Patrick Henry Pearse (also known as Pádraig Pearse; Irish: Pádraig Anraí Mac Piarais; An Piarsach; 10 November 1879 – 3 May 1916) was an Irish teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist and political activist who was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. He was declared "President of the Provisional Government" of the Irish Republic in one of the bulletins issued by the Rising's leaders, a status that was however disputed by others associated with the rebellion both then and subsequently. Following the collapse of the Rising and the execution of Pearse, along with his brother (Willie Pearse) and fourteen other leaders, Pearse came to be seen by many as the embodiment of the rebellion.
Patrick Pearse and his brother Willie were born at 27 Great Brunswick Street, the street that is named after them today. It was here that their father, James Pearse, established a stonemasonry business in the 1850s, a business which flourished and provided the Pearses with a comfortable middle-class upbringing. Pearse's father was a mason and monumental sculptor, and originally a Unitarian from Birmingham in England.
The home life of Patrick Pearse was one where he was surrounded by books. His father had very little formal education, but he was a self-educated man. He had two children from his first marriage, Emily and James (two other children died in infancy). His second wife, Margaret Brady was a native of Dublin, but her father's family were from County Meath and were native Irish speakers. The Irish-speaking influence of Pearse's great-aunt Margaret, together with his schooling at the CBS Westland Row, instilled in him an early love for the Irish language.
In 1896, at the age of sixteen, he joined the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), and in 1903 at the age of 23, he became editor of its newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis ("The Sword of Light").
Pearse's earlier heroes were the ancient Gaelic folk heroes such as Cúchulainn, though in his 30s he began to take a strong interest in the leaders of past republican movements, such as the United Irishmen Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet. Both had been Protestant, but it was from such men as these that the fervently Catholic Pearse drew inspiration for the rebellion of 1916.
In 1900, Pearse was awarded a BA in Modern Languages (Irish, English and French) by the Royal University of Ireland, he had studied for two years privately and for one at University College Dublin. In 1900 he was also awarded the degree of Barrister-at-Law from the King's Inns.
In December 1913, Bulmer Hobson swore Pearse into the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), an organisation dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland and its replacement with an Irish Republic. He was soon co-opted onto the IRB's Supreme Council by Tom Clarke. Pearse was then one of many people who were members of both the IRB and the Volunteers. When he became the Volunteers' Director of Military Organisation in 1914 he was the highest ranking Volunteer in the IRB membership, and instrumental in the latter's commandeering of the remaining minority of the Volunteers for the purpose of rebellion. By 1915 he was on the IRB's Supreme Council, and its secret Military Council, the core group that began planning for a rising while war raged on the European Western Front.
Pearse, given his speaking and writing skills, was chosen by the leading IRB man Tom Clarke to be the spokesman for the Rising. It was Pearse who, in behalf of the IRB shortly before Easter in 1916, issued the orders to all Volunteer units throughout the country for three days of manoeuvres beginning Easter Sunday, which was the signal for a general uprising. When Eoin MacNeill, the Chief of Staff of the Volunteers, learned what was being planned without the promised arms from Germany, he countermanded the orders via newspaper, causing the IRB to issue a last minute order to go through with the plan the following day, greatly limiting the numbers who turned out for the rising.
When the Easter Rising eventually erupted on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, there never was any plan for a military victory in the minds of the leaders. It was Pearse who proclaimed a Republic from the steps of the General Post Office and headquarters of the revolutionaries. After six days fighting, heavy civilian casualties and great destruction of property, Pearse issued the order to surrender along with the remaining leaders.
Pearse and fourteen other leaders, including his brother Willie, were court-martialled and executed by firing squad. Sir Roger Casement, who had tried unsuccessfully to recruit an insurgent force among Irish-born prisoners of war from the Irish Brigade in Germany, was hanged in London the following August. Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh and Pearse himself were the first of the rebels to be executed, on the morning of 3 May 1916. Pearse was 36 years old at the time of his death.
Sir John Maxwell, the General Officer commanding the British forces in Ireland, sent a telegram to H.H. Asquith, then Prime Minister, advising him not to return the bodies of Pádraig and Willie Pearse to their family, saying: "Irish sentimentality will turn these graves into martyrs’ shrines to which annual processions will be made which would cause constant irritation in this country.
Maxwell also suppressed a letter from Pearse to his mother, and two poems dated 1 May 1916. He submitted copies of them also to Prime Minister Asquith, saying that some of the content was "objectionable."
In addition that document used the term "President of the Provisional Government", not "President of the Republic". A "President of a government" is akin to a prime minister, not a president of a state. Pearse and his colleagues also discussed proclaiming Prince Joachim (the Kaiser's youngest son) as an Irish constitutional monarch, if the Central Powers won the First World War, which suggests that their ideas for the political future of the country had to await the war's outcome.