It is 61 years since Patrick Pearse was court-martialled and shot for leading the Easter Rising. Now would be the time For a strong debunking biography, particularly after the years of virtual canonisation to which he has been subject • and to which he would have felt himself entitled — after his death.
Ruth Dudley Edwards has avoided that pitfall and managed to examine critically Pearse's career without having recourse to tricolour-tinted spectacles, The result is a balanced and sympathetic biography. It is the best account of his life which I have read — best researched, best documented.
Patrick Pearse lived for a Gaelic Ireland, an ideal which never existed beyond his imagination. He strove to justify that ideal to build, a nation of saints and scholars and link it to the romantic past, which never existed.
Connolly had a far surer and certain grasp of what the Irish struggle was about. Yet it is to Pearse rather than to Connolly that the Provisional IRA today look for inspiration. It is Pearse who is the apostle of their mysticism, the blood sacrifice.
It is Pearse who justifies physical force, though he would have been repulsed by their indiscriminate violence. It was Pearse's death and that of his companions which created the Irish Free State — not Pearse's United Ireland.
The Pearse ideal survived only in De Valera, who kept Ireland an inward•looking. conservative State until the late 1950s. Pearse was the apparent failure. His literature was never the greatest; his poetry never the most sublime; yet his dedication, his determination and his asceticism pushed him into the forefront of affairs to he the acknowledged leader in the movement for Irish freedom.
It is an ironic comparison that the ideals with which Pearsc, the schoolmaster, playwright and leader, sought to inspire his Followers in the pursuit of Irish Freedom, were those same ideals which he youth of England and indeed Ireland when going to their deaths on the 'battlefields of France:
Tell England you who pass this monument We died for her and thus do rest content.
1 his could so easily have been
written by Pcarse with the substitution of the word "Ireland" for "England."
This strange, complex, unsettling man. believed that by the bloody sacrifice of his own death he would set his people free, yet with his colleagues in the burning GPO he continued to look For the justification of his cause in Catholic theology and the just war.
Ruth Dudley Edwards has done a considerable service to her subject; she has written a balanced, careful account of Patrick Pearse. his triumphs and his failures. This is a book worth both reading and buying. Quite outstanding, it will be a long time before it is replaced as the definite autobiography of Pearse.