I think that a few reminiscences from the pen of an old school companion, Mr Eamonn O’Neill, would be appreciated by my readers. Eamonn was a Christian Brothers’ boy, of course, and attended the Christian Brothers’ Schools, Westland Row.
Their reminiscences reveal many characteristics which belonged to my brother, and which his school companion was quick to notice.
Some Notes on the School and Post-School Life of Pádraig Pearse
‘Pádraig was extremely reserved at school,’ writes Mr O’Neill, ‘and kept very much to himself. Such reserved and shy boys are usually unpopular; yet it was not so with Pádraig. All liked and respected him, for they felt that his reserve and shyness were not signs of weakness, but of strength.
‘He was a great reader. He was especially good at English composition, and got a special prize for an essay at the Intermediate Examinations. He had a particular liking for mathematics.
‘Despite his shyness, he joined the school boxing and football clubs. I have seen him box with a more skilful opponent; and I have seen in him signs of a hot temper. At one school match, when the Westland Row team was playing a stronger and older team of working boys, Pádraig worked like a Trojan. The school team was very badly beaten, and many of the boys had been knocked out. Only half the team were able to fight to the end, Pádraig being among the few remaining.
‘Another day he kicked at a ball and missed it badly. Someone on the side-line laughed at him, and Pádraig rushed out and knocked him down. He surprised his fellows; but the knocked-down one became a friend and admirer afterwards.
‘Pádraig was very prominent in the School Debating Society. Even when he was only about sixteen he showed he had the makings of a fine speaker. He had a good deal of the “grand manner” in speaking. This effective manner was very much appreciated at the Frankfort (Booterstown) Feis once.
‘There was a big crowd scattered around, as it was a fine summer’s evening. But most of the crowd were in the tents partaking of ices and tea. Pádraig got up to speak on the Language Movement. The guests gradually gathered round; they moved over towards him; they laid down their cups and saucers and ices, and ceased speaking. Soon they were absolutely silent, held by a most impressive speech. Someone else got up to speak after Pádraig, but, at once, all returned to their tea and ices, and gossip.
‘Some five or six of the Westland Row boys who had left the school started the New Ireland Literary Society. It met weekly in Whelan’s famous old hotel, the Star and Garter, at the corner of O’Olier Street and Fleet Street. Pádraig was elected President, and read many papers on the Irish language and Irish literature, three of his addresses before the Society being printed and published later by Gill, under the title of Three Lectures on Gaelic Topics.
‘At that period he was making a close study of Irish literature, and was specially interested in the Fenian tales. He contributed some English poetry to the Society magazine, as well as some historical translations of early Irish poems. I published in Samhain some years ago one of these translations, which I knew from memory.
‘We closed down the Society when we saw that the Gaelic League, then in its infancy, was calling out for active workers. Pádraig joined the Central Branch, then in 57 Dame Street, and, from the beginning, became a zealous and untiring worker. His life for the next dozen years was one of the most arduous toil for the language—teaching, editing, speaking, and attending a wearying round of committee meetings. He was Secretary to the Gaelic League Publishing Committee, and the Committee during his term of office did great and original work. Irish writers always found in Pádraig a most helpful and considerate friend.
‘He saw early the prime importance of the Irish-speaking districts, and visited Aran and Connemara very frequently. He went to learn in the Irish-speaking districts. He recognised that they had in their possession the traditional soul of Ireland, and he steeped himself in their love and traditions.
‘His editorship of An Claidheamh Soluis was an epoch in the language movement. He made it a paper that was eagerly sought for every week. His educational articles were full of thought; and he really said all there was, or is, to say about the proper policy for Irish educationalists. He went to Belgium later, to understand bilingual teaching on proper lines, and came back with many sound ideas worthy of imitation in Ireland.
‘I remember that at one of the early Ard-Feises he attended as a member of the Executive Committee in a silk hat and frock coat. He did this out of respect for the assembly, but I remember that it lost him some votes at the elections. Some of the ultra-democrats have always canvassed against him simply on the grounds that a man who wore a top hat and frock coat could not be a true Gael!
‘This, of course, was utter rubbish. But, at the time, he and I and a few others had a hard fight to dissociate people in the Gaelic League from the idea that to be a true Gaelic Leaguer one had to wear untidy tweeds and rarely get one’s hair cut. We insisted, as far as possible, on officers of the League wearing evening dress at the more important functions.
‘I think that the Gaelic Leaguers have since receded from this fashion. If they have done so, they have done wrong, for the opposition must be fought with the opposition’s weapons. It is no disparagement to say that in a cultured Ireland there should be other standards than present standards, Pádraig held these views; and I think he would hardly quite approve of Leaguers getting into little narrow views, instead of working broadly to keep up the interest of every class.
‘We all believed in school, and out of school, that Pádraig would have no ordinary life. I think that if he had taken up his work at that Bar, he would have had a most interesting career.’