The Seven Signatories of the Proclamation
Patrick Pearse, President of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic
Patrick Henry Pearse (1879-1916) 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. Brought up as a devout Catholic, he is supposed to have been inﬂuenced in his childhood by his maternal aunt Margaret who regaled him with stories of mythological Irish heroes and patriot revolutionaries such as Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet. During his years at the Christian Brothers’ secondary school in Westland Row, he developed an intense interest in the Irish language and Irish literature, in furtherance of which he joined the Gaelic League at the age of seventeen. He attended University College, Dublin, graduating with a good degree in English, French and Irish. He later studied law at Trinity College, Dublin and the King’s Inns, and was called to the bar.
The Gaelic League became practically a way of life for Pearse. He was active on various committees and contributed articles to An Claidheamh Soluis on a wide range of topics—literature, history, education, emigration, politics, religion. The articles chart his intellectual progress over several years, revealing him as liberal, progressive and anti-sectarian. At this stage of his career his concern was more with cultural than political nationalism. He took on the editorship of An Claidheamh Soluis in a paid capacity for the period 1903-9, giving it a more literary orientation, but also becoming involved in various controversies, some with members of the Catholic clergy with whom he was more than able to ﬁght his corner. Meanwhile, he wrote poems and stories of considerable literary quality in Irish and English. He generally spent his summer holidays at Rosmuc, Co. Galway, where he drew inspiration from the Irish speakers and the rural way of life.
Pearse taught Irish part-time in various schools and in University College Dublin. In 1908 he established a bilingual boys’ school, Saint Enda’s (Sgoil Éanna), at Cullenswood House in Ranelagh, transferring it two years later to a mansion set in ﬁfty acres of parkland at Rathfarnham, where it operated as a boarding school. The ethos of the school was distinctively Irish and was enlivened by occasional plays and pageants. The teachers included Thomas MacDonagh (French and English), Pearse’s brother Willie (art and English), and Con Colbert (drill), all three of whom took part in the 1916 Rising and were subsequently executed. He also established Saint Ita’s, a school for senior girls and mixed preparatory at Cullenswood House.
Politically, Pearse was a moderate nationalist, supporting the Home Rule bill as late as 1912, but threatening revolution if it were not enacted. In November 1913, he was one of the twelve-member steering committee that set up the Irish Volunteers; he later held the important oﬃce of director of military operations. In December 1914 he was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood by Bulmer Hobson. While on a lecture tour for St Enda’s in the United States, he came under the inﬂuence of John Devoy and Joseph McGarrity who completed his conversion to extreme republicanism. In September 1915 he was elected to the Supreme Council of the IRB and co-opted to the Military Council where he had a major role in planning the Rising.
Pearse drafted the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, some of the content being suggested by others, particularly James Connolly and Thomas MacDonagh. Because of his rank in the Volunteers and because he was widely respected, his fellow signatories of the Proclamation nominated him president of the Provisional Government. His title of commandant general was nominal as James Connolly was in charge of military operations. As president, Pearse read the Proclamation outside the General Post Oﬃce on Easter Monday.
At the meeting of the ﬁve available members of the Provisional Government in 16 Moore Street on Saturday morning, Pearse urged that they surrender to prevent further loss of life. He was tried by court-martial and executed by ﬁring squad in Kilmainham Jail on 3 May. He was unmarried.