I have been very fortunate in securing the following charming contribution for inclusion in this memoir. It is from the pen of Miss Mary Hayden, who was a great friend of my brother. I am sure that these delightful reminiscences will be much appreciated:—
My Recollections of Pádraig Pearse
‘When first I knew Patrick Pearse he was not much more than a boy in years, being still under twenty. After that, until about 1914, I saw a great deal of him, especially in summer when we often went cycling together.
‘In some respects, however, he was not boyish, even in the beginning of our acquaintance. He did not seem to care for games or athletic exercise of any kind. Perhaps in the last couple of years of his life he learned to use firearms: but I cannot myself fancy his trying to kill any living thing, not to say a human being.
‘His personal habits were curiously ascetic. Of intoxicants he did not even know the taste; he did not smoke; he took little interest in what he ate; to such discomforts as excessive heat, or cold, or wet, he appeared indifferent.
‘When I knew him best he seemed not much interested in actual politics, though his love for Ireland was then, as always, intense and passionate. It was through the education of the rising generation that he looked for the regeneration of the country. I once had a long argument with him about the Councils Bill which was offered to Ireland in 1907. He thought that it ought to have been accepted. “It would give us control of our education, and that is the main thing,” he said.
‘To questions of party intrigue, or even to inevitable complications or details, he paid little attention. Always he was apt to think on broad lines; to consider the ends rather than the means; an inevitable result of his idealism.
‘It was in the world of children, animals, and flowers that Pearse was most at home. He loved all these intensely, and yet generally. Rarely did he show any particular favouritism or make any special pet. He could not bear to see even the humblest creature suffer. He once greatly surprised a Connacht fisherman by telling him that the fish—whose dying struggles the fisherman was watching with apparent amusement—were, as he himself was, Mac Dé.
‘At a Gaelic League meeting he created a good deal of indignation amongst some persons in the audience which had met to hear his lecture on “Our Brothers and Sisters.” The subject was kindness to animals. He maintained that, regarding this matter, the modern Irish were far behind the English; and that this was especially the case in Irish-speaking districts. “The Gaels are too poor to attend to animals!” one man interrupted. “Does it cost more to pat a dog than to kick it?” was Pearse’s retort.
‘Though school-keeping somewhat lessened his former idealistic conception of the human boy, it in no way diminished his interest or cooled his affection. To the end he idealised little girls and the very young.
‘Once, at a relatively heavy cost to himself, he brought a cinema operator down to entertain the school children in a far-off Irish-speaking village in Connacht. All day long he was busy cutting up cake and parcelling sweets. When, in the evening, the youngsters came—hundreds of them—he explained to them in Irish each picture as it appeared. How they enjoyed themselves! But I think that Pearse enjoyed himself more than any child there.
‘Akin to his idealising of children was Pearse’s attitude towards women. Their lower, or even their lighter side, he very little understood. He looked on the purity, the power of self-sacrifice, which is to be found more commonly in women than in men, as something divine. On this side he could understand them, for these qualities were strong in his own nature. Anything coarse disgusted him; from a doubtful story or jest he shrank as from a blow. Never, in all the years I knew him, did I ever hear from his lips even the mildest “swear-word.”
‘Pearse was, on the whole, a silent man, except when in the society of a few people whom he knew well. Rarely did he reveal his deeper feelings even to them. All his life he was a devout Catholic, but of religion he seldom spoke. The unseen world appeared very close to him; and the belief which he often (by way of jest) professed in ghosts, fairies and old legends, was, I think, only half-assumed.
‘Once he discussed with me a project of writing a sort of spiritual or intellectual autobiography, beginning at his early boyhood. I wonder was any of it ever written! If it ever was it must be a strange and interesting human document—not only because Pearse’s mind was of a strange and unusual type, but also, and even more so, because he was so absolutely free from affectation of any kind; so perfectly simple. In that, too, he was unusual.
The autobiography of which Miss Hayden writes was subsequently begun by my brother; but, as I have already stated, it was never finished. The greater part of what he did write on the subject had been set down in this little book. I am quite certain that readers have found it every bit as interesting as Miss Hayden felt it would be.
It is worthy of notice that Miss Hayden lays particular stress on my brother’s burning desire to have the education of the children under Irish control. She tells us that it was to the youth—the rising generation—that he looked for the regeneration of the country.
To further this noble cause Pádraig founded not only a school for Irish boys, but also a school for Irish girls which did fine work even in the short time it was in existence.
He took for its patroness the great St Ita, who had fostered so many illustrious saints. This school was started in the historic district of Cullenswood, where St Enda’s had also begun some years before. Cullenswood House sheltered many happy-hearted Irish girls, all of whom loved and revered their ‘Head,’ Pádraig Pearse.
Mary Bulfin, daughter of Senôr Bulfin, was one of the pupils at Sgoil Íde, and, at my request, she has written a perfectly delightful little article dealing with the beloved Head of this unique Irish school. It was Mary who took the role of the Blessed Virgin in Pádraig’s Passion Play, and her interpretation of the part was exquisitely gracious and dignified. Her contribution makes the most fascinating reading:—
Pádraig Pearse Among His Pupils
‘Mr Pearse, the Head, as we called him, used to come and talk to us for an hour or so every Wednesday afternoon. One of these talks I remember very distinctly.
‘He came late in the evening, and as only the boarders were present we went into the reception room. The girls sat round the table and Mr Pearse stood at the foot. Instead of talking to us about the sagas and about Wolfe Tone and Emmet, as he usually did, he talked to us about his own school-days. When he was quite a small boy he had attended a school presided over by ladies.
‘“It was a good school, I think,” Mr Pearse said. “We were taught to make things. I was very bad at that. Girls are much better than boys at making things. My sisters were very good at making things. They still make beautiful things. My brother also was good, but I was very awkward, even for a boy.
