herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

The greatest legacy left by Patrick Pearse was progressive St Enda's

Analysis

St Enda's hurling team in 1909
St Enda's hurling team in 1909
Pupils at St Enda's perform a Douglas Hyde play
Padraig Pearse
St Endas ad

'I care not though I were to live but one day and one night provided my fame and my deeds live after me' - Pearse motto

Cullenswood House was a spooky place in the 1980s.

The bricked-up windows and two huge wooden supports holding up one side of the building belied its former grandeur and historical importance. Us kids from Scoil Bhride next door used to sneak into the basement as a dare.

It was scheduled for demolition before a group of local residents - including my mother - intervened to save what is probably the oldest house in Ranelagh.

The 1990s saw huge social changes in Dublin 6 as the older generation gave way to young families moving in. The lack of school places forced some Irish-speaking parents to set up a new school.

Aine Ni Shithigh is principal of Lios na nOg since its foundation in 1996.

They spent a year-and-a-half in the Royal Hospital in Donnybrook before finally moving into Cullenswood House in 1997. Initially they only had one room and a roof over their heads, but they kept adding class rooms - mirroring the struggle Patrick Pearse had in running the school he founded on Oakley Road in 1908.

By 2000 the Department of Education took ownership of the building from the OPW and began to plan a complete restoration of the house, which took place between 2007 and 2009, with the school temporarily housed in Muckross Park.

Turbulent

Ranelagh had a turbulent history in the Irish struggle and this must have resonated with Patrick Pearse when he decided to locate his new school on Oakley Road.

On Easter Monday 1209 the O'Tooles and O'Byrnes, pushed further out of Dublin by the Anglo-Norman invasion, exacted bloody revenge by slaughtering 500 settlers on the edge of Cullen's Wood.

In 1649, the Battle of Rathmines saw the Earl of Ormonde's Royalist and Irish troops annihilated by an English Parliamentary force - creating the "Bloody Fields" near Palmerston Road. The retreat facilitated the landing of Oliver Cromwell and his conquest of Ireland.

Before Pearse was ever radicalised by the IRB and declared an Irish Republic outside the GPO in 1916, he worked to shake up the educational system by creating an alternative to the Christian Brothers' regime that would reflect his modern vision of a new Ireland.

The child would be central to the learning process. He would be taught in English and Irish with an emphasis on Gaelic games, nature, the arts and more practical subjects.

Pearse railed against the education system as a "murder machine" that was turning Irish youths into "west Brits".

"It is easy to appreciate Pearse's radical vision for St Enda's when it is set against the backdrop of the stifling curricular constraints of the payment-by-results system, inadequate textbooks, insufficient teacher training, tedious and bureaucratic examination and inspectorate procedures," says cultural historian Elaine Sisson.

"Even by today's standards, perhaps especially by today's standards, the curriculum seems modern and engaging. The school offered European languages [French, German, Italian and Spanish], botany, zoology and geology."

There were five acres of land adjacent to Cullenwood House - the site of playing fields, a handball court and an open-air gym.

Botany and horticulture were taught by Micheal Mac Ruaidhri, with each student given the freedom to "plan out and cultivate according to his own taste", as the 1909 St Enda's prospectus put it.

Along with the dormitory inside the school, they also had a science and a play room.

Playwrights

The students performed plays by Irish playwrights such as Douglas Hyde, who was one of many famous visitors to the school. Others included Maud Gonne, WB Yeats and Roger Casement.

Indeed, five teachers at St Enda's (Patrick Pearse, Willie Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Con Colbert and Joseph Plunkett) would be among the 14 leaders executed after the Rising.

The school proved so popular that Pearse moved to the Hermitage in Rathfarnham, where the 50 acres could accommodate the swelling numbers.

He set up a girls' school, Scoil Ide, in Cullenswood House to replace St Enda's.

"Pearse told us younger pupils about the ancient Celtic legends of Cu Chulainn and the Red Branch knights and of Fionn and the Fianna.

"Whatever it was he said about the Fianna produced some response in my imagination and created in me the first glimmer of interest in the world of the Gael," politician Todd Andrews would recall many years later in his memoir Dublin Made Me.

Does the present principal Ni Shithigh see parallels between St Enda's and Lios na nOg?

"We still have emphasis on bilingualism, art and nature," she says.

"I admire Pearse's progressive thinking and that the child was central to the educational process."

Pearse's idealism ran short in the end as mounting debts and his move towards militarism meant he devoted less of his energy to being headmaster of the school.

It survived his death, but closed in 1935.

He is best remembered for his role in 1916, but it's often forgotten that Pearse pioneered a new educational movement that lives on in Lios na nOg.

Perhaps it was fitting that two clubs (Na Piarsaigh and Ballyboden St Enda's) associated with Pearse won their respective All-Ireland Club titles in Croke Park on St Patrick's Day last - no doubt spurred on by the centenary.

Dublin and Ballyboden midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley, himself a teacher and not short of a "cupla focal'" also brought the Sam Maguire to Cullenswood House last October - a poignant gesture linking the two St Enda's once more.

The students were enthralled. Here's hoping one of them will be back in years to come with the same Cup - but this time as a player of their local club, Ranelagh Gaels.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News