William (Willie) Pearse (1881-1916), only brother of Patrick Pearse, was born at 27 Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), Dublin, the son of James Pearse, an Englishman with a stone-carving business, and his wife Margaret Brady. Like his brother Patrick, he was educated at the Christian Brothers’ secondary school in Westland Row and afterwards intermittently at the Metropolitan School of Art in Kildare Street where he studied sculpture and drawing. Like Patrick, he joined the Gaelic League and learned Irish to the extent that he was able to give classes to some of his fellow art students.
It was intended that Willie should join his father in his stone-carving business, but when James Pearse died in 1900, Patrick took over the business while Willie completed his education. Patrick ﬁnanced his continuing art education, including periods in Paris and at South Kensington in London. Willie had a modest degree of artistic talent and in the period 1906-13 he exhibited work at the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Oireachtas exhibitions. In 1907 he exhibited at the Irish International Exhibition. He eventually took over the family business, but it was already in decline and closed in 1910.
By then, Willie had teaching posts at Patrick’s school Saint Enda’s and its sister school Saint Ita’s, his main subjects being English and art. As Patrick became more actively involved with his work for the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Willie took on more of the administrative burden of Saint Enda’s, being eﬀectively in charge for long periods. He had an intense interest in amateur dramatics and participated in a number of productions at Saint Enda’s, but his performances as an actor were not always impressive. Such was his enthusiasm, however, that he and his sister Mary Brigid established a small amateur company, the Leinster Stage Society, which presented a number of productions, including a few at the Abbey Theatre in the period 1910-12, in some of which he played leading roles.
Willie was devoted to his brother and as Patrick became more politically extreme from around 1912 onwards Willie tended to follow suit. He joined the Irish Volunteers on their formation in November 1913, being promoted to the rank of captain by the end of 1915. By then he had also been sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He provided secretarial and other services for Patrick and seems to have been taken into his conﬁdence in the latter stages of the preparations for the Rising. Unwisely as it turned out, when signing certain documents on Patrick’s behalf he designated himself ‘acting chief of staﬀ’, which may have cost him his life.
In the Rising, Willie Pearse served as a captain on the headquarters staﬀ in the General Post Oﬃce. He was among the Moore Street group that surrendered on the Saturday afternoon; on the way to the surrender point near the Parnell Monument he carried the white ﬂag. It was generally thought that he was not suﬃciently senior to warrant execution, but being Patrick’s brother may have damned him. At his court-martial he pleaded guilty, the only one of those executed to do so. William Pearse was executed by ﬁring squad on Thursday, 4 May, the day after his brother.