearse had read Canon Sheehan's novel, The Graves at Kilmorna, he would have seen that the people had lost all faith in armed revolutions but Pearse seemingly was determined to go his own way.
For what freedom was he seeking in 1916... Home Rule was already in the statute books. Its coming into law was postponed until the end of the First World War. The reason was obvious: Britain had to maintain an army in Ireland to guard against a German invasion. Pearse knew that there was no hope of military success: the Rising was a symbol but it was a very costly symbol. 1922 was the worst year in Irish history and yet we celebrate the 1916 Rising as if it was in some way glorious. It led to a Civil War which was insane.
Pearse must be held to blame for much of this and yet he is revered as a national hero. That he was noble there can be no doubt, but noble men can make bad mistakes. And yet to criticise him is regarded as heresy.
It will take generations of deep thinking and good teaching to get the nonsense about armed uprisings out of our soul. We have seen its futility over the past 30 years or so but some people are very slow learners. Pearse's influence will be around for a long time more. The young people of today should look over the past 30 years as a shameful and shameless period. Even the most fanatical of revolutionaries must see what a waste of life we have endured.
Fogra: Good luck to all the people about to do the oral examinations in many subjects