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                                              20th Century Ireland - Padraig Pearse (1879-1916)


Padraig Pearse was born in Dublin and educated at the Royal University where he studied Law and Irish before being called to the Bar in Dublin. In 1897 Pearse founded the Irish Literary Society and became active in the Dublin Central Branch of the Gaelic League. In 1903 he became editor of the Gaelic League's journal An Cláidheamh Soluis, 'the organ of militant Gaeldom'. He remained its editor until 1908 when he founded St. Enda's School for boys where he taught up to the 1916 Rising. In 1910 Pearse also founded Sgoil Idé for girls.
Pearse was a proponent of Home Rule prior to 1912 but in 1913 he joined the IRB and travelled to America where he lectured on Irish literature and education to raise funds for his schools. Pearse was a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB and was central to the organisation of the 1916 Rising. On Easter Sunday, 1916 Pearse, as Commandant-General of the Volunteers and head of the Provisional Government, read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on the steps of the GPO, Dublin. Pearse fought alongside James Connolly in the GPO until the surrender when he was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol and executed by firing squad on May 3rd, 1916. Pearse was a prolific writer of short stories, poetry and plays in Irish and in English. His writings include: Íosagán agus Scéalta Eile (1907); Suantraidhe agus Goltraidhe (1914); a study of the education system in Ireland entitled The Murder Machine (1915) and a series of pamphlets Ghosts examining 'the Irish definition of Freedom' which included The Sovereign People (1916) from which the extract below is taken. Pearse's Complete Works were published in 1924.©



Padraig Pearse

Padraig Pearse (1879-1916)

National independence involves national sovereignty. National sovereignty is twofold in its nature. It is both internal and external. It implies the sovereignty of the nation over all its parts, over all men and things within the nation; and it implies the sovereignty of the nation as against all other nations.
Nationality is a spiritual fact; but nationhood includes physical freedom, and physical power in order to the maintenance of physical freedom, as well as the spiritual fact of nationality. The physical freedom is necessary to the healthy life, and may even be necessary to the continued existance of the nation.
Without it the nation droops, withers, ultimately perhaps dies; only a very steadfast nation, a nation of great spiritual and intellectual strength like Ireland, can live for more than a few generations in its absence, and without it even so stubborn a nation as Ireland would doubtless ultimately perish.
Physical freedom, in brief, is necessary to sane and vigorous life; for physical freedom means precisely control of the conditions that are necessary to sane and vigorous life. It is obvious that these things are partly material, and that therefore national freedom involves control of the material things which are essential to the continued physical life and freedom of the nation. So that the nation's sovereignty extends not only to all the material possessions of the nation, the nation's soil and all its resources, all wealth and wealth-producing processes within the nation. In other words, no private right to property is good as against the public right of the nation. But the nation is under a moral obligation to exercise its public right as to secure strictly equal rights and liberties to every man and woman within the nation. The whole is entitled to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole, but this is to be pursued exactly for the end that each of the individuals composing the whole may enjoy happiness and prosperity, the maximum amount of happiness and prosperity consistent with the happiness and prosperity of all the rest...
And I claim that the nation's sovereignty over the nation's material resources is absolute; but that obviously such sovereignty must be exercised for the good of the nation and without prejudice to the rights of other nations, since national sovereignty, like everything else on earth, is subject to the laws of morality.
Now, the good of the nation means ultimately the good of the individual men and women who compose the nation. Physically considered, what does a nation consist of? It consists of its men and women; of all its men and women, without any exceptions. Every man and every woman within the nation has normally equal rights but a man or a woman may forfeit his or her rights by turning recreant to the nation.
No class in the nation has rights superior to any other class. No class in the nation is entitled to privileges beyond any other class except with the consent of the nation. The right and privilege to make laws or to administer laws does not reside in any class within the nation; it resides in the whole nation, that is, in the whole people, and can be lawfully exercised only by those to whom it is delegated by the whole people. The right to the control of the material resources of a nation does not reside in any individual or any class of individuals; it resides in the whole people and can be lawfully exercised only by those to whom it is delegated by the whole people, and in the manner in which the whole people ordains.
Once more, no individual right is good as against the right of the whole people; but the people, in exercising its sovereign rights, is morally bound to consider individual rights, to do equity between itself and each of the individuals that compose it as well as to see that equity is done between individual and individual...
At the end of a former essay I set that prophecy of Mitchel's as to the coming of a time when the kindred and tongues and nations of the earth should give their banners to the wind; and his prayer that he, John Mitchel, might live to see it, and that on that great day of the Lord he might have breath and strength enough to stand under Ireland's immortal Green. John Mitchel did not live to see it. He died an old man, forty years before its dawning. But the day of the Lord is here, and you and I have lived to see it.
And we are young. And God has given us strength and courage and counsel. May He give us victory.


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20th Century Ireland (1916)
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