‘“Still, I remember one thing that I made at that school. I made it out of wool, different sorts of wool, of different colours. I don’t know what it was,” he confessed naively and he paused for a moment, and gazed hard at the wall beside the fireplace. “I think,” he continued, hopefully, “it was something you hang on a wall to put things in!” and he looked at us with such a funny air of puzzled inquiry that we all laughed.
‘But he stood there smiling. He never laughed aloud, I think; but he had a queer little secret smile that made one feel he was having a great chuckle away down inside in himself!
‘“Whatever it was,” Mr Pearse went on, “I was very proud of having made it, and I liked making it!”
‘I do not remember how he got from the “article” he had made to Euclid, or whether, in the meantime, he had progressed to another school; but presently he was telling us that he had not been much good at Euclid. “I could not do cuts in Euclid,” he informed us; “at least, I did them, but my teacher always said that I had done them all wrong. One day he said to me: ‘Patrick Pearse, you’ll never be any good at mathematics! But there is one thing you are really good at, and that is the science of argument! You should go in for the law!’
‘“Well, I did go in for the law, and I became a barrister. But I didn’t like being a barrister. It seemed to me that lawyers and doctors have to live by taking advantage of the weakness and disease of their fellows. I thought that I’d rather be a blacksmith.”
‘Then he went on to say that he was sure he would have made a very bad blacksmith, but, apart from this, he was sure that he could live a more noble and more useful life as a blacksmith than as a barrister. He discussed the various professions and life in general and, as usual, came back to the one great rule of life that he always insisted upon.
‘“Live up to the best that is in you,” he said; “and if your way of life or your profession in life does not allow you to live up to that best that is in you, then you must change your way of life, or your profession.”
‘Looking back on those addresses delivered on so many different subjects during the two years that Sgoil Íde lasted, it seems to me that this was the one theme that ran through them all. This, and another, which might be said to be an extension of the first: “Service is better than sacrifice.”
‘I have heard many sermons in many churches delivered with passionate fervour by great preachers, ranging in rank from curate to cardinal, but never one of them all seemed to me to offer as sure a guide—either in the little things of life, or in the great moments of crisis—as these simple sentences!
‘The girls of Sgoil Íde considered Mr Pearse a very great and marvellous person. We were tremendously in awe of him; yet we never hesitated to appeal to him in our difficulties.
‘I remember an incident that rather astonished our staff. It occurred at our first Sgoil Íde céilidhe on Hallow Eve. Some of the girls wanted to waltz; but Thomas MacDonagh, who was very resplendent in kilts, was acting as M.C. and would allow only Irish dances. We appealed to one of our mistresses, but she said that she was sure Mr Pearse would not like us to waltz. Immediately two of the girls sailed over to Mr Pearse, who was standing by himself, looking very imposing and distinguished in his evening dress. “Mr Pearse,” said one, “may we dance a waltz?” “If we call it a two-handed reel,” suggested the other, by way of compromise. “Of course you may dance a waltz,” answered the Head at once. “But why do you want to call it a two-handed reel?”
‘The matter was explained to him and he said: “Dance anything you like; but if it is a waltz, call it a waltz. Don’t call it a two-handed reel.”
‘So Mr MacDonagh announced presently that, by special permission of the Head, the next dance would be a waltz. The next day, however, Mr MacDonagh expressed great surprised that Mr Pearse should have allowed a waltz, and still greater surprise that the girls should have had the temerity to approach him on such a subject.
‘Mr Pearse seemed to get on particularly well with the very little ones in the school. There was one, a little, fragile, pale child, of whom he was especially fond. Nellie Jennings was her name; and although she was extremely shy and silent with the mistresses, and even with the girls, she always found plenty to say to Mr Pearse. Often the two might be seen having quite an animated chat, especially if no one else was around.
‘In the Holy Week of 1911 Mr Pearse produced a Passion Play in the Abbey Theatre. This play represented the chief incidents in the Passion of Christ as related in the Gospel.
‘Thomas MacDonnell, a master of St Enda’s, impersonated Christ. He also composed the music sung by the boys in the opening scene—that of the Garden of Gethsemane. Mr MacDonnell also composed a very beautiful caoine for the women on Calvary.
‘Mr Willie Pearse’s impersonation of Pilate was considered wonderful, I remember, and was much discussed at the time. Personally, the thing that most impressed me about Pilate was the astonishing variety of his frowns. Mr Willie could frown a thousand ways at once; and during the Passion Play we used to watch in awed fascination the perfectly marvellous things he did with his forehead. The Head himself was the impenitent thief—one of the thieves anyway—and Mr Thomas MacDonagh the other.
‘I have a very distinct memory of Mr MacDonagh, on the night of the dress rehearsal, diving through a crowd of boys to get to the right side of the stage at a critical moment—and beginning to chant forth his speech while picking up a small boy whom he had knocked over!
‘The Head was also the voice in the mob that called out to Pilate: Má sgaoilfid tú an fear seo, ní cara Chaesar tú. That sentence is the only bit of the whole play that has stayed in my mind.
‘Oddly enough, the thing I remember most vividly is Micheál Mac Ruadhrí as Barabbas. I never in my life saw anything so villainous as the smile of the mild and genial Micheál when, clad in a leopard skin, he made his bow before Jesus. He looked a most devilish, horrible ruffian—however he managed it.
‘Mr Pearse didn’t seem to worry much about rehearsals. He told us simply and clearly what he wanted done; and once he was sure that each one really knew what he or she had to do, he was satisfied. He seemed to have a divine belief that everyone would rise to the occasion and perform their individual parts adequately at the actual performance, no matter how woodenly they behaved at the rehearsals. It was part of his general belief in human nature, I think.